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 are available to students in 2016-17; there is no guarantee that the same modules will be offered in future years.

Firms and labour markets in low-income countries

Christopher Woodruff

Micro- and small-scale firms dominate the private sector in low-income countries. Why do these firms fail to grow? Does too much government stifle firm growth, and chase firms into the informal economy? Or is there too little government, with no credit markets or contract enforcement to draw firms into the formal sector? This module will explore these questions with a focus on labour markets and firms. We will examine evidence for misallocation of productive inputs, the causes and consequences of informality, availability of credit for microenterprises, and management of larger firms.

Openness & Development

Beata Javorcik

Objective: 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.

Content: Topics to be covered include: productivity effects of trade and services liberalisation; technology transfer through FDI; selection into exporting and learning from exporting; evasion of import tariffs.

Structural Transformation & Growth

Douglas Gollin

Objective: 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.

Content: 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.

Urban and Spatial Economics

Tony Venables and Ferdinand Rauch

This course will cover recent theoretical and empirical approaches in urban and spatial economics. The overarching questions addressed are: what determines the spatial distribution of economic activity, across regions and between and within cities? Why are some cities more successful than others? What policy issues do cities face? Topics include the sizes and functions of cities; the measurement, modelling and estimation of agglomeration economies; the costs of cities and their internal structure with emphasis on land use regulations and transportation; amenities and the local supply of labour; the behaviour of cities in the aftermath of shocks. Some parts of the course will focus on the urbanisation process taking place in developing economies

Political Economy of Economic Development

Sanjay Jain

Objectives: Why is good economics not always good politics, specifically in the context of developing countries, where political and economic institutions, and state capacity, might be less than perfect? Virtually all economic policies have distributional implications, and create winners and losers. How do the political pressures that (potential) winners and losers bring to bear on the political process affect the adoption and implementation of economic policy?

Content: The module will consider a number of related issues: the role of political institutions and cultural factors in long-run development; the idea of ‘political failure’; the political economy of economic policy reform; corruption: determinants and consequences, detection and prevention; politically motivated transfers and economic (in)efficiency.

Agriculture and Development

Douglas Gollin

Objective: In this module, we will review some of the classic literature on agricultural households and will also read recent frontier research that deals with topics in the microeconomics of agriculture in developing countries.

Content: Topics covered will include technology adoption by smallholder farmers, scale economies in developing country agriculture, the impact of remoteness on farm choices, and farmer responses to policies that reduce risk and capital constraints. We will ask how economists’ views of farmers in developing countries have evolved over time and how changing methodologies have altered our understanding of farm households.

Education, Skills and Development

Pramila Krishnan

Objectives: Does education matter for development? There have been significant improvements in educational attainment across developing countries but it is not evident that such improvements have actually been productive. We will examine why this is so, with a focus on issues of measurement of skills, the incentives for productive investment in skills and the constraints faced by individuals in making productive investments. The focus is largely microeconomic but we will also stray into examining whether aggregate investment matters too. We will discuss models of skill accumulation together with empirical evidence that relies on micro-econometric techniques ranging from standard instrumental variables to treatment effects, discontinuity designs and natural and randomised experiments.

Behavioural Economics & Development Policy

Stefan Dercon

Objective: 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.

Content: 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 focussing 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,