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Public Leadership (MSc)

  • Duration: 28 months
  • Mode: Part time

Start date

Open day

Find out more about studying here as a postgraduate at our next Open Day.

Why study this course

The MSc in Public Leadership will be a unique, challenge-based learning programme that reflects our commitment to our Public Value strategy.

The MSc in Public Leadership will be a unique, challenge-based learning programme that reflects our commitment to our Public Value strategy. We are uniquely placed to offer this programme with close links between research and practice, and our challenge-centred approach.

The programme is targeted at employees across a wide range of public services with five to ten years’ experience and aspirations to progress to senior roles, and who are motivated to make a difference in response to the complex and interdependent issues arising in the current and future service environment.

Designed around a series of modules that will be facilitated by academic and practitioner teams, the focus will be on evaluating evidence from research and practice in live settings, case studies and consultancy problems arising from your own organisation. You will also benefit from masterclasses with high profile leaders.

Using a range of policy and delivery challenges that cut across disciplinary, geographic, organisational and sectoral boundaries, we will support you to reflect critically on how insights into theory and practice can generate and sustain individual development, organisational improvement and enhanced citizen outcomes. Your individual leadership capacity will be supported through sponsorship, developmental workshops and peer and individual coaching. 

This programme champions the creation of public value and an ethical engagement with the multiple interests involved in public, private and third sector collaborations. The overall ethos of this programme will focus on developing both you and your organisations simultaneously.

Distinctive features

You will:

  • Learn with and from an international and multi-service cohort.
  • Build a strong and sustainable network of links with public service and third sector organisations.
  • Develop skills in action-orientated learning methodologies as you engage with a varied range of significant and complex service challenges.
  • Benefit from a series of Practice Workshops embedded within modules, which will encourage you to enhance your self-awareness, challenge mind-sets and build confidence.  We will focus on developing a selection of leadership skills related to ‘connecting’, ‘innovating’ and ‘delivering’.
  • Benefit from three individual coaching sessions across year two of the programme.
  • Have the opportunity to study alongside your work commitments, which requires only three days away from the office at any one time.

Where you'll study

Cardiff Business School

We're an AACSB International accredited Business School with a clear purpose: to make a difference in the communities of Wales and the world.

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  • Telephone+44 (0)29 2087 4674
  • MarkerColum Road, Cathays, Cardiff, CF10 3EU

Admissions criteria

This Part time Programme is suitable for graduates or experienced practitioners from a variety of specialisms, such as education, environmental protection, fire and rescue, healthcare, housing, planning, policing, and social services, who have the talent and drive to lead public and voluntary services in their continuing improvement.

Applicants should normally hold a 2:1 undergraduate degree, or international equivalent, from a recognised institution and have at least 3 years’ relevant work experience.

Non-graduates with professional qualifications or significant work experience may also be considered.

Participants will be encouraged to secure a work ‘sponsor’ to champion their ambition to make a difference at work.  They will help support participants’ work to embed organisational change.

Applicants whose first language is not English are required to obtain a minimum overall IELTS score of 7.0, and at least 6.5 in all other categories. (or an equivalent English language qualification).

Find out more about English language requirements.

Applicants who require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK must present an acceptable English language qualification in order to meet UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) requirements

Criminal convictions

You are not required to complete a DBS (Disclosure Barring Service) check or provide a Certificate of Good Conduct to study this course.

If you are currently subject to any licence condition or monitoring restriction that could affect your ability to successfully complete your studies, you will be required to disclose your criminal record. Conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • access to computers or devices that can store images
  • use of internet and communication tools/devices
  • curfews
  • freedom of movement
  • contact with people related to Cardiff University.

Course structure

The programme is structured around part-time delivery.

There will be four core modules of 30 credits each and a final Work-Based Project of 60 credits.  The taught modules will be scheduled in a series of three-day blocks (Wednesday-Friday) roughly five weeks apart, so typically one module will be completed per semester.

The modules shown are an example of the typical curriculum and will be reviewed prior to the 2020/21 academic year. The final modules will be published by September 2020.

Year one

Year one helps you explore some of the drivers for policy choices across the public services. It will encourage you to ‘look up and out’ and understand current and future challenges and their impact on strategic decision making. An understanding of change and the significance of different approaches to leadership will also be considered.

During the first year you will develop skills for engaging collaboratively with increasingly complex, unstructured service challenges that are the learning vehicle for exploring the nature of theory and practice. A series of Practice Workshops will provide opportunities to share the experiences of high profile guest speakers, facilitate leadership self-insight and self-confidence and use coaching circles to support you in addressing individual work-based challenges.

Year two

Building on the knowledge and skills developed in the first year, year two helps you consider different theories and approaches for turning policy into action. We will think through the implications of changing directions in policy for new forms of governance, service delivery and work processes. It will also support you to consider the nature of innovation and creativity, and its role in policy formulation and implementing service improvement.

Expectation of your ability to respond to challenges will become more demanding.  Professional Practice workshops will continue and the skills developed through the individual work based challenges will be consolidated in anticipation of the final project.  You will benefit from three sessions with an external coach to address specific career challenges, and enhance their capability as reflective leaders.

Module titleModule codeCredits
Leading Policy and DeliveryBST65230 credits
Innovation and Creativity in Public ServiceBST65330 credits
Work-Based ProjectBST66060 credits

The University is committed to providing a wide range of module options where possible, but please be aware that whilst every effort is made to offer choice this may be limited in certain circumstances. This is due to the fact that some modules have limited numbers of places available, which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, while others have minimum student numbers required before they will run, to ensure that an appropriate quality of education can be delivered; some modules require students to have already taken particular subjects, and others are core or required on the programme you are taking. Modules may also be limited due to timetable clashes, and although the University works to minimise disruption to choice, we advise you to seek advice from the relevant School on the module choices available.

Learning and assessment

How will I be taught?

Each module will be facilitated by a team consisting of internationally-recognised academics representing different disciplines from within Cardiff Business School and across the University, along with a wide range of experienced practitioners from different services, advisory bodies and think tanks. Coupled with your own extensive and varied experience, this approach is seen as key to the ability to understanding multiple perspectives and behaviours, challenge ingrained assumptions and work collaboratively across boundaries, real or imagined.  Masterclasses led by high profile guest speakers will provide additional opportunities to network and share learning about the challenges of strategy, innovation, leadership and change.

Modules will use challenges as a stimulus for learning. These will arise from issues identified during field trips to unfamiliar organisations, case studies, scenario-based provocations for policy implementation or user-centred consultancy challenges.  Drawing on techniques arising from action, problem-based and similar learning methodologies, participants will be encouraged to move between ‘the balcony and the battlefield’, focussing on issues such as the quality of evidence, approaches to data analysis, identifying key interdependencies, contrasting value assumptions, building influence and legitimacy, initiating and maintaining action, etc.  The focus will be on developing awareness of the dynamic and complex process of collaborative meaning making. This relies on high-level skills of self and group reflection rather than a dependency on simplistic task allocation and mechanical models of problem solving.

Across the modules, you will also have the opportunity to work on individual impact challenges arising from your own organisation, facilitated by coaching circles composed of your fellow students and invited guests. This experience will provide opportunities to gradually put into practice some of the knowledge as well as the intellectual, professional and transferable skills necessary for successful completion of the final project and their future leadership practice.

How will I be assessed?

Reflecting the ethos of the programme, assessment will encourage you to demonstrate critical analysis of the relationship between research and practice to understand a range of work-based challenges.

You will be assessed through a variety of methods, including written essays, group presentations and individual reflection. A learning log will underpin all the modules, where you will be encouraged to demonstrate in-depth reflection on issues arising from modules and the workplace. The log can also embrace learning arising from the one-to-one coaching sessions. This will be submitted at the end of the taught stage of the programme.

The final project will consist of a 20,000 word essay, which will present an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills that have been developed in a way that will create tangible value for a public service organisation.It requires you to address a small-scale challenge within the workplace that may have cross-service dimensions, and demonstrate a collaborative approach to its analysis and resolution.It will enable you to show understanding of relevant research and best practice, demonstrate sophisticated analytical and sense making skills, employ innovative techniques for engaging with multiple stakeholder and sectoral perspectives, and produce findings and an action plan that will have practical relevance to your host organisation. You will be encouraged to work closely with a work sponsor to enhance your organisational insights and change management strategies.

What are the learning outcomes of this course/programme?

The Learning Outcomes for this Programme describe what you will be able to do as a result of your study at Cardiff University. They will help you to understand what is expected of you. 

Knowledge & Understanding:

On successful completion of the Programme you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • current and future drivers for change in a variety of service contexts
  • contemporary theoretical debates on public service leadership and management
  • the challenges of strategic decision-making and policy implementation
  • ways of developing innovative approaches to policy enactment and performance improvement
  • International best practice across public services
  • issues that arise from working in a diverse and inclusive environment
  • traditional and emerging models of change and leadership in a variety of public service contexts

Intellectual Skills:

On successful completion of the Programme you will be able to demonstrate an ability to:

  • critically evaluate the relative merits of different academic and practitioner perspectives by focusing on a range of factors such as the quality of evidence cited and interests being pursued.
  • reflect critically on the relationship between theory and practice, and policy and delivery, to understand improvement challenges
  • analyse the complex interdependencies of a range of unstructured scenarios to identify options and delivering responses to service challenges
  • identify and integrate multiple stakeholder perspectives across boundaries of all sorts – geographic, sector, organisational, etc.
  • analyse the change context and identify potential barriers to implementation and the implications for leadership
  • adopt a global perspective, looking ‘up and out’ in response to opportunities and choices

Professional Practical Skills:

On successful completion of the Programme you will be able to demonstrate an ability to:

  • engage with complex issues systematically and creatively
  • respond confidently to change and uncertainty
  • select appropriate leadership skills to ensure impact
  • build a strong practice of cross-service collaboration
  • demonstrate a clear public value ethos and ethical integrity
  • see problems as opportunities and develop innovative responses to service challenges
  • initiate and sustain effective action and impact
  • learn from partial progress and significant failure.

Transferable/Key Skills:

On successful completion of the Programme you will be able to demonstrate an ability to:

  • collect qualitative and quantitative information systematically from primary and secondary sources
  • extract clear messages from the careful analysis and synthesis of complex information 
  • critically analyse material, identifying assumptions, evaluating quality of evidence, detecting false logic or reasoning, and identify implicit values
  • construct clear, persuasive and well-founded arguments to communicate information and justify insights, using a range of media and formats
  • work both autonomously and collaboratively, with particular reference to the diversity of partners
  • bring initiative and creative insight to problem solving processes
  • solve complex problems and make, implement and review decisions
  • offer constructive and insightful critical self and peer evaluation

Tuition fees

UK and EU students (2020/21)

Tuition feeDeposit

More information about tuition fees and deposits, including for part-time and continuing students.

Financial support may be available to individuals who meet certain criteria. For more information visit our funding section. Please note that these sources of financial support are limited and therefore not everyone who meets the criteria are guaranteed to receive the support.

EU students entering in 2020/21 will pay the same tuition fee as UK students for the duration of their course. Please be aware that fees may increase annually in line with inflation. The Welsh Government has not yet confirmed fees and funding for EU students starting in 2021/22. We will provide further details as soon as we can.

Students from outside the EU (2020/21)

Tuition feeDeposit

More information about tuition fees and deposits, including for part-time and continuing students.

Financial support may be available to individuals who meet certain criteria. For more information visit our funding section. Please note that these sources of financial support are limited and therefore not everyone who meets the criteria are guaranteed to receive the support.

Additional costs

No additional costs will need to be considered.

Will I need any specific equipment to study this course/programme?

No specific equipment is required.

Careers and placements

The programme is designed for those already working in a public service.  However, successful completion of the programme will enable participants to apply for more senior positions, and new hybrid roles emerging across the public services.


Students on this programme will normally be in full-time employment.


Master's Excellence Scholarship

This award worth £3000 is open to UK and EU students intending to study one of our taught master’s degrees.

Postgraduate Master’s Finance

If you’re starting your master’s degree in September 2020 or later, you may be able to apply for postgraduate student finance to support your study at Cardiff University.

Alumni Discount Pilot Scheme

An alumni discount scheme for all master’s programmes offered by Cardiff Business School and conversion courses in subjects including journalism, geography and planning, and creative writing.

Next steps


Open Day visits

Register for information about our 2020 dates.

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