AuthorStare, Janez
  1. Introduction

    The concept of quality in higher education has been drawing attention of all interested parties in the education sector over the last few decades (Tasopoulou and Tsiotras, 2017). Both universities and employers, with the renewal of higher education programs (as a consequence of the Bologna process), gave special emphasis to competencies. A competence based approach could be considered as an attempt to make higher education institutions more standardized, comparable, accountable and cost-effective (Zelvys and Akzholov, 2016). This raises the question of what competencies are, and which, from the perspective of employers, provide the expected 'standardized' qualifications. There are two views of 'examining' competencies: examining competencies in actual work practice and examining competencies in educational programs. Despite the different definitions of the concept of competencies in work and competencies in educational programs, the idea is that the study programs should primarily develop those competencies that the working environment recognizes as important. Despite the large variety of definitions of the concept of competency, all competency involves knowledge, procedure and attitudes combined towards one goal, head knowledge (understanding), know-how (skills, abilities, aptitudes and capabilities), knowing how to be (attitudes), knowing what to be like (beliefs and values), and being able to do (means and resources) (Martinez, Moreno and Brage, 2014).

    Higher education programs in the field of public administration must provide not only discipline-specific fundamental knowledge but also the general competencies required by the labor market. In the context of our research, two research questions were examined:

    --Which competencies do employers expect from public administration graduates?

    --Are different competencies expected for positions requiring a different level of education (undergraduate or graduate degree)?

    In our research, we wanted to contribute to the literature on several points. The aim of the research was to evaluate the required competencies for a specific academic field (public administration) from the employers' perception. At the same time, the difference between the required competencies according to the study degree and workplace was examined and, further, the importance of specific competencies against general ones were evaluated. In the field of public administration, in literature, there are a few studies on competencies determined by employers. For example Martinez, Moreno and Brage (2014) presented how the civil servants evaluated some general competencies required for Spanish public administration. Some other research discusses or evaluates selected competencies. Van Jaarsveldt and Wessels (2015) evaluated the importance and provision of ICT competencies in the public administration curricula in South Africa, and Awortwi (2010) presented the importance of selected competencies for the success of public administration reforms. A general overview of the different standards and connected competencies in public administration education is presented in the book edited by Rosenbaum (2015).

    The following section starts with a literature review on the determination of competencies in higher education. The next section defines the competencies collected from the different sources and continues by presenting the research methodology and results. In conclusion, the importance of the findings of the study is presented.

  2. The acquisition of competencies in higher education

    Several authors suggest that there has been limited academic research into the relationship between higher education institutions and organizations with regard to competencies that are linked to placements or a study degree or academic discipline (Frasquet, Calderon and Cervera, 2012; Plewa and Quester, 2007). Nevertheless there are also several studies that include the opinions of professionals or employers on the required competencies in different disciplines (Frasquet, Calderon and Cervera, 2012; Boni and Lozano, 2007; Clemente-Ricolfe and Escriba-Perez, 2013; Borza and Crisan, 2012; Oduma and Ile, 2012; Profiroiu, 2013; Martinez, Moreno and Brage, 2014; Varga, Hajos and Szira, 2016). In most cases, studies highlighted the increasing importance of general knowledge and competencies and the general competencies seem to be even more important than specific ones (Brown and Smetherham, 2006; Azevedo et al., 2012; European Commission, 2010). On the other hand, Jurse and Tominc (2008) and, for some specializations, the European Commission (2010) found that professional competencies are slightly more elevated than general competencies.

    According to different research (Kuijpers and Meijers, 2012; Kuijpers and Scheerens, 2006; Savickas, 2000; Giddens, 1991), the individual is expected to demonstrate increasing self-directedness, both on the labor market and in society as a whole. As a result of the trend, different authors pointed out the importance of changing teaching methods (Kuijpers, Schyns and Scheerens, 2006; Winterton, 2009; Vila, Perez and Morillas, 2012; Avargil et al., 2012; Gomez, Aranda and Santos, 2017) to more proactive and problem-based learning.

    In the workplace, we use our competencies to perform a variety of behaviors and activities, which in turn generate outputs (products and services) that we provide to others. It is the quality of these outputs and the reactions of those who receive them that lead to results with positive, negative or neutral consequences for the organizations: the people who work there and its suppliers, shareholders, clients and customers (Picket, 1998, p. 103). The identification and assessment of competencies, as well as the development of competency-based management frameworks to support activities such as 'gap analysis', recruitment, learning and other key human resource processes, all reflect an acknowledgement by organizations that their workforce is key to their success in the modern workplace (Bonder, Bouchard and Bellemare, 2011, p. 2).

  3. Determination of the set of competencies

    The tendency for the most qualified workforce in the public administration requires competent graduates. The definitions of which competencies are involved are numerous and varied. Many universities ensure the adequacy of competencies in their study programs and try to meet higher standards which are defined differently, either as requirements for the acquisition of sectorial accreditations or in the form of recommendations of the authority in the field. For this reason, we decided to use a long list of general competencies that usually, in other research, give a more comprehensive evaluation and better contribute to public administration studies. In order to determine the set of competencies, the competencies from different sources were used:

    --competencies highlighted as important by the projects to date and peer associations (TUNING: project which has developed into a process, an approach to (re)designing, developing, implementing, evaluating and enhancing quality of first, second and third cycle degree programs, EAPAA: The European Association for Public Administration Accreditation, NASPAA: Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, IASIA: The International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration);

    --competencies identified as the most important in theoretical contributions in the studied field and highlighted as important by renowned universities in their study programs (EAPAA, NASPAA, IASIA accredited programs and other higher education programs in the field of administrative sciences); and

    --competencies highlighted in actual work practice to define the work (systematization).

    The results of the Tuning project represent one of the starting points of our research, serving in particular as a starting point for compiling a set of competencies. Connecting over 100 European universities, the project is aimed at developing concrete suggestions for implementing the Bologna process at the level of higher education institutions and individual subject fields. Tuning (2016) has designed a methodology for the (re)shaping, development, introduction and evaluation of study programs for each of the three Bologna cycles. When it comes to the subject fields, one of the five sets selected was the field of generic and subject-specific competencies. Tuning distinguishes between three forms of generic competencies:

    --instrumental or applicable competencies: cognitive, methodological, technological and linguistic abilities;

    --interpersonal competencies: the abilities of an individual, such as the ability to behave in society and to cooperate; and

    --systemic competencies: skills and abilities that concern entire systems (a combination of understanding, susceptibility, knowledge and the necessary previously obtained knowledge and interpersonal competencies).

    In order to determine the most important generic competencies for each academic field, an extensive consultation with graduates, employers and academic staff was organized in the first stage of the Tuning project. The set of the most suitable generic competencies differed somewhat from subject field to subject field, but the majority of the competencies were relatively similar. Typical academic competencies such as the skills of analysis, synthesis, learning and problem-solving were identified as the most important in all fields. Other generic competencies such as the skill of applying knowledge in practice, the skill of adapting to new situations, the concern for quality, the ability to manage information, the skill of independent work, the skill of teamwork, the skill of organization, spoken and written communication in the mother tongue and interpersonal skills were described mainly by graduates and employers as highly important for employability. Graduates and employers also found that some of the...

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