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Course Structure

The figure below illustrates the current structure of the Cambridge MPhil in Public Policy (MPP) curriculum for the 2016-2017 academic year divided into Cambridge’s three 8-week teaching terms.  Below the figure there are descriptions of the various course components.

 MPP Current Course Structure

                       

*Please note that parts of the programme evolve from year to year, so while this figure and the descriptions below should give a good indication of the program content for 2017-2018, individual components may change.

 

1.    Modules

The skills required to be an effective policy actor are very broad and the seven modules of the MPP reflect this breadth. Each module is an assessed component of the programme and provides a different perspective for you on the what, how and the why of policy choices. Module leaders are experts from the Department and the wider University.

Introduction to Policy Analysis

This course gives students a foundation in understanding the policy process, tools used in policy analysis and how current policymakers think of their roles in the policy process. It moves from theory into practice over the course, allowing students to use analysis methods such as regression, multi-criteria decision analysis and cost-benefit analysis and to have feedback before using these approaches in their other coursework.

Statistical Thinking for Policy Making

As well as providing training in key statistical concepts and techniques via the Social Science Research Methods Centre (SSRMC) this course gives students an advanced perspective on how to think about the use of statistics in policy making, through a sequence of masterclasses covering topics such as effective randomisation, power calculations, the use of other distributions (e.g. Poisson) and the critique of statistical evidence presented in journal articles.

Macroeconomics: Theory and Policy

This course focuses on macroeconomic theory and policy issues, and it pays particular attention to the recent developments in economic theory and policy dimensions of macroeconomics and how it is expected to affect the real economy; empirical evidence will be discussed as necessary. Recent developments that relate to the ‘great recession’ are particularly emphasised and analysed, along with the ‘euro crisis’.

Philosophy and Public Affairs

This course illustrates how ethical values figure in the construction and criticism of public policy. Through exploration of a series of concrete topics and policy proposals, we reflect on the nature of liberty, equality, choice, happiness, harm, beneficence, and duty. This is a course in analytical philosophy: the emphasis is on precise and rigorous reasoning, drawing on ideas and arguments from ethical theory, political philosophy, and moral psychology, as well as from relevant empirical disciplines.

Politics and Policy

Data and evidence never speak for themselves – they always need to be interpreted.  Politics provides both the language through which to debate policy, and the arena in which to contest the strength of the data and evidence underpinning individual policy proposals.  This module examines the many ways in which politics impinges on all stages of the policy process.  It positions politics as inherent to policymaking, and examines the ways in which it can be a positive force for change rather than an unwelcome disruption that needs to be minimised.

Science, Evidence and Policy

Policy design and decisions should incorporate our knowledge about the best evidence available. This module introduces students to how the inner workings of science, technology, and innovation, the intersection of science and public policy, and how to become knowledgeable and effective consumers of scientific evidence.  The module will cover different types of quantitative and qualitative evidence, of experts, and of methods and models for accessing and analysing evidence, with a particular focus on managing the pervasive uncertainty surrounding many areas of science.  It will use real policy examples and provide students with a toolkit that will include various frameworks for decision-making.

Topics in Economic Policy

This series of lectures builds on the course Macroeconomics: Theory and Policy developing the ideas discussed there and looking at some issues in economic policy from alternative perspectives. The lecture series includes for example discussions of why there seem to be disagreements between macroeconomists about the very fundamentals of their discipline from a methodological point of view, the question of long-term economic growth and the usefulness of the standard neoclassical approach, and the question of income inequality in the developed countries and especially the US and the UK.

 

2.    Case Studies

Public policy ranges across issue areas with each policy area having its own dynamics, history, evidence, and politics. While students will have specific interests, it is important to provide a comparative set of cases from which students can draw lessons on how each issue evolves and the types of approaches that were used to achieve improvements in a given area.

Our case studies are led by an expert in the topic and delivered as a pair of 2-hour seminars. Each term includes four cases covering a range of areas to familiarize the student with various areas and also to give students a broad choice of areas for more in-depth analysis (students will chose one of the four case studies for their assessed component of the Case Study module in each of the three terms).

 

3.    Supervised Independent Research

The independent research module straddles three terms of the MPP and provides the opportunity for students to delve deeper into particular areas of interest. Students complete two policy papers on topics chosen by them with the agreement of their supervisor and all students carry out a work placement over 16 weeks with a leading policy organisation completing a long policy analysis paper on behalf of the organisation that they are working with.

Independent Research Papers

Students will complete two assessed independent research papers based on topics of their choice. One paper is due in February and the second is due at the end of June. These papers are in the form of a policy brief. The purpose of a policy brief is to make recommendations for specific action on the part of a named briefee, and to give rationale for choosing a particular policy alternative or course of action over others in a current policy debate. Significant primary research, quantitative and/or qualitative analysis and/or evidence synthesis will form the foundation for most independent papers and should be discussed in supervisions with your advisor.

Work Placement

The second (and major component) of the assessed Supervised Independent Research component is the Work Placement.

This is a 16‐week programme that will take place during the Easter vacation and through the extended Easter Term during which students will work with an organisation external to the University, for whom they will deliver a policy document addressing a key issue. The Work Placement includes 4-6 weeks working with the client organization and 10 - 12 weeks in Cambridge.

The Work Placement enables students to integrate and apply the core technical and managerial skills and specialist knowledge they have gained on the course. Students work with their client to define the problem then design a strategy to address it, gather the relevant data, formulate and evaluate options and report recommendations. This work forms the basis of a final work placement report.

Previous Cambridge MPP students have worked in government agencies in the UK and abroad, leading international organizations, think tanks, NGOs, industry groups, around the world, including for example the Cabinet Office, HM Treasury, the World Health Organisation, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the UNDP.  

 

4.    Skills Development

Professional Skills Development

As a practice oriented graduate degree we have included a set of sessions to help students develop their skills in four critical areas:

 • Writing for policy

• Presenting policy ideas

• Managing media interviews

• Negotiating policy outcomes

These four areas will be explored through short introductory lectures, practical exercises, and group discussions. Students will also review one another’s work and develop a broad perspective on approaches to writing, presenting and negotiating policies. These sessions are intended to help students make the journey from analysis to influence, from having the core skills in policy analysis (such as regression analysis) to having the extended skills of writing effectively and presenting persuasively. This component of the course is not assessed. 

Policy Analysis Exercise 

The Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) is a one-week (Friday to Friday) group simulation exercise held in the Easter term to integrate the skills and issues that the students have been working with over the Michaelmas and Lent terms and, while not assessed, is a key element to bring the course together.  Students work in assigned groups and manage their own time and leadership structure to respond to a significant policy challenge presented to them on the first Friday of the exercise.

The PAE is delivered in partnership with a major governmental department or international organisation to work on a current ‘live’ topic, so that students have the experience on working on an issue in real time. Examples of past PAE’s include developing a national strategy for dementia in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and working refugee integration into the economy of Jordan with the UNDP.

The simulation begins with a briefing from the client organisation, setting the terms of the problem and the question they need answered. Students are then divided into teams and provided with a significant amount of background material. Through the week experts from academia, government and the wider policy community provide briefings to assist the students in developing their responses.

The simulation ends with each team providing a briefing to the client, as well as delivering a 20 page briefing book summarising their recommendation and analysis. A prize is awarded each year for the best PAE group and is presented during a dinner at the end of the Easter term.

 

5.    Additional Student Events 

MPP Forum 

The Cambridge MPP attracts students from around the world and typically our students have between two- and five-years’ experience (some more, some less) in the public sector, the not-for-profit sector, or the private sector. Students are offered the choice to run their own MPP Forum on a weekly basis structured as they see fit to share experience, knowledge and future plans (this component is elective and not assessed). 

MPP students from the previous cohorts have themselves taken the initiative to organise their own regular workshop at which matters of common interest have been discussed and speakers invited. The teaching staff offer whatever support for it they can, including booking a room on a weekly basis and providing financial support for lunch for the class as part of these meetings.

Cambridge Public Policy Seminars 

These bring together a diverse range of individuals from the humanities as well as social sciences and natural sciences, to discuss the public policy implications of their work. The CPP seminars are organized by the MPP and the Cambridge Public Policy Strategic Research Initiative. They are held throughout Michaelmas and Lent terms.  

A highlight of these seminars is the Annual Public Policy Lecture, which includes a leading scholar or practitioner followed by a black-tie dinner at one of the colleges.