Honours Public Administration: The Evolving Role of Public Service

This article will discuss the historical background of public administration and the role of public administrators. It’ll also cover several career paths you can pursue by studying for an Honours Public Administration.


The role of public service has never been more critical or dynamic. As South Africa’s societies evolve, so must the individuals and organisations responsible for creating, implementing, and managing public policies. Thus, the need for highly-trained public sector administrators has increased dramatically.

MANCOSA offers an Honours Public Administration degree that equips students with an advanced understanding of research methods and organisational strategy in the public sector.

This article will discuss the historical background of public administration and the role of public administrators. It’ll also cover several career paths you can pursue by studying for an Honours Public Administration.

The historical background of public administration

The role of public administration is to implement and manage effective public policies, services, and programmes on behalf of governmental organisations. These include local, regional, national, and international organisations. Public administration is crucial in how the government functions and provides services and goods to its people. Before 1994, South Africa had a centralised, bureaucratic, and unresponsive public service with little transparency, fostering corruption and power abuse.

After apartheid, South Africa aimed to transform its governance, modernise the public service, and enhance efficiency, accountability, and people-centricity.

Since 1994, significant changes have occurred, including the adoption of a progressive 1996 constitution, the removal of apartheid laws, and the establishment of independent institutions to ensure accountability, safeguard democracy, and protect human rights. These developments allowed citizens to freely express their political views and trust the judicial system, marking a significant transformation in South Africa’s governance landscape.

Contemporary challenges and disruptions

The need for public change in the South African public sector primarily stemmed from apartheid and the transition to democracy after 1994. The South African public sector now faces several challenges, including the following.

  • Growing complexity of societal issues: Like other countries, South Africa struggles with challenges such as healthcare, poverty, education, and social justice. The challenges require comprehensive and calculated solutions from the public sector — which can be highly challenging to implement and manage.
  • Emergence of technology: The rapid advancement of technology has brought many opportunities and challenges to the South African public sector. While technological advances can help streamline efficiency, they also demand significant investment in infrastructure and systems.
  • Lack of basic literacy and service delivery: South Africa faces a persistent issue with basic illiteracy in certain regions. This can make it more challenging for citizens of these regions to access and benefit from public services. This also leads to higher costs for the SA public sector, with a recent report stating that illiteracy costs South Africa R119 billion.
  • Budgetary constraints and pressures: South Africa faces several fiscal constraints and pressures because of economic fluctuations and competing resource demands. This makes meeting a diverse population’s needs while balancing a budget extremely difficult.

Transformation and evolving role of public administrators

The public sector has made some changes in response to these challenges. Here are the main three changes.

  • Digital governance: South Africa has adopted digital governance practices in response to the need to modernise its public sector. This includes the adoption of e-government initiatives to improve service delivery and efficiency. Some of these initiatives include open data, cybersecurity, online service delivery, and digital infrastructure in all areas (including underserved ones). This makes access to digital services attainable to all citizens.
  • Auditing: Due to continuous corruption and misuse of public funds, South Africa has realised the importance of transparency and accountability. Therefore, they implemented auditing and oversight mechanisms to help overcome these challenges. These include mechanisms such as public account committees, such as the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), and Auditor Generals who independently audit government finances.
  • Focus on citizen engagement: South Africa has strongly emphasised engaging its citizens in governance processes. These include community-based participation, social accountability, and access to information.

What can I become if I study Honours Public Administration?

While many students pursue a career as a Public Administrator in an organisation’s Public Administration department after completing their Honours Public Administration studies, there are several other careers you could take up.

  • Public Administrator: Public Administrators work in the public sector, overseeing federal, state, and local government entities. They’re responsible for implementing and managing public policies and coordinating public programmes.
  • Business Administrator: Business Administrators oversee the day-to-day operations of businesses. Some of their duties include hiring staff members, implementing new policies, and leading business meetings.
  • Policy Analyst or Practitioner: Policy Analysts are professionals who develop ideas for policies that address social circumstances. They investigate current policies using research and propose solutions based on their findings.
  • Public Affairs Manager: These managers refine and manage public organisation’s messages and policy positions. They work closely with the CEOs and often participate in meetings with community stakeholders, government staff, and elected officials.
  • Non-Profit Organisation or Charity Specialist: These specialists manage the charitable giving of non-profit organisations. They also develop goals and manage annual fundraising efforts.
  • Human Resource Specialist: Human Resource Specialists are responsible for monitoring all human resource functions of the organisation. They create benefits and compensation packages, hire staff members, update employee records, etc.
  • Community Liaison Officer: Community Liason Officers interact with the local communities on behalf of their organisations (such as schools and public administration departments). They need to provide information and train people in the community.
  • Healthcare Administrator: These professionals oversee patient care at public hospitals and medical facilities. They’re involved in the daily operations of these facilities, including direct operations, hospital finances, and advocating strategies to improve the facility.
  • Ethics and Compliance Specialist: These specialists are responsible for reducing the risk of unethical or illegal company practices by assessing their ethics and codes of conduct. They make sure these companies comply with laws and regulations.

Register for Honours in Public Administration with MANCOSA

Studying for an Honours Public Administration opens many doors to fulfilling and lucrative careers in the public sector. If you’re further along your journey, MANCOSA offers a Master of Public Administration to further your career. Or, if you want to get started in the public sector, you can also pursue a Bachelor of Public Administration to get your foot in the door.