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Public Values & Ethics (SPOC)


Admission requirements

This online course is part of the minor programs Public Administration: Multi-Level Governance and Bestuurskunde: Openbaar Bestuur, Beleid en Management.
It is also part of the Erasmus Exchange program and available as an elective course.


“Public Values and Ethics” is a small private online course (SPOC) developed for several programs offered by the Institute of Public Administration at Leiden University. The SPOC offers an introduction to important ethical approaches and moral issues in contemporary public administration. As the title indicates, two notions are central to this course: public values and (public) ethics. The notion of public values, firstly, is particularly popular nowadays and is adopted here as a means to understand and articulate the special character of the public sector. It conceptualizes the difference between a public and a private sector in terms of values served in each. So, the character of the public sector is explained in terms of ‘public values’. Public values is a hot topic nowadays in the study of public administration and a helpful entrance to many fundamental and pressing issues. The notion of (public) ethics, secondly, particularly directs our attention to the proper fulfillment of public office. Holders of positions in the public sector are continuously facing moral questions and choices. Ethics intends to help them tackle those by offering arguments for particular answers and options over others. In this connection, issues of public wrongdoing (corruption and/or other integrity violations) and controversial public behavior (dirty hands) are also discussed.

Please note:Initially, this course was part of dr. Patrick Overeem’s project as an Leiden Teacher Academy fellow. Dr. Overeem developed the course up to a point before, however, leaving Leiden University for a new position at the VU University Amsterdam in September 2016. Following dr. Overeem’s departure, the course has been taken over and finished by dr. Toon Kerkhoff, senior Lecturer, and Daniëlle van Osch, MSc. MA, PhD candidate. Assistance will furthermore be provided by a student-assistant.

Course objectives

After taking the SPOC, students should be able:

  1. To describe the meaning of the concepts and approaches discussed this course.
  2. To explain how the public sector (and specific issues within it) can be understood from the viewpoints of public values and ethics.
  3. To argue about the applicability of those concepts and approaches to the public sector (and specific issues within it).
  4. To argue about the moral quality of particular public policies, forms of public management, and behavior in public office by making use of the concepts and approaches discussed in this course.


For a timetable, please see the course guide which will be offered at a later date. Times and dates of webinars from 28/11/2016 onwards, will be provided there as well.

Mode of instruction

This course is offered online. There are no face-to-face meetings, apart from the final exam.

The modes of instruction include:
0 9 video lectures of roughly 5 to 9 minutes each, available via an online platform.
0 5 webinar session.
0 An online digital platform for: - MC quizzes - E-tivity: a forum discussion with online moderation by the lecturers - Peer assessments and discussion of literature
0 Every week some so-called ‘glue’ will be provided online in which the instructors introduce the week’s topic and connect it, if possible, with current affairs in government and administration.

Course Load

Students are expected to spend the regular amount of time on this course for 5 ECTS, i.e. 140 hours. Most of this is spent as self-study hours and participation in online discussions, peer assignments and quizzes, apart from 3 examination hours.

Assessment method

  • All students make one final written exam (50%) and write one final essay (50%)

  • Students are expected to participate in online quizzes after each module to train and test knowledge and insight. A quiz consists of 5 multiple choice questions. The correct answers are given immediately after the quiz is finished, with explanation concerning the right answer. Quizzes are mandatory but will not be graded.

  • There are two peer review assignment, where students have to answer open questions and provide feedback to each other’s answers. This is moderated by the lecturers. Peer reviews are mandatory but will not be graded.

You will be able to find more information about assessments, assignments and the timetable for exams in the course hand-out.

For rules of compensation and retakes, please refer to the website of the Board of Examiners of the Institute of Public Administration


Blackboard will be not be used in this course. Instead we will use a different digital platform for this online course. Students will be notified in advance about how this works. The online platform (and accompanying documents) will be available (at the latest) one week before the first class, i.e. from 24 October onwards.

Reading list

For this course, students will read two handbooks:
1. Mizzoni, John (2009 of 2010). Ethics: The Basics. Chicester, UK: Wiley Blackwell. Paperback.
2. Lawton, Alan, Rayner, Julie, & Karin Lasthuizen (2012 of 2013). Ethics and Management in the Public Sector. London/New York: Routledge. Paperback.

Both books are readily available for purchase online. One of each will also be put in the permanent reading stand in the Library on the Schouwburgstraat. Students can copy etc. but not take them with them. Buying the book is, however, highly advisable. Please be careful when copying to preserve the book for others.

Students will have to read some additional articles (see course hand-out later)


Use activity number 15867 in uSis to register for this course and we ask you to register asap.
In uSis you can view your results.


Dr. A.D.N. Kerkhoff