18 Aug 2019

MPs head back to school

From The House , 7:30 am on 18 August 2019

MPs are hitting the books and dealing with assessment deadlines as part of an education programme for politicians.

Graduate study abroad program concept

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The Parliamentary Education Charitable Trust was launched in April with the aim of providing opportunities for extra education and training support for Members of Parliament. 

Part of that training is the Postgraduate Certificate in Public Policy delivered by Victoria University which this year has 14 MPs signed up. 

“We are going back to school,” says Labour MP for Christchurch Central, Duncan Webb.

“We’re learning about hugely diverse areas that touch on what goes on in Government and Parliament and so on, the Treaty of Waitangi, ethics and values and some other things about public management. That’s just what we’ve done so far.”

Labour MP Duncan Webb in Select Committee

Labour MP Duncan Webb in Select Committee Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Mr Webb was a professor at the University of Canterbury and says some might say he’s “over-educated” but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn.

“When you’re doing a job like this, it’s so incredibly new and complicated and has subtleties, and touches on areas I’ve never even thought about. So going and learning about different public sector management models really helps me in the way I look at policy and deal with officials and people from Ministries.”

Girol Karacaoglu is Head of the School of Government at Victoria University and says the course covers topics like:

  • Governance and government: for example what’s the distinctive roles of parliament versus government.

  • Economics and public policy: e.g. what are the big economic ideas and institutions, how do the Reserve Bank Act or the Public Finance Act work, and how does policy evolve in the context of such over-arching legislation?

  • Policy analysis and advice: how do you distil and use all the different views coming from many places and turn them into useful policy.

  • Applying policy in the real world: what new issues emerge when applying policy? 

“This is a very real course, there is no dilution in standards, we penalise people who are late in delivering assignments, it’s a standard certificate course in public policy,” says Professor Karacaoglu.

Katherine Rich, Chair of The Parliamentary Education Charitable Trust; and Girol Karacaoglu, head of the Victoria University School of Government

Katherine Rich, Chair of the Parliamentary Education Charitable Trust and Girol Karacaoglu, head of the Victoria University School of Government Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The idea for the training was formed after the recommendations of the Report of the Seventh Triennial Appropriations Review Committee titled, “Towards a world-leading democracy”.

Chairperson of the Education Trust and former National MP, Katherine Rich, says a unique set of skills are required to be an MP.

“When you are first elected to Parliament you can arrive with a basket of skills but you soon realise that there are lots of other skills you need to be an effective member of Parliament.” 

She says in the past training options were often decided by party leadership and that limited their goals and participation.

“I’ve always believed that regardless of whatever role you’re in, people should always be thinking ‘how can I learn more?’ We should be working towards lifelong learning in every role we have.”

MMP means an MP can become a Minister after just a short time in Parliament and there’s a need for training in that regard as well, says Ms Rich.

“The investment in this kind of education and training we’re also hoping will assist members of Parliament to build skills to become a very effective Minister.”

Green, National, and Labour MPs are all learning together and discussing policy and select committees as part of the course.

“That’s an investment in the Parliament itself,” says Ms Rich. “They’re all sitting around having discussions about how to approach policy and interact on select committees and I think that’s a really neat investment in democracy.”

Despite the collaboration, there’s still an element of competition between the MPs in the course.

“They actually give us assignments and we get marked and can I just say as an aside, Kiri Allan is hugely competitive, I still haven’t told her what my marks are but she desperately wants to know!” says Mr Webb with a laugh.