Skip to main content

Unit information: Public Organisation in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Public Organisation
Unit code ECONM1020
Credit points 15
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Burgess
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Management
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The course provides an understanding of the economics of the provision of public services. These services are often financed by government but may be provided by private, not for profit or state providers. The topics addressed include the use of incentives in contracting for public services, the impact of competition and choice, the role for non-for-profits, contracting out and privatisation, and market and government failure in core areas of the welfare state. The course covers both theoretical and empirical material and potential implications for policy design are kept in mind throughout.

Intended learning outcomes

The question ‘how should governments provide public services?’ is both difficult and important. Fore mostly, students taking this course will learn the economic principles that can help answer the question. In particular students will learn how incentives, competition and choice shape service provision both in theory and in practice. Students will also learn how both market and government failure can damage welfare provision and the implications of these issues for policy.

Teaching details

Lectures and classes. Students will be required to participate in class discussions and group exercises.

Assessment Details

The unit is assessed via coursework (30%) and a two-hour examination (70%) in the Summer term. The exam will contain a range of discursive questions aimed at testing students’ depth of knowledge of the economics underlying the provision of public services. The exam structure will require that students can demonstrate a good understanding of the problems of market and government failure and how incentives, competition and choice determine service provision.

The course work will be a group assignment (students will have a choice from a restricted list).. The group presentation will be designed to cover one or more of the specific lecture topics. So it will bring together the material for the students, thus complementing their detailed study of each topic separately. This will test the student’s in depth knowledge of the topics and their ability to bring together economic theory and recent evidence. They will be required in class to do a group presentation of this. This will receive written feedback, but not be marked.

They will then write up the topic as an individual piece of work for formal assessment. As a result of doing some of the preparation as part of a group, there is some overlap in content, but we expect from experience on the APPA module that more able students can demonstrate that they have a better understanding of the evaluation technique and its application.

Reading and References

Financing and Managing Public Services, special issue of Oxford Review of Economic Policy Volume 19 No 2 (2003)

Heckman J J, Smith J A and Taber C, (1996) ‘What do bureaucrats do? The effect of performance standards and bureaucratic preferences on acceptance into the JTPA program’ in Advances in the Study of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Growth, JAI Press, 7, 191-217.

Barr N, The Economics of the Welfare State, 4th edition

Culter, D and Reber, S (1998) Paying for Health Insurance: The Trade-Off between Competition and Adverse Selection, Quarterly Journal of Economics 113, 2: 433-466

Megginson W.L. and J.M. Netter, (2001), From State to Market: A Survey of Empirical Studies on Privatisation, Journal of Economic Literature, Vol 39, 321-389

Burgess, S, Propper, C and Wilson, D , Choice: Will More Choice Improve Outcomes in Education and Health Care? The Evidence from Economic Research' CMPO, University of Bristol March 2005