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.

Applicants to this degree who are interested in progressing onto doctoral study are eligible to apply for an ESRC 1+3 Studentship which could provide them with four years of full funding. These studentships, previously only available for UK and EU students, are now also available to non-EU students. See the Fees and Funding page for more information.

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 2021/22 is Professor Christopher Woodruff.


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 dissertation, 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 Douglas Gollin

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. Rather than adhering to a standard textbook treatment of micro theory, the course introduces and builds on some widely used theoretical structures in development economics.

Although exact topics vary from year to year, the first half of the course typically covers topics from producer and consumer theory, risk and uncertainty, and general equilibrium and welfare. The second half of the course normally covers topics from game theory and issues related to information asymmetries. Specific topics covered in the lecture course are:

  • Models of firm size and structure
  • Models of occupational sorting and selection
  • Models of economic geography
  • 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 and International Trade 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

This course covers material examined in the Macroeconomic Theory and International Trade paper.

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.

Quantitative Methods

Jin Ho Kim, Margaryta Klymak, Simon Quinn, Christopher Woodruff

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 MSc, including their dissertation.

Topics covered include cross-sectional regression; maximum likelihood; the linear probability model and probit and logit models; tobit; sample selection; (dynamic) panel data estimators; instrumental variable estimation; treatment effects and machine learning.

Development Economics

Please note that the modules offered may change from year to year. Below is a selection of the modules that were available to students in 2019-20 and 2020–21; 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.

Macroeconomic Policy and Stabilization in Developing Countries

Christopher Adam

Objectives: This module is concerned with short-run macroeconomic stabilization in developing countries.  In Part I we will examine choices around the exchange rate regime which in turn influence the framework for monetary policy.  Part II will be concerned with low-income countries’ experience with stabilization, including an examination of the design of IMF programs.

Content: The principal topics covered are principles of stabilization; exchange rate regimes and monetary frameworks; monetary policy in the small open economy; and macroeconomic models and approaches to stabilization. The lectures will draw on aspects of the macroeconomic theory course.

Structural Transformation and 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.

Microfinance, Cash Transfers and Savings

Rossa O'Keeffe-O'Donovan/Muhammad Meki

Objectives: Which interventions help the rural poor to escape poverty, and how do they work? This module will analyse the effects of a range of interventions designed to tackle poverty, including microloans, conditional and unconditional cash transfers, 'targeting the ultra-poor' programs, and savings. We will focus on the use of empirical methods that help us to understand the mechanisms that interventions work through, and will survey results from the recent literature.

Content: Issues covered include: the evidence for the existence of various types of poverty traps; how the design of microloan programs can affect the outcomes of its recipients; whether cash transfers achieve more sustained improvements in outcomes than loans; the role of conditionality in the effects of cash transfer programs; whether combinations of interventions can help the 'ultra-poor' escape poverty; and whether savings and loan products enable lumpy investments or just help individuals to smooth consumption.

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.

Risk, Disasters and Insurance

Stefan Dercon

In this module, we will discuss the role of risk in shaping development outcomes, and what can we do about it. We will focus how poor people manage and cope with risk, and how micro-insurance or other interventions may be used to help them to avoid serious hardship. Problems related to the diffusion of insurance and its impact will be discussed. We will also focus on larger, covariate risks: natural disasters like floods, drought, earthquakes, etc. We will discuss the evidence on how they shape lives but also how responses are often ineffective. We will discuss ways in which the international aid and humanitarian systems could be reformed using insurance and insurance principles. 

Education, Skills and the Labour Market

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 or obtain rewards in the labour market. 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 obtaining employment. In particular, we will discuss new evidence on improving labour market outcomes for both employers and job-seekers. The focus is largely microeconomic but we will also stray into examining whether aggregate investment matters too. We will discuss models of skill accumulation and labour market participation 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.

Applications of Behavioural Economics to Development Economics

Applications of Behavioural Economics to Development Economics

Emma Riley

Description: The course will examine a range of behaviours that depart from standard microeconomic assumptions and explore whether the consideration of psychological and social factors help explain decision making better and design more effective policies. In particular, the focus will be on four characteristics which affect economic choices and outcomes: 1) Present bias, risk and loss aversion, 2) Social preferences, 3) Mental models (aspirations and beliefs), 4) Decision making skills (mental bandwidth and non-cognitive skills). Lectures will look at evidence from field experiments in developing countries, focusing on how to measure these characteristics and whether they are affected by poverty or scarcity.

Gender and Development Economics

Marta Favara

Description: The module will start with brief definition of the concept of gender equality (versus equity) and it will present few stylized facts on the persistence of gender inequality in the developing world. Then it will examine a range of specific issues at the origin of gender inequalities emerging over the life cycle, particularly beyond adolescence when gender differences become more prominent and gender gaps widen up. In particular the focus will be on: 1) Human capital investments, intra-household decision-making and gender preferences, 2) Gender inequality in education and labour force participation; 3) Marriage, fertility decision and labour market participation; 4) Stereotypes, identity, and social norms. The approach used to tackle these topics will be largely microeconomic, bringing together modelling technique and evidence from secondary data analysis, randomized control trials and field experiments mainly (but not exclusively) in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

Poverty and Inequality

Natalie Quinn

Description: Poverty and inequality are pervasive across developing countries; their reduction is, explicitly or implicitly, the objective of many policy prescriptions and development interventions.  But how should, and how can, economists and policymakers define and measure poverty and inequality?  In this module we explore 1) the framework that welfare economics provides for distributional analysis; 2) key results on the measurement of social welfare, inequality, and their evolution with economic growth; 3) measurement of poverty through identification of the poor and aggregation of information about their standard of living; and 4) the need to admit information on non-monetary dimensions of wellbeing, and key tools for the measurement of multidimensional poverty.  We complement the theoretical elements of the module with discussion of pragmatic issues of measurement both within and across developing countries, reviewing the latest evidence on the incidence and evolution of inequality and poverty across the developing world.

The MSc provided me with the technical skills and professional confidence to contribute within international development, plus a network of colleagues from diverse backgrounds dedicated to improving the lives of people around the world.

Joevas Asare, ODI Fellow, Economic Adviser to the Zanzibar Planning Commission, graduated 2015

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. Graduates from the MSc have also pursued doctoral study at other leading universities and have gone on to distinguished academic careers, including at top universities around the world.

Beyond academia, significant numbers of course alumni 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; in recent years an average of 3-4 students were offered places.

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


Photo: Jean Benoit Falisse

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,