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The future of public policy schools: Colloquium convenes representatives from Europe, North America

Helmut K. Anheier presents reform ideas, says schools must be more aggressive, emphasize stewardship.

Leading representatives of public policy schools in Europe and North America met at the Hertie School on 12 June for a Colloquium to discuss how to confront challenges and gird the institutions for the future.

“Public policy schools have to be more self-confident, if not aggressive,” said Hertie School President Helmut K. Anheier. “We have something to offer – stewardship for the common good.”

At Anheier’s invitation, a panel including Mary Kaldor, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit and Professor Global Governance at the London School of Economics, Renaud Dehousse, President of the European University Institute in Florence, and Randall Hansen, Interim Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, discussed challenges and ways to ensure the schools contribute to policy-making and governance in the future. Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University in New York gave closing remarks.

Issues discussed included the perception of schools as too embedded in their scholarly world; the need to adjust curricula to meet the needs of students and prospective employers – not only government, but also business and civil society; competition from business and law schools; the defining qualities of public policy schools, and the threat of a populist backlash against evidence-based policy-making.

“We can and should address the difficult and even uncomfortable questions of our time,” Anheier said. “Perhaps now is the time for public policy schools to revisit how to reconcile the nearly century-old Weberian directive of values-free research with the ethics of moral conviction and the ethics of responsibility.”

In an essay presented at the colloquium, “On the Future of the Public Policy School”, Anheier outlined the history of the public policy school and those who shaped it, from Max Weber in the 19th century to Aaron Wildavsky in the 1980s. The essay, based on Anheier’s three decades of experience at public policy schools in the US, UK and Germany, identifies critical issues for the institutions going forward and proposes five reforms to meet these challenges.

“Schools are slowly being challenged, politically and in terms of purpose and more openly so today than even a decade ago,” Anheier said. “On the one hand, public policy schools are either seen as too technocratic, seemingly ill-equipped to anticipate political developments, and not in tune with the changed political realities. On the other, they are regarded as too scholarly, catering to the academy as their ultimate constituency, paying lip service to public problem-solving and administration while hoping for the acceptance of colleagues in economics, political science or sociology departments.”

Anheier said five reforms are needed:

  • Bring political philosophy into the curriculum to compensate for the normative vacuum and lack of vision
  • Emphasise the stewardship of, and leadership for, the public good
  • Include business and civil society directly to better reflect governance problems, student interests and career patterns
  • Make executive education a core activity rather than a mere necessary extension
  • Bring opposing views and their publics together, especially in view of increasing polarisation among societal actors
Helmut K. Anheier
Henrik Enderlein
Helmut K. Anheier
Renaud Dehousse, Helmut K. Anheier, Mary Kaldor and Randall Hansen
Anna Herrhausen, Member of the Hertie School's Board of Trustees
Ira Katznelson
Helmut K. Anheier

Panelists also touched on the difficulty of engaging with critical audiences in the current caustic political climate – balancing the liberal, open forum of the academy as a place that welcomes differing views with the challenge of engaging those in the public sphere who distrust or deny evidence and facts.

“There is a chance that public policy schools will be challenged more directly and openly by anti-governmental, anti-elitist political forces; a general populist backlash against evidence-based policy-making.”

“There is a chance that public policy schools will be challenged more directly and openly by anti-governmental, anti-elitist political forces; a general populist backlash against evidence-based policy-making,” Anheier said.

Nevertheless, he said, challenges are an opportunity for reflection and renewal: “Being challenged by both the academy and the public from time to time offers public policy schools a chance to grow.”

After more than a decade of leading the Hertie School, Helmut K. Anheier will pass on the presidency to Professor of Political Economy Henrik Enderlein at the start of the fall 2018 semester.

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