Experiences

Course Reviews: Master of Public Policy at the Hertie School of Governance

When I started my graduate degree most people would hear ‘Master of Public Policy‘, nod, pause a couple of a seconds and then ask me what that was, exactly. At first I didn’t know how to answer. Judging from the answers given by my graduating class (and myself) we’re still not entirely sure.

Now, at least, when people ask me about the course I did I have a quickfire response: it’s like an MBA but for politics.

Need someone to revamp a bit of your company? Hire an MBA grad. Want somebody to draft you a new policy or run a project that isn’t profit oriented? Hire an MPP grad.

The world of modern government is difficult. The public sector is responsible for far more than it ever used to be, people expect much more from and the general public is generally more dissatisfied with it than ever. Public policy schools have sprung up to try to train people who can solve some of these problems.

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Isaiah Berlin

Personally, my motivation for doing an MPP came from my various internships in development and hearing the experiences of friends and bloggers who were doing similar things. I saw that, often, many organisations in the sector aren’t run very well. They aren’t financially stable, the people in charge are often technical experts rather than people who know how to run organisations, and, as a result, most organisations are struggling to stay relevant, transparent and respected during a difficult moment in history. Rather than become a highly specialised lawyer or logistics expert, I figured, why not go study to be a generalist – be the person who lets specialists focus on their specialisations.

The MPP programme dips into economics, law, politics, public administration and statistics; enough to give graduates an understanding of the broader set of challenges facing public and nonprofit organisations today. This is a degree that sees the fox as superior to the hedgehog, an approach that I think global development truly benefits from. If you want to come out of your graduate school experience an expert in your field, this probably isn’t the course for you.

Of course, you do learn skills. In the (brutal) first semester everybody gets a crash course in economics (both micro and macro in 12 weeks!) and statistics, where you learn to use STATA and understand multiple regressions. I did courses on digital economics, learned how to download and analyse social media data, got an introduction to law and participated in a series of mock negotiations during my two years in Berlin.

The MPP is a professional graduate degree that focuses on shorter, more workplace applicable outputs: memos, short essays, presentation after dreaded presentation. It is a tough and full time course that gets through a lot of material very quickly. The day I handed in my thesis I had an oral exam. After that, I went right home to work on two essays due that same week. Many of my peers would agree that this course was a lot more work and hours (say goodbye to your weekends) than most jobs. But once you get through it, nothing else is likely to phase you.

The Berlin experience

I chose to go to the Hertie School in Berlin for three main reasons: it was cheaper than most of the other options (both in terms of tuition and living costs); I really liked the city from previous visits; and my partner grew up in Berlin. I’m still very pleased with my decision.

There are things you probably already know. Berlin is cheap as chips. Berlin is still just about the coolest city on the planet right now. But it is also the capital of Europe’s most powerful country and the Hertie School is located a couple of minutes from the Reichstag, slap bang in the middle of the government district. Practically every day at Hertie a important minister, ambassador, policy maker or social scientist visits to give a talk (with free food and drinks afterwards). You can’t help but feel you’re at the centre of a major political capital. In addition, Hertie is tiny compared to most of its competitors – my graduating class, the only class of my cohort, was just 146 people. That’s it. You’ll know most of your peers and most of the professors will know your name and learn your interests. You don’t feel part of a huge machine at Hertie, but part of a very active, very well connected political community.

There are downsides. Hertie is a very young institution, just over a decade old, and doesn’t have the name recognition (at least outside Germany) of the LSE or Columbia University. Particularly for non-Europeans, battling with the bureaucratic German registration process and finding housing can be gruelling. While my fellow students were largely very well integrated there is no denying that the Germans tended to stick with their fellow Germans, leaving the rest of us ausländer to club together.

On the whole, however, the downsides were handily outweighed. What Hertie doesn’t have in brand recognition it makes up for in faculty and staff who are massively committed and energetic – it’s a young, small, hungry institution that doesn’t coast along on its name. One of the worst aspects of my undergraduate experience was the feeling that I wasn’t seen as a student with interests and potential, but a source of income. This will not happen at Hertie.

The MPP network

I heard about the MPP via the Master of Public Administration course offered at the London School of Economics (which is, broadly, the same as the MPP offered at Hertie). There are several Public Policy schools who band together around the world offering more or less comparable degrees and a huge amount of study abroad and dual degree options. Friends of mine studied part of their 2 year degrees in London, New York, Washington, Paris, Tokyo, Cairo, Milan and Moscow.

Hertie is the most Europe/EU focused of the public policy schools. It has EU staffers and former European Central Bank officials in its faculty. Most of the lessons focus on European issues (not German, specifically, but in recent years the two have been hard to disentangle). Some students were disappointed that they could not focus on geographical or thematic areas – such as Latin America or Conflict Resolution – so check out the rest of the policy schools before you choose one: most have a general area of interest/focus.

All MPP/MPAs are taught in English. You can travel the world and meet your fellow politics geeks at yearly student conferences like the European Public Policy Network or the Global Public Policy Network (which I attended in 2013). My graduating cohort contained students from 36 different countries, starting with Afghanistan all the way through to Uruguay. Friends have gone on to travel and work or study in many more countries. There aren’t many places in the world I can go and not find somebody in this network, sweating it out writing policy memos, ready to give me local tips and share a drink or two.

It’s not often in life that you will meet so many interesting people in such a short space of time (several of whom have written for this blog). In 20 years time, I’m sure that the most valuable thing to come from my time at Hertie won’t be the skills or ideas I learned, but the network of people I met.

Five characteristics of a happy Hertie MPP student:

  1. You don’t want to be a specialist/you don’t know what you want to specialise in just yet.
  2. You want to work in the public or nonprofit sectors (or in socially oriented business).
  3. You value personal attention over big name recognition.
  4. You care about the EU.
  5. You are internationalist in outlook.
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18 thoughts on “Course Reviews: Master of Public Policy at the Hertie School of Governance

  1. Valentina says:

    It was really great to find this review. As a bolivian sociologist looking for a Master programme far away from my continent, not really knowing what to specialize in yet, it was good to know the details you just gave. Not only the programme’s main focus, but some doubts I had about regarding Hertie’s recognition being relatively new. It seems that all in all, it is a good school! So, thank you very much!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michelle says:

    Can I contest some things? 😱 Ithink my experience was a bit different than yours (especially regarding EU stuff and specialization!)

    Like

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  5. Pedro Errazuriz says:

    Dear Rowan,

    Thank you so much for this review. I had been thinking to apply for past two years, which I finally did this year, and now I was offered admission to the class of 2019 starting from next year.

    I’m very excited about it, but the cost of the course, though maybe lower than other internationally recognized options, is still very high, including the two years living in Berlin (I know its cheap, but that is more appreciated when you come from England or France rather than Southamerica, like I do).

    So basically now I’m giving it financially thoughts.

    But thank you a lot, insights like these are very useful. If you have anything else to share, please do.

    Best,
    Pedro

    Like

    • You’re very right Pedro – there is nothing cheap about taking the course at Hertie! It and Berlin are only relatively cheap. MPPs, MPAs and MBAs are all expensive things to do.

      I know some people worked and studied side by side to help with costs. There are also grants available – did you look at DAAD?

      Hope you get to Hertie, thanks for reading.

      Like

  6. Paul says:

    Hi Rowan, Could you tell us more about what you’re doing now if you don’t mind ?
    As you rightly pointed out, the Hertie still lacks the brand name. How did this translate on the job market, was it harder to find a job ?

    best,

    Like

    • Hi Paul. I have been a little slow on the job front because a) I decided to stay in Germany and b) have to learn German to be competitive. I’ve had a bunch of interviews but haven’t found the right thing yet.

      But I’d say almost everybody I graduated with is working somewhere pretty interesting – I don’t think the brand is harmful. Actually, within Germany and within public/politics related sectors Hertie is very well regarded already. I wouldn’t know internationally.

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  8. Sam says:

    Hi Rowan,

    Thanks for your review.It’s enriching and candid.

    I’ve been offered an admit to the school for the MPP Class 2019 , and I’m exploring the pros and cons and taking up the program.

    Can you tell us a bit more about the socially oriented business careers that Hertie could help one take up ?

    Also, taking from the internationalist outlook characteristic could someone enjoy the program while having thematic interests in developing countries like BRICS and Africa ?

    Also want to understand if Public Policy schools in the US and the EU run like parallel universes in terms of faculty,collaboration and areas of study concern…

    Would really appreciate some guidance while I make a decision, and a personal connect for more questions if you think that is a good idea.

    Warm Regards

    Sam

    Like

    • Hi Sam

      Congratulations on the offer. Berlin is a great place to live and Hertie was a fantastic experience for me.

      A lot of my cohort have gone on to work in public sector consulting, which might be deemed as a socially oriented business career. In terms of social enterprises and the like, I know from past experience that those tend to be dominated by MBAs and engineers (like many start ups) but you could definitely find a way into that world. A really good way, if you’re interested, is to really focus on your data skills (which is one of the streams of the MPP). All those social enterprises need data people! For me, I have leaned into communications stuff – making websites, writing, marketing – and that is also something most of those companies need.

      As I said, the focus was much more on the EU at Hertie than on development. That said, loads of people from my cohort have gone into development work. Dev agencies need people who understand politics and are good with numbers. The MPP is great training for that. You will also learn a lot about bureaucracies and the UN etc are certainly those.

      The MPP schools worldwide are, to my understanding, all pretty similar. Obviously, some are just departments in much larger universities so you’d get the benefits and drawbacks of that. Hertie is super focused, which, for me, was great. Everyone gave a shit.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hey Rowan. Thanks for the insights. I have been unable to make a decision between an MDev at IHEID in Geneva or an MIA at Hertie. What would you say are some reasons to choose Hertie over IHEID? (Excluding reasons related to Berlin as a bloody amazing city). Thanks 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • The MDev looks interesting. If you are determined to go into development than it seems like an excellent choice. If you aren’t sure, try the MIA. Hertie is very much in the business of training generalists. For me, that was more appealing because I wanted flexibility in terms of post masters career.

      Like

  10. Hello Rowan,

    Thank you so much for your entry. I am thinking on applying to Hertie this year to start next year.

    My situation is a little weird because I have almost 4 years of experience with a UN agency. My work requires me to change cities-countries too often and I have realized I need stability in my life. Coming from Latin America, I do not have a permit to work in Europe, Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world, so I thought if I want to settle, that might be it. It is especially convenient, since Germany provides a resident permit to foreign nationals who hold a german degree.

    So.. my reason to do the MPP is to stay and find a job. My background is in international law and human rights so I would have to acquire more specific skills for the german non-profit market. Do you happen to know other foreign classmates that secured jobs in Germany after the MPP???

    Thank you again!

    Like

    • Hi Maria

      A fair few of my non-German classmates are now working here in Germany so it is possible. It must be said that, in terms of development jobs, Berlin is not a great city. There aren’t a whole lot of organisations in the sector who even have an office here, let alone a large one.

      But there are some.

      The real trick is to learn German. That opens up all the major foundations. The other option is to get work in embassies but that probably won’t help your lack of stability!

      Like

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