It is a common misconception that public policy is only suitable for students who wish to work in the public sector. In fact, public policy is increasingly seen as an attractive option to professionals in the private sector and social institutions, a change that can be credited to its interdisciplinary nature and wide range of applications.
The blurred line between public and private
When someone asks Assoc. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, MPP Program Director whether public policy is a suitable major for people from the private sector, he usually answers with the story of a special coffee shop founded by Nguyen Van Duong, chairman of Dong Thap Province People’s Committee, inside the provincial government’s headquarters.
Dong Thap businessmen frequenting the location named it the Chairman Coffee Shop. There, they can meet with provincial leaders every morning for one hour before office hours.
The place is small, sparsely furnished with a white stone table, and coffee is served free of charge. There, businesspeople have the opportunity to share directly with provincial leaders the difficulties and issues their companies are facing, and even provide critical input or suggestions on current public policies. As a result, many policies were identified as unsuitable or ineffective, and fixed or amended in the process.
As Assoc. Prof. Nghia explained, the spheres of what is considered “public” and “private” are slowly blending. By recognizing that governments cannot encompass all sectors, a vibrant public-private partnership becomes an asset. The public sector has much to gain by cooperating closely with the private sector, and even much to learn in areas where the private sector excels, such as in human resources management and public relations. Mutual understanding and the sharing of successful strategies are key to accomplish administrative goals more effectively.
Furthermore, the government has to think the way businesspeople think, continues Prof. Nghia. Local public servants should put themselves in the shoes of small business owners and managers. They should treat local people and businesses as their customers, using their contentment as a key indicator to assess the quality of public service and performance of public servants.
A closer relationship also means local residents and businesses can both better understand the intent and implications of the policies affecting them, as well as feel empowered to provide feedback that will further refine how they impact their daily lives and operations. Whether from the standpoint of policymakers or those affected by said policies, it is crucial that all parties understand the scientific foundations as well as the practical implications when considering policy implementation.
“If you run a small company, you have less frequent interactions with local authority. But if your company grows bigger, so do your company’s social responsibilities. As it scales up, your company should learn to explore public policies and interact more with local authority. Then, maintaining close relations with the general public and local authority becomes a necessary component of your company’s public relations activities, of sound risk management, and to ensure an enhanced social value as well as the sustainable growth of your company,” Assoc. Prof. Nghia explained.
The study of public policy is very practical and interdisciplinary. It is rooted in economics, political science, law, administration, social sciences, and more. Students of public policy and management come from very different backgrounds, hold different majors, and have varied professional occupations.
Dr. Scott Fritzen, Associate Professor at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington, said public policy students can come from any sector as long as they are determined to apply what they know and learn on solving problems related in one way or another to the public sector, effecting positive change along the way.
Public policy as a major is rapidly growing, attracting large numbers of applicants in universities across North America, Europe, and other developed countries in the world. Private companies and non-public institutions are showing their preference to public policy degree holders.
At FSPPM, applicants that have a bachelor’s degree in any major can apply for the Master in Public Policy program, regardless of whether they come from the public, private or civil society sector.
For Ho Quang De, deputy director of Phu Yen Province Department of Finance and a former student of MPP2 class, the diversity within the student body was what made FSPPM different.
“There is a balanced ratio of students coming in from different regions, sectors and occupation, making our class a diverse pool of talents. Each member of our class has his or her own understanding and experience of a specific field. This opens vast possibilities to exchange ideas and learn from one another. It also makes the theories we learn become easier to digest, as everyone has a different way to approach them,” he explained.
According to statistics, 41.2 percent of students studying Policy Analysis at FSPPM are from the public sector, 26.5 percent of them are from the private sector and the remaining are from social institutions, universities, and research centers.
Meanwhile, 51.4 percent of students studying Leadership & Management at FSPPM come from the private sector, 28.6 percent of them come from the public sector and the remaining come from social and educational institutions.
Chau Ngo Anh Nhan, a former student of MPP2 class, was a public official when he joined the Master in Public Policy program at FSPPM. He recalled how the teaching program offered an approachable theorical framework that students could lean on to in order to analyze practical issues, as well as provided students with analytical skills so that policymakers could make decisions that bring about positive results for society at every level.
“The interactions with local and international professors and with other students coming from different sectors will help you analyze the issues mentioned in the class better. After studying at Fulbright, you have the chance to connect with people from different areas, with different experiences, and build a network of alumni that will open the way for future collaboration,” he emphasized.
The public policy training program at Fulbright has strong foundations in economics. But its most valuable aspect is that it builds in students the capacity to think. It provides them a framework and habits for future self-learning, even for those who do not major in economics.
Applicants are not required to graduate from an Economics majors; they only have to complete foundational courses as required by the Ministry of Education and Training before starting the Master in Public Policy program officially.
“What a professional graduate education in public policy and management provides to students is the ability to integrate across different domains of knowledge: management, economics, politics, sociology, all in the service of solving problems. This is what makes it so unique. Instead of being an expert in any one discipline, any one set of methods, what the Fulbright school is trying to produce are graduates who can flexibly draw from different domains of knowledge and employ them to tackle very real problems societies face, and to communicate that effectively in the real world. That is the single most important skill that will carry the graduates far and wide in the Vietnamese landscape,” Dr. Fritzen concluded.
- Xuan Linh