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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Advice, Experiences

Course Review: Development Studies and African Studies at SOAS

Written by Tomas Zak

When choosing what course I wanted to do at undergraduate level, I wanted to strike a balance between the practical part of my degree, which I thought would get me a job (Development Studies) and my own personal interests (African Studies), but I eventually realised this was a false distinction.

It was not a job-orientated degree. Both sides were intensely theoretical. In African Studies, the focus was predominately on learning a language and different aspects of African cultures such as film, music, literature, religion, etc…

Similarly, in what should really be called Critical Development Studies, there is a concerted effort to dismantle the problematic notion that “we” develop “them”. Instead, the course examines what it is in Western societies that inhibits development elsewhere. It looks into broader attempts at systemic reform, rather than piecemeal palliative measures perpetuated by the development orthodoxy.

Taken as a whole, the degree sought to marry this critical analysis of the development business with an understanding of a particular context – primarily by learning a language.

Pros

Language
As funding is getting cut across the board, fewer and fewer places have the language specialisation on offer at SOAS. The one thing I would have done differently when it comes to languages is to have gone on the year abroad, even if it meant taking a year longer to complete my degree, paying more fees and dealing with the pitfalls of SOAS organisation in a foreign country.

Through immersion you learn the most, but you have to be driven and above all, interested. SOAS has some great connections abroad, but it’s all about how you use them. I’d think carefully before picking a language as it is probably one of the decisions which will take the longest to bear fruit, but for me it was definitely worthwhile.

Interdisciplinary
In the core courses in development, there is no one lecturer. Lecturers will vary and come to teach their area of specialisation. So you will meet a lot of lecturers from different faculties and get to hear about how their current research ties into the topic at hand. It also gives you the opportunity to scope out potential dissertation supervisors.

Diversity
Not only in terms of nationality – but also in terms of a diversity of experiences, influences and norms. This applies to teaching staff and students alike and leads to interesting, albeit heated, debates both in tutorials, but also in the bar. It can begin to sound like a bad joke. A Tibetan monk, an anarchist and an Old Etonian sit down for a tutorial…

Cons

Ideological straitjacket
It is no secret that SOAS is one of the foremost centres for the study of Marxism and this seeps through into almost all aspects of teaching. There is very much a SOAS-line and after sitting in yet another tutorial full of nodding heads bashing the IMF, it can begin to sound like a broken record so try and break out.

London is perfect for this. There are talks, conferences, debates and book launches at places like the Royal African Society, the Africa Centre, the Overseas Development Institute, the London International Development Centre, Birbeck, LSE, Kings, UCL, etc… Chances are you’ll hear more than enough and come running back to the bubble that is SOAS, but it’s still worth hearing the other side.

Admin and organisation
Navigating the corridors of the Byzantine system that is SOAS bureaucracy will probably take up a substantial amount of your time. Menial tasks like changing courses or submitting a hard copy of an essay will have you running around chasing signatures and knocking on doors.

Tips on getting the most out of the degree:

Follow good lecturers not interesting sounding courses (H/T Chris Blattman).
At SOAS, the course I was most excited about on paper turned out to be taught by one of the worst lecturers. Some academics might have a wealth of knowledge, extensive work experience, huge research grants or have written ground-breaking books, but are very bad at public speaking and transmitting that information.

By contrast, a lecturer that has been running the same module year-on-year, benefits from a number of students shaping, improving and even challenging their thinking. If they are a good lecturer, they will have incorporated new ideas, have tried and tested different ways of teaching and altered the content of the course in response to current events and contemporary research. If you do end up taking the risk with a new course, don’t be afraid to change even if you are a couple of lectures in – I wish I had.

Don’t get fixated on the job at the end of your degree
Like I said, it’s not a job-orientated degree. For that reason, I got more out of courses I was genuinely interested in, irrespective of whether a module in “African Philosophy” has any practical application beyond university. In all probability, you won’t have as good a chance to explore your academic interests again after university so you might as well go for it.

SOAS isn’t for everyone, but to my mind one of the biggest drawbacks is probably its main selling point. Coming from a fairly right-wing environment, SOAS was an oasis where radical thinking was not dismissed outright, but considered as a plausible alternative. There are very few places in the UK where this is the case.

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Advice, Experiences, Learning

Course Reviews: Development at Tufts University’s Fletcher School

Don’t be fooled by its full name: The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy isn’t a law school or a Foreign Service training program. A graduate school at Tufts University, Fletcher’s course offerings cover the full range of topics in international affairs, including business, security, communications – and, of course, development.

Regardless of their specific field of study, all students in the school’s primary program earn a MALD (Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy). However, many graduates refer only to their area of focus – for example, by listing “M.A. in International Development” rather than MALD on their resumes. It’s a two-year, full-time, in-person program, and most students do an internship, often abroad or in D.C., during the summer.

Fletcher differs from many similar schools in the U.S. in that there’s no one track for studying development. So, how do you study development there? The school’s curriculum has two main components. The first is a breadth requirement, which mandates that students take classes from three categories: law, diplomacy and politics, and economics.

What? I thought you said it WASN’T all about “law and diplomacy!”

It’s still really not. The categories are broad, and each one has development-related classes: Law and Development, Political Economy of Development, and Development Economics: Policy Analysis, for example.

To fulfill the second component, the breadth requirement, students complete two fields of study.

But wait, I only want to study development!

Don’t worry, multiple fields of study focus on different aspects of development, like Development Economics, Law and Development, or Public and NGO Management. Some can also be tailored to emphasize development, like Human Security and International Organizations. And others can be complementary to development, like International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution if you’re interested in post-conflict reconstruction.

If none of that sounds quite right, you can also design a field of study to either complement or deepen your development studies. Some recent self-designed fields include gender studies, monitoring and evaluation, education, and social and political development.

The bottom line: as a Fletcher student, you can really study whatever you want, and you can keep your focus as broad or as narrow as you choose. Regardless, you’ll come out of the program with some background in both quantitative and qualitative work.

The perks of Fletcher

Besides the flexible curriculum, I think the school has three big draws.

Diversity

Around 40 percent of Fletcher students are international, and all areas of the world are represented. No matter what region you’re interested in, you’ll almost certainly have a classmate who can tell you what life is really like there. Because the school’s admissions process emphasizes professional experience, most students come into the program after working at least a couple years – and backgrounds run the gamut from finance to non-profit and the military to the UN. Students come in with a range of interesting international experience, and there’s a large population of former Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbright scholars. Fletcher is a place where you’re guaranteed to be introduced to a host of new perspectives.

“The Fletcher Mafia”

Fletcher’s known for its close community feel – and, equally, its tight-knit alumni network. We’re not called The Fletcher Mafia for nothing! While most schools maintain alumni relations and provide opportunities for students to network with alumni, Fletcher goes further. Fletcher alumni really look out for their own. Students looking for internships and recent grads on the job hunt have access to the entire network of alumni – most of whom are more than willing to help out a fellow Fletcherite. And after graduation, you’ll inevitably find yourself with dozens of people to visit and couches to crash on, in all corners of the globe.

Cross-registration

Even though I doubt you’ll have too much trouble finding the courses you want at Fletcher, the school’s offerings are only the surface of the available classes. Fletcher students can cross-register in classes in nearly any other department at Tufts, as well as at Harvard’s business, public health, education, design, and Kennedy schools (and, unofficially, at a few other universities, including MIT). If like me, you’re interested in impact evaluation, there are hardly better professors to have than those at Fletcher, Kennedy, and the MIT Economics Department.

So, who is Fletcher NOT right for?

If you want to work while in school.

There’s no option for part-time, evening, or online study at Fletcher. If you’re looking to work full-time while in grad school, Fletcher’s not an option.

If you want to sit in a circle for discussion with five other students.

While some classes are very small, and many promote participation, a lot of classes have 30 to 60 students or more. You’ll probably be able to have a small-group discussion feel for a few classes, but it won’t be the norm. Many students, though, find that the sometimes large classes are offset by the fact that, because there’s no cap on class sizes, students can take all their top-choice classes each semester.

If you hate the cold.

The Fletcher School is in Boston, and it gets cold. But hey, that means you’ll get some snow days!

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Advice

Course Reviews: Communication for Development at Malmö University

There are a lot of development related degrees out there. So many, in fact, it can be overwhelming. To help people out, we’ll be running several reviews of courses. If you would like to contribute a review of a course you’ve taken or if you want to attract more students to your programme please email development.intern.blog@gmail.com

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Communication for Development (ComDev) is an interdisciplinary field of study and practice, combining studies in culture, communication and development integrated with practical fieldwork. It explores the use of communication – both as a tool and as a way of articulating processes of social change – within the context of globalisation.

While Communication Studies commonly is associated with concepts like information, media and messages, Communication for Development not only encompasses these terms, but also embraces a much broader approach. ComDev focuses on approaches that work to facilitate dialogue and define priorities for messages and information, but most importantly, on social processes to involve people in their development – making people active participants, and not only passive receivers of messages and information.

From its start in 2000, ComDev set out to be an academic programme available to everyone, everywhere, even those students unable to relocate for their university studies. One of the key aspects of this approach is our livestreams where our students can follow the lectures in real time, no matter where they are in the world. These livestreamed sessions also allow students to interact with their peers and the teachers and to engage in group discussions and assignments.

Our student body is diverse: culturally, geographically and in their academic and professional backgrounds. This allows our students to deepen their knowledge within their existing area of expertise while also gaining a broad overview based on the academic backgrounds and practical experiences of their peers, allowing them to be able to work both interdisciplinarily and transculturally in their future professions. Many of our students and alumni work in professional media companies, international organisations (governmental and non-governmental) or are undertaking doctoral studies.

The programme runs part-time over two years and is conducted online with the opportunity of attending two or three weekend seminars in person. During their first year, our students receive a comprehensive overview of globalisation and an introduction to the field of Communication for Development. During their second year, the students are introduced to the use of new media and ICT in a development context and receive a thorough introduction to research methodologies in order to prepare them for their final thesis.

The benefits of studying in an international setting with the opportunity to interact with students from all around the world is a great asset to the programme and in combination with students who are working in ComDev-related fields, the opportunity to share experiences provides added value. ComDev embraces the international mind-set when planning for seminars and to date we have held seminars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, South Africa and Tanzania to name a few and we encourage our students to attend the seminars in person if they have the opportunity.

When writing their theses, we recommend students to conduct field studies and our students have had the opportunity of doing fieldwork in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. We always encourage our students to think outside the box and employ innovativeness and creativity to their fieldwork experiences. ComDev theses have included documentaries, short films, photo essays and a wide array of dissertations presented in exciting and original formats.

As an addition to our master’s programme, we offer a part-time course called Advances in Communication for Development, which aims to enhance skills and deepen knowledge in the strategic use of media and communication in development cooperation. Students are given the opportunity to independently plan, implement and evaluate a ComDev intervention. From 2014 this course is also offered as Commission Education for organisations and companies.

Web: www.mah.se/comdev

Twitter: @mahcomdev

Facebook: www.facebook.com/comdevmalmo

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