Since my last post on the LSE MPA, there have been some significant changes made to the curriculum. How did I find out about the new changes? An email from my blog reader. This in and of itself should raise concern over the level (or lack thereof) of communication between administration and the student body.
So, what are the changes?
Instead of 5 units of courses a year and a mandatory dissertation in year 2, the new curriculum only consists of 4 units of classes a year. Dissertation in year 2 is now optional in place of an one-unit course. For the International Development folks, this means you no longer have an option course in year one. The trade-off is a 20% lighter workload than what I had to endure.
I found out about these changes whilst studying for 2nd of my five exams and it made me want to scream. Just the thought that had I enter this program one year later, my life would have been 20% better, i.e, I would’ve been able to devote to my classes 20% more, have a better social life, or the like. I am a proponent of making the dissertation an option. This is a professional degree, and dissertation does not necessarily provide the kind of tool kit that one needs in a professional arena.
Responses from the student body
Since most of us did not know about this news until a few days ago, the newly elected board of MPA Policy Forum (supposed to be a student governing group – its name is undergoing possible change) vigorously lobbied for a meeting with the MPA Steering Committee.
An email was sent out few days ago from one of the Committee members who would not be able to attend the meeting. One of the paragraphs really drew my attention:
We are acutely aware that students do not feel they were given adequate opportunity to comment on the new arrangements, and although this was raised at Staff Student Liaison Committee meeting, and is in direct response to other petitions from students over several years, we are profusely sorry that more was not done in this respect.
So he apologized, but I did not see any concrete plans on how procedures will change to better communicate and engage the student body. Again, if you are changing curriculum without consulting students who are experiencing the coursework and will be the ones who apply the learning, then how is it possible to have a good curriculum? It’s analogous to designing aid policies without asking the local population what their needs are. Come on! LSE is better than that!
Whether or not the incoming 2nd year students will adopt the new curriculum, or maintain the current status quo of 5 units of classes including mandatory dissertation, requires unanimous voting from the student body.
I have a hard time believing that there are people who do NOT want the change. To be a complete nerd, let me just apply a little of what we learned this year. Adopting the new change is a Pareto optimal move for everyone – no one can be worse off. If you want to write a dissertation – take the option. If you want to take more classes, feel free to audit and attend all the classes you want at the LSE. No one is stopping you. But voting against the new change will hurt those who struggle with current load of coursework. The email from my reader who informed me of this new changed said, “So I am guessing someone has read your blog and took note of your comment that 5 units are just too much!” I wouldn’t go as far as that, but while the administration did not adequately engage the student body, I am quite certain that the complaint of excessive coursework is well represented.
Why do I care?
You may wonder why I am wasting my time addressing issues that have no relevance to me, considering I am off to Columbia next year. Well, I spent a year here at the LSE, and will thus be forever associated with the program. I want the LSE MPA to evolve and to grow into something that all of the students can be proud of, and can enthusiastically recommend to others. From my last post, you can probably conjure that I currently lean toward the negative side when it comes to recommending it.
I want to be equally as proud of my time at the LSE as I will be at Columbia SIPA. I want people to recognize these two programs as equal substitutes. I don’t want anyone in the future to ever ask me what I was thinking when I chose LSE MPA over Columbia SIPA.
My two cents
So what would I change if people gave a crap about what I think?
Significantly lower admission granted to undergraduates.
Every good professional program has exception of a few absolutely brilliant undergraduates who deserve a place. They have saved lives or took part in some other amazing miracle during their summers or gap year. Those people absolutely deserve a place. However, letting academically brilliant students who lack professional experiences into a professional program creates problems for the rest of the student body. Unfortunately, the LSE MPA currently has a much higher percentage of such students than other programs that I know. As far as I remember, I don’t remember this statistic being published whilst I made my decision, so I was in the dark.
What problems could academically brilliant undergrads possibly create?
For one, their skill as a study machine has not diminished one bit. They haven’t forgotten how to study strategically, how to cram for exams, how to memorize extensive amount of information. Those who have gained professional experiences have a great deal of other skills, but at a great disadvantage in this area.
Furthermore, I notice a lot of people who came from undergrad also studied similar subjects before, which further put them at an academic advantage. So not only that they remember how to study, they also just learned this stuff sometimes less than a year ago. You tell me if that doesn’t create imbalances with people who’ve been in the workforce for 5 years and did Art History or Literature in undergrad.
Once again: this is a PROFESSIONAL program
Curriculum for a professional program can’t mimic MSc degrees. The admission process and the type of students admitted can’t be the same as purely academic programs. I am confident that the current administration is well aware of these factors, but I feel they still lack significantly in addressing the professional aspects of the program. The academic side is more than well taken care of – obviously even a bit too much given the reduction in curriculum. Focusing more on the professional aspect will set this program apart. The competition for MPA programs are nowhere near as fierce as MBA programs and LSE is already one of the best, but it needs to innovate continuously and quickly to compete with programs that are sprouting around the world.
I don’t mean to air the program’s dirty laundry in public, but I believe these type of changes and issues need to be made aware for prospective students, who perhaps don’t want to get reeled into a not-yet stable program.
I also think it’s a good chance for other policy professionals to contribute their ideas on what makes a great professional program that will serve the wide and varied public sphere. They are the people out there doing the kind of work that people in this program aspire to. So if they were to educate new-comers, what would they want us to learn?