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The applicant must hold a master's degree or equivalent in political science, public administration, public sector management, governance or equivalent (sub-)disciplines. The degree must normally comprise a minimum of 90 ECTS credits in subjects related to (sub-)disciplines mentioned above, of which 30 credits must be from the 4th or 5th year of study. Previous knowledge in social-scientific methodology must be documented. Grade requirement: Average of B (or equivalent) or better.

Great demands are placed on the applicant's capacity for independent goal-oriented work, ability to concentrate and attention to detail. Applicants will be assessed on the basis of their academic background and results, and any previous research and development work. Relevant practical experience, personal suitability and good teamwork skills will also be emphasised.

Applicants must submit a project description of maximum 10 pages, including the bibliography. The project description should include a presentation of possible research questions/hypotheses, theoretical framework, data/material and methods as well as a progress plan for the proposed doctoral project. The quality of the project description is essential to the assessment of the applications.

The following documentation will be required when applying:

  • Certified copies of diplomas and references
  • List of academic publications
  • Master's thesis
  • Other academic publications
  • Project description (maximum 10 pages)
  • Financial plan, if funded externally
  • Course plan, in accordance with the specialisation  description

See also Supplementary regulations for the PhD degree at the Faculty of Social Sciences.


The focus in the PhD specialisation in Public Administration is the study of public governance processes and the role of institutions. The program has a particular European focus, notably on boundary crossing processes in European public administration. Boundary crossing activities imply that public administration span policy areas and levels of government (local, national and international levels); thereby creating new complex administrative orders. The program aims to examine and explain contemporary developments, and thereby understanding how to cope with contemporary public problems and values.

Two empirical laboratories

The coursework offered in this PhD specialisation is theoretically centered on institutional and organisational theories. The empirical domain is centered on two empirical laboratories:

  • International organisations, notably the role of international public administration such as the European Commission
  • Regional and local government and governance

The focus of the specialisation is thus two-folded. First, focus is on the complex set of governance dynamics embedded in administrative systems. Second, focus is on how the public administrations of international executive institutions and regional and local administrations are increasingly interlinked, intermeshed and intertwined.


Public administration is increasingly faced with complex, intertwined and interlinked problems, solutions and actors (Rhodes et al. 2006; Rosenau 1997; Shapiro et al. 2006). Public administration also faces enduring and enhanced tensions between competing interests, concerns, norms and values. Efforts to solve, buffer and re-balance these tensions and trade-offs are done in different ways by different administrative systems and these endeavors have become vastly more complex. This development disputes existing administrative solutions, traditions and practices. When these challenges meet existing administrative systems, new dynamics of public administration may emerge. One effect has been a strengthened plea for a major overhaul and reform of administrative systems. More complex challenges arguably cry for more complex administrative solutions. This programme aims to understand continuity and change in contemporary public administration facing turbulent times.

The core area of the specialisation focuses on research themes such as:

  • Continuity and change of public governance
  • The interaction and mutual penetration of public administration at different levels of government
  • Network governance and coordination between functional units, territories, administrative levels and societal sectors
  • The study of international public administration (IPA)
  • Public administration and democratic governance
  • Comparative public policy: investigating similarities and differences across countries (e.g. reform dynamics), administrative layers, levels of analysis, modes of governance and sectors of activity, with a privileged focus on the Nordic countries and the wider European region. 


The PhD specialisation is organised to be completed in a three-year period. The first year is devoted to coursework and beginning of the thesis work. The coursework comprises a core course in public administration, courses in research methods and a substantive specialisation course.


Programme components

The coursework is divided into three main areas, as presented below. In total the coursework consists of 30 ECTS credits.


Compulsory Core course

(10 ECTS)

Composite Political Systems and Governance (10   credits)

Elective specialisation course

(5 ECTS)

This course is subject to the choice of the PhD candidate (5 credits)

Compulsory methodology courses

(15 ECTS)

1)    Researching Social Sciences: Philosophical and Methodological Foundations (10 ECTS).

2)    5 credits is required in research methods. These courses are electives and thus subject to the choice of the PhD candidate.

Sum credit course work

30 credits

Core course. The core course (10 credits) offers the PhD candidates a thorough grounding in the key literature of public administration, institutionalism, organisation theory, and contemporary developments towards composite aspects of governance.

Methodology courses. The purpose of the methods courses is to provide PhD candidates with a solid methodological foundation. A minimum of 15 credits are required in research methods of various kinds. The course ME-631 Researching Social Sciences: Philosophical and Methodological Foundations (10 ECTS) is offered by the faculty of Social Sciences. The choice of courses in research methods is subject to the choice of the PhD candidates.

Specialisation course. The specialisation courses (5 credits in total) go into depth in a limited number of specific issues covered in the core course. Specialisation courses will help the PhD candidate to achieve a sufficient knowledge within a narrow subfield of public administration and to start producing research in this field.

It will also be possible to arrange reading courses tailor-made for individual PhD candidates in specialised areas of interest and competence, where the completion of such courses will require writing a scientific paper. The content of such courses is subject to approval by the PhD committee. Participation in research seminars and conferences may also give course credits, subject to approval by the PhD committee.

Requirements and obligations

According to §13.1 of the University of Agder's regulations for the degree of Philosophiae Doctor (PhD), the PhD degree is awarded on the basis of

  • Approved completion of required coursework and training component
  • Approved academic thesis
  • Approved trial lecture on an assigned topic
  • Approved public defence of the PhD thesis (disputation)

The PhD thesis is to be an independent piece of academic work that meets international academic standards and methods in the subject area. It must contribute to the development of new scholarly knowledge and must achieve a level meriting publication as part of the literature in its field. The thesis may consist of a monograph or a compendium of several shorter papers. If the thesis consists of several shorter papers, they should number between 3 and 4, where a minimum of 2 papers are written by the candidate alone. If papers are co-written, the candidate must be the principal author. Letters of co-authorship must be attached. It is expected that the PhD candidate work on the thesis throughout the whole 3-year period. During this period, the PhD candidate should strive to spend some time at collaborating institutions abroad.

Learning Outcomes

When the PhD candidate has completed the PhD programme she/he:

  • is in the research frontier in his/her particular field of research and has in-depth knowledge on relevant theories and methods in the field of public administration
  • masters and can discuss theories of science and methods relevant for the field of public administration
  • has experience with the research process and ways to disseminate new knowledge in relevant outlets

When the PhD candidate has completed the PhD programme she/he:

  • can contribute to develop new knowledge, theory, methods, interpretations and forms of documentation within the field of public administration
  • can evaluate and judge the adequacy of using different theories and methods in the research process
  • can formulate research questions, plan and conduct research at the research frontier within public administration
  • can master complex scholarly questions and puzzles in public administration
  • can write different scholarly texts within the field of public administration and reflect on the research and writing process
  • can critically evaluate and pass constructive judgement on scholarly work within public administration and neighbouring disciplines
  • can establish and maintain scholarly networks

General competences
When the PhD candidate has completed the PhD programme she/he:

  • can identify and reflect upon relevant ethical questions in the research process and conduct own research according to established ethical standards
  • can contextualise scholarly phenomena historically, institutionally and culturally
  • can gather, analyse and disseminate a comprehensive amount of scholarly text
  • can present own and others scholarly work in relevant forums

Teaching methods

Mainly lectures and seminars, and supervision of the thesis work.


Usually through course papers, where pass or fail is awarded. A pass indicates a high academic level, equivalent to grade B or better.


The PhD degree will qualify for careers both in public and private sectors, as well as academia.


The programme leads to a PhD degree in Social Sciences, with specialisation in Public Administration.

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