AuthorJahoda, Robert
  1. Introduction

    In response to major global challenges and for the imperative of sustainable development, the Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015. At its core are the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for the implementation of strategies that fight poverty, improve health and education, reduce inequality, and promote economic growth. Goal 16 states the role of building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels (United Nations, 2015). This applies, of course, to all levels of government, from central administration to local authorities. For example, according to the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), in recent decades the public sector and its constituents have often struggled to adapt to a rapidly evolving international, economic, social, technological, and cultural environment. To function effectively and move forward, governments must become action-oriented, enabling them to address new challenges and earn the public's trust. NAPA's list of 'Grand Challenges in Public Administration'--the 12 most pressing issues in public administration today (NAPA, 2018) is fully relevant to many other countries. It also well documents that the need to cultivate national public administration and increase its competence, efficiency, accountability and responsiveness is not limited to countries that have recently undergone major transformations (such as the Czech Republic or Slovakia).

    Only loyal, motivated, and skilled public administration servants, administrators and other public sector employees can successfully work on solutions. The importance of public administration education and training is evident even though empirical research provides only limited evidence on the social returns to education in this area (e.g., Botev et al., 2019; Psacharopoulos, 1994; Psacharopoulos and Patrinos, 2004). In terms of specific education and training programs in the broader field of public administration and management, we know much more about their institutional set-up, curricular content and development, as well as their teaching philosophy (e.g., Reichard and Schroter, 2017; Hajnal, 2003; Nemec et al., 2012) than their measurable impact on improving public administration.

    However, there are still ample practical reasons to pay attention to these programs and seek to develop them. One of them is the natural age turnover of public administration employees. In the Czech Republic, for example, which is the focus of this paper, about 1/4-1/3 of the current public administration staff will retire in the next ten years. The current share of employees under 31 years of age is on average less than 10%, but the share of those over 55 years of age is about 21% (Eurostat, 2021). As the rules require a minimum university degree for most positions in public administration, this represents a demand for roughly 15-20 thousand university graduates. The situation in Slovakia, which is the second country in this paper, looks almost the same in relative terms.

    However, the authors of this paper see (in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia) a visible trend of declining student interest to enroll in quality public administration programs, which should be the core source for future public administration experts. Their first idea was to check whether this is the common trend for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and to provide a broad comparative study covering the whole region. They contacted all programs registered in the Network of Institutes and Schools of Public Administration in Central and Eastern Europe (NISPAcee) database with a request to participate in a survey and provide data and expert insights on trends related to enrollment numbers. Unfortunately, we received only a modest response and data on only a few programs. For this reason, we directly contacted programs from the CEE region (namely the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Estonia, Poland and Slovakia), which have been awarded accreditation/certification from the European Association for Public Administration Accreditation (EAPAA) and these programs eventually participated in our survey. Their responses indicate that in most of their countries, demand for PA programs is not a critical issue, and enrollments are mainly determined by national regulations and the internal capacities of higher education institutions.

    The Czech Republic and Slovakia represent a very different case--the falling number of students in PA programs threatens the existence of both EAPAA-accredited programs at Masaryk University and the existence of the program at Matej Bel University, which received accreditation in the past. The contradiction between the undoubted potential demand for quality graduates for the Czech and Slovak public administration and the low interest of students in studying quality public administration programs in these countries appears to be a topic worthy of investigation. The aim of this paper is to find out the reasons why so few students apply and enroll in EAPAA-accredited programs at Masaryk University in Brno and Matej Bel University Banska Bystrica. The paper is based on a qualitative approach, data were collected from secondary sources through our own questionnaire and also through structured interviews with representatives of both programs under study.

    The structure of this paper is as follows--in the next section we outline what is known about the demand for PA programs in the CEE region in the available literature; this is followed by a brief outline of our methodology and an introduction to the programs; in the final section we present the main findings from the interviews with representatives of the programs; this is followed by conclusions.

  2. Determinants of demand for PA programs in the CEE region --what can be found in literature?

    PA programs are important in supporting public sector development and in providing oxygen to organizations to introduce new ways of working, processes and service delivery (Proeller and Reichard, 2013; Broucker, 2015). They can also determine the professionalism and quality of civil and public service (Broucker, 2015).

    In Central Europe, the establishment of a properly functioning civil service was one of the indirect entry conditions for the first accession wave (Nemec and de Vries, 2017). Already in 1999, Connaughton and Verheijen noted that PA programs in CEE states were developing rapidly. Available studies (see, for example, Staronova and Gajduschek, 2016) suggest that PA programs and education have been mainly researched in the context of developed countries, and less attention has been paid to the context of Central and Eastern European (CEE) and specificities of approaches in the individual countries. Some literature on PA programs in CEE countries has been published in international journals (and are available in English and not only in the national languages), especially after 2010 (with some exceptions--e.g., Hajnal, 2003).

    Pevcin et al. (2019) summarized that research on PA programs in CEE countries focused on individual CEE countries (e.g., Gellen, 2013; Hajnal, 2015; Hajnal et al., 2018), or presented a comparative analysis of the situation in selected CEE countries (e.g. Marcetic et al., 2013), or focused on specific CEE sub-regions (for example, Kopric (2013) focused on South Eastern European countries), or compared the situation of CEE programs with those based on U.S. university programs (Staronova and Gajduschek, 2016), or focused on a larger group of programs consisting of public administration, public policy and public management programs (e.g., Staronova and Gajduschek, 2016; Verheijen and Nemec, 2000), or public management programs (e.g., Nemec et al., 2012).

    Pevcin et al. (2019) also pointed out that existing research on PA education in CEE countries is usually based on content analysis of existing study programs; the basic unit of the analysis is the individual program offered (Staronova and Gajduschek, 2016). Starting from the assumption that PA education can reveal a lot about the identity of the field as perceived by scholars and practitioners (Staronova and Gajduschek, 2016; Hajnal and Gajduschek, 2022), the available literature usually focuses mainly on the institutionalization of public administration or public management as a discipline and maps the content of existing PA programs. Staronova and Gajduschek (2016), for example, conclude that there has been a growing number of public affairs programs in CEE countries over the last 27 years. Pevcin et al. (2019) suggest this.

    According to Staronova and Gajduschek (2016), public administration programs have traditionally focused primarily on the legal and formal institutional aspects of governance, while public policy and management programs have been completely absent and are relatively new. Their research suggests that master level PA (MPA) programs are offered by several branches of study (political science, economics, law, sociology) and can be both stand-alone programs taught in the faculties of social sciences, economics, or law, and/ or in newly created and more specialized faculties of public administration, public policy or governance, as well as specializations which typically form part of general economics, social science, political science or law programs. They also point out that the late 20th and early 21st centuries saw a boom in private MPA programs, but only in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Such developments and the heterogeneity of PA programs raise questions about competition among programs; this issue may be particularly relevant for countries where there are a high number of such programs.

    Staronova and Gajduschek (2016) suggest that master PA (MPA) programs in the CEE region do not fit the so-called mainstream model. Their analysis of curricula found a low number of practice-oriented and...

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