MPA in the U.K. — Graduate Studies Across the Pond

Published: August 23, 2013 | Read Time: 3 minutes

In a first for graduate-level studies at Southern Utah University, students in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program participated in a study abroad course this summer that sent them overseas for a two-week crash course on higher education in the United Kingdom.

The students, 11 in all, spent two weeks in England studying the history, culture and contemporary issues surrounding higher education, interfacing with students and administrators nearly half a world away from SUU.

A slight departure from the standard MPA curriculum, the program was designed to complement students’ understanding of American public administration by contrasting it with that of the U.K., home to some of the world’s oldest institutions of higher learning.

The courses, Special Topics in Public Administration and Comparative Public Policy, were uniquely crafted by MPA Director Pat Keehley and University College Dean Patrick Clarke. The two comprised the faculty team abroad and led the group’s various excursions and activities.

“It was a great opportunity for our students to apply the general principles of public administration in a new and broader context,” said Dean Clarke. “And the international component made it an even more unique and special experience.”

Largely focused on administrative oversight in higher education from local and governmental perspectives, Clarke’s special topics course also incorporated cultural elements of the U.K. collegiate experience, not through archetypal instruction but rather, firsthand experience.

Throughout the course of their studies, students traveled to five universities in southern England—Oxford University, Roehampton University, University of Greenwich, Regents College and the Imperial College of London.

There, on some of the world’s oldest campuses, T-Birds intermingled with their foreign counterparts and experienced what it’s like to be a college student in the U.K.

“At Oxford, we learned about classic academic traditions and customs like the ‘town-and-gown’,” said MPA student, Lynette Pratt. “Staying in a dorm room, eating at the refectory and seeing what campus life is like for students in a foreign country was a really great learning opportunity.”

And that’s just the kind of authentic experience that MPA faculty had hoped for. “It was so on target with SUU’s ‘Experience More’ theme,” said Keehley, who is working to organize a similar trip next year in a new location, based on student input. “There is no replacement for the knowledge and experience gained by simply walking down the street in a foreign country, taking it all in.”

As if two weeks in the city by the Thames weren’t delightful enough, students enjoyed one other big perk—they were able to complete six credits in a very short timeframe. A rare find anywhere, especially at the graduate level. 

Even better, the total cost of the program—including travel expenses—was nearly equal to earning those credits on campus. A jolly good deal, indeed.

Keehley, who headed the policy analysis course, says the experience was extremely enlightening and surprisingly reassuring. “We saw how advanced the American system is, especially in the areas of tuition, outreach and development,” Keehley said. “I didn’t expect to learn that.”

MPA student Nina Barnes had a similarly eye-opening experience. A former SUU trustee and new member of the Utah Board of Regents, Barnes’ outlook on higher education came full circle while abroad, not only through an increased understanding of foreign practices but also, an increased appreciation for the global engagement initiatives that she helped to develop at SUU.

“As administrators, we don’t often get to see the outcomes of the policies and programs we create,” said Barnes. “It was very interesting to see how valuable and broadening an international experience can be and what an asset a diverse student body is to a university.”

Rounding out their investigative experience, the group was fortunate enough to attend a session of Parliament and witnessed how British law is made. Some even caught a glimpse of the royal procession of Queen Elizabeth II. 

“It was empowering for our group, which is diverse in and of itself, to experience the many cultural differences that we encountered throughout our travels, especially in the academic community,” said Barnes. “It was a life-changing experience for all of us.”

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