Universities and Public Policy

I wrote earlier this year for Huffington Post (UK) about the differences between the UK and USA when it comes to Universities and Public Policy – in exactly the opposite way most would suppose.  Whilst the more government-sceptic USA has lots of activity in Universities, the UK is notably weak – at least when it comes to organising public policy activity. I’ve been doing a bit more research and here are some of the findings.

‘Public policy’, under various labels[i], tends to be a major fixture in most prominent Universities internationally – well known examples include the Kennedy School at Harvard or the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton.

Of the top 25 universities globally (2010), 19 have institutes or schools of public policy and if the 3 ‘technological’ universities are excluded 19 of the 22 ‘generalist’ universities have such institutes and 16 run Masters of Public Administration (MPA) or Masters of Public Policy (MPP) programmes, or both.

Many of the 19 US universities also run ‘offices of public affairs’ that organise the institutions engagement with its local, regional and national governments.

In many places outside the USA too big efforts are being made to expand public policy HE provision:

  • the Australian commonwealth government has just given ANU’s Crawford School A$110m to improve their public policy offer and become “the Kennedy School for the Asia-Pacific” (as one colleague at ANU put it to me).
  • PR China has launched over 70 MPA programmes in the past 10 years
  • Several regional groupings of public policy institutes have been launched in the over recent decades including NAPSIPAG[ii] (Asia-Pacific, 2004) and NISPACee (Central and Eastern Europe, 1995), CLAD (Latin America, 1972)
  • MPA programmes globally have more than doubled from about 250 two decades ago to more the 500 today[iii]

The UK has been slow to respond to this global trend. we have few Schools of Public Policy or many MPA/MPP[iv] programmes, although the latter at least are expanding.

This may be set to change with Oxford launching the Blavatnik School of Government (with £100m plus investment). Cambridge is already reviewing their offer in the field and others may follow this lead. And the establishment of 15 or so MPA programmes in the UK (mostly recruiting internationally) over the past decade signifies a substantial shift.

The picture for Public Policy at the world’s top 25 Universities (as ranked by the influential Academic Ranking of World Universities) is set out in the table below.

Public Policy at the Top 25 (2010) Universities Globally


Public Policy



Harvard University

Kennedy School of Government



University of California, Berkeley

Goldman School of Public Policy



Stanford University

Public Policy at Stanford (1)



Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

[Sloan School of Management](2)


University of Cambridge

 (review under way)


California Institute of Technology


Princeton University

Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs



Columbia University

Colombia School of International and Public Affairs



University of Chicago

The Harris School of Public Policy



University of Oxford

Blavatnik School of Government (est. 2010)


Yale University

Institution for Social and Policy Studies


Cornell University

Cornell Institute for Public Affairs



University of California, Los Angeles

Luskin School of Public Affairs



University of California, San Diego


University of Pennsylvania

Fels Institute of Government



University of Washington

Evans School of Public Affairs



University of Wisconsin – Madison

La Follette School of Public Affairs



The Johns Hopkins University

Institute for Public Policy



University of California, San Francisco


The University of Tokyo

Graduate School of Public Policy (est. 2004)



University College London

School of Public Policy



University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy



Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich


Kyoto University

School of Government



University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Institute for Government and Public Affairs

(1) Stanford runs a public policy program not tied to a specific school

(2) MIT’s Sloan School includes a substantial public policy element





[i] Schools go under various titles: Public Affairs; Public Administration; Public Policy; Government; Governance; etc

[ii] The author was one of the opening keynote speakers at the NAPSIPAG launch at which 70 odd schools were represented from across the Asia-Pacific region.

[iii] Author’s estimate based on international survey of public administration academics

[iv] About 10% of UK HEIs have MPAs, compared to about 90% plus in the USA, Canada, and more recent expansions in many other countries.

5 thoughts on “Universities and Public Policy

  1. A recent Institute of Government report says:

    “In other countries [than the UK] there is a higher expectation that policy makers will possess a formal policy qualification that gives a base level of capability before they enter the civil service. In many places a background in law or economics will be expected. In the US, a survey of nearly 400 federal government managers indicated that they believe possession of an MPA significantly improves employees’ performance, and in a variety of ways.” See ‘Policy Making in the Real World’ p75


  2. The University of Warwick has picked up on this – there’s an MA Public Policy here starting this year. There is not yet an institute dedicated to it but there are many academics in the politics and international studies dept that write on welfare and social policy. Is it not better to have it this way than cordon off those dealing strictly in public policy?

    1. Nick

      the thing is public policy is already isolated by being split between different academic disciplines/structures in the UK. There is a large group in Politics departments; another in Sociology and Social Policy; and another in Business Schools – that’s without counting those in Education, Health and other departments. At Manchester we have at least 330 people across all four Faculties ‘doing’ some public policy work.

      The difference between the USA and UK is best illustrated by the RAE – if there was such a thing in the States there would certainly be a Public Policy and Public Administration panel – here we have Social Policy, Politics and Business and Management. I have been in 2 out of three of these at different RAEs and much of my work could plausibly fit into all three, and I know I’m not unique.

      There is no perfect organisational solution – BUT so long as we don’t have Public Policy departments, and associations, a very large area of academic activity will continue to be under-represented in Britain. My own view is the best solution is a core-network arrangement – a core department linked to and sustaining a network across the University.

  3. Pingback: Whitehall Watch

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