MSc in Economics for Development

This is a nine-month degree in development economics with a strong emphasis on bringing methods of modern economic analysis to economic development theory and policy. The course will prepare you for further academic research or for work as a professional development economist in international agencies, governments or the private sector.

The course seeks to cultivate the analytical and critical skills relevant to economic development, in particular those needed to assess alternative approaches to policy. It provides the rigorous quantitative training that development work now requires, helping you develop the ability to access, process and interpret a variety of data. It aims to provide the research tools and approaches needed for those who wish to proceed to doctoral research in development economics.

The course is taught through lectures and classes and, for the development modules, student presentations. The quantitative methods course also includes hands-on training in the use of specialist statistical software. Class sizes are small – usually between 5 and 30 students – encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other.

During the course you will be required to complete a number of problem sets as well as writing essays for individual supervisors (the tutorial system). This system is used to build critical and analytical skills, and is particularly beneficial to students from a different background of instruction.

The Course Director for 2016/17 is Douglas Gollin.


You will take courses in economic theory (macroeconomics, microeconomics and trade), quantitative methods (ie econometrics) and development economics. The latter consists of a series of modules covering different topics; students typically follow four or five out of the eight modules offered.

A central component of the course is a 10,000-word extended essay written on a subject which you choose in consultation with your supervisor and with the agreement of your Course Director.

Economic Theory

Microeconomic Theory for Development

Simon Quinn and Margaret Stevens

This course covers material examined in the Microeconomic Theory paper.

The objective of the course is to provide a graduate-level introduction to the microeconomics of development and a basis for the relevant Development Economics modules.

Topics covered in the lecture course are:

  • Producer and consumer theory
  • General equilibrium and welfare theorems
  • Welfare, poverty and inequality
  • Welfare analysis, consumer surplus, and policy evaluation
  • Household models
  • Uncertainty and inter-temporal decision making
  • Imperfect competition and game theory
  • Asymmetric information and contract theory
Macroeconomic Theory for Development

Christopher Adam

This course covers material examined in the Macroeconomic Theory paper.

The objective of the course is to provide an overview of modern open-economy macroeconomics at the graduate level, to show how this body of theory can be adapted to the characteristics of open developing economies, and to provide a basis for the relevant Development Economics modules.

The principal lecture topics are:

  • Long-run growth and short run shocks: an introduction to development macroeconomics
  • The small open economy: dynamic models of the current account
  • The small open economy: inter-sectoral allocation and real exchange rates
  • Fiscal policy, debt and overlapping generations models
  • Asset markets and money in the open economy
Trade Theory for Development

Beata Javorcik

This course covers material examined in both the Macroeconomic Theory and the Microeconomic Theory papers.

The objective of the course is to provide an introduction to international trade theory, focussing on the aspects that are most relevant for developing economies.

Topics covered are:

  • Ricardian model
  • Specific factors model
  • Heckscher-Ohlin model
  • Monopolistic competition
  • Heterogeneous firms

Quantitative Methods

Stefano Caria, with Sam Asher, Simon Quinn, Damian Clarke and Julia Bird

The objective of this course is to provide an introduction to the use of econometric methods in the study of development economics. Students will be encouraged to apply techniques covered in this course in other components of the M.Sc., including their Extended Essay.

Topics covered include cross-sectional regression; Maximum Likelihood; the linear probability model and probit and logit models; time series; tobit; sample selection; (dynamic) panel data estimators; instrumental variable estimation; treatment effects.

Development Economics

Please note that the modules offered may change from year to year. Below is a list of modules that were available to students in 2015-16; there is no guarantee that the same modules will be offered in 2016-17.

Natural Resources & Development

Samuel Wills

It is now widely thought that natural resources may curse developing countries that discover them. This module reviews recent theory and evidence on how natural resources affect economic development. In four lectures it will cover i) The origins of the resource curse, ii) Recent micro empirical evidence, iii) Macroeconomic theory and policy and iv) Climate change. Students will learn to critically evaluate the theoretical and empirical literature, and the associated policy prescriptions.

Openness & Development

Beata Javorcik

This module builds on the Michaelmas Term trade theory course and explores ways in which developing countries may be affected by exposure to the world economy and considers the policy choices they need to face.Topics to be covered include: productivity effects of trade and services liberalization; technology transfer through FDI; selection into exporting and learning from exporting; evasion of import tariffs.

Structural Transformation & Growth

Douglas Gollin

This module will focus on the structural changes that accompany economic growth and will review recent literature that attempts to analyse the growth process at the level of sectors and firms. Topics will include the measurement of sectoral productivity differences; theories of long-run growth and structural transformation in a historical perspective; the 'food problem' and the role of agriculture in economic growth; and open economy models of transformation. We will explore how this literature fits into modern thinking about economic growth in both rich and poor countries. Readings will be drawn from recent papers as well as classic views of the structural transformation.

Foundations of Behavioural Economics & Experimental Methods

Donna Harris

This module will introduce students to a broad range of behavioural ‘anomalies’, which depart from the standard microeconomic assumptions, and will discuss evidence from lab and field experiments and their applications to developing countries. Topics will include theoretical and empirical investigations of psychological and social factors that play important roles in human behaviours and decision-makings, such as loss aversion; self-control; fairness and social preferences; defaults, and framing effects; social identities, learning, and social norms; and mental models. We will discuss evidence of these factors from laboratory and field studies in developing countries as well as the
principles of experimental design and policy interventions, using Randomised Control Trials (RCTs).

Urbanisation & Development

Douglas Gollin

In recent years, economists have begun to pay renewed attention to urbanisation and the major challenges and opportunities that it poses in developing countries. This module will explore the recent literature that analyses the economic causes and conditions under which urbanisation takes place. It will also discuss key policy challenges related to urbanisation. The module will begin by considering the economic geography of city location and
patterns of urbanisation. We will then turn to issues such as urban employment generation, service provision, the economics of slums, housing policies, and spatial patterns of economic activity within cities. The emphasis will be on recent working and published papers, including both theoretical and empirical contributions.

The Foundations of Development

James Fenske

The last two decades have seen a revival of interest in the ‘deep roots’ of economic developments. This course will provide a review of theory and evidence on how such roots shape long-run patterns of development and contribute to our understanding of the divergent trajectories of societies over the past two centuries. The course will review the theory and contemporary empirical evidence on what are held to be key drivers of economic development including:  geography, natural resource abundance and scarcity and the disease environment; institutional evolution and the role of colonial legacy; ethnic cleavages and conflict; and culture.

The Economics of Agricultural Development

Jeremy Foltz, University of Wisconsin (Visiting Professor, CSAE, Oxford)

This module will focus on the economics of agriculture within developing countries and will review recent literature that analyses key policies and constraints that affect agricultural production and rural well-being. Topics will include the economics of agricultural households and how that affects agricultural productivity, the adoption and diffusion of new technologies, the roles of risk, risk sharing and insurance in village economies, the role of networks in technology adoption and risk sharing, and the effects of gender on agricultural production. We will explore both the canonical literature on these topics as well as recent working and published papers.

Behavioural Economics & Development Policy

Stefan Dercon

This module will focus on areas of development issues where psychology, sociology, and economics overlap. It will be looking ‘beyond nudge’ or experimental interventions in applying behavioural insights to development policy.
Topics will include what drives poor people’s decisions and behaviours, such as motivations, aspirations, and social norms; how incentives can be aligned to solve collective action problems; the literature on happiness and subjective well-being; and implications for research methods in the social science. Some recent conceptual and especially empirical work in areas such as agriculture, health, education, and finance, will be discussed. Finally,
we will study some of these themes focusing on bureaucracies and civil servants. In all examples, a strong focus will be on how these ideas can be used to promote better policy-making and interventions in development.

The course prepared me well for a career in economic policy analysis, teaching critical thinking on development issues, how to write persuasively and effectively, and how to apply economic theory to answer real and important questions.

Cameron Chisholm, MSc in Economics for Development 2011-12, now Senior Associate at the Grattan Institute, Australia

Approximately one third of MSc graduates proceed to doctoral research in economics, usually two to three in Oxford, either immediately or after work experience in the field.

Significant numbers are also now working in the major international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the UN organisation, as well as in the UK’s Department for International Development. Many others work in the international NGO sector and for major consultancies.

A number of students on the course are also regularly accepted onto the Overseas Development Institute's Fellowship scheme; for example six MSc in Economics for Development students won places in 2015.

Find out more about what some recent graduates of the course are doing now.


Photo: Douglas Gollin

Please refer to the course webpage on the University Graduate Admissions website for full information on selection criteria, application deadlines and English language requirements. Also see our How to Apply page.

Enquiries about the MSc in Economics for Development should be addressed to the Graduate Student Administrator,