MPhil in Development Studies | University of Oxford
Fieldwork
Fieldwork photograph taken by an MPhil student
(Image Credit: H Carr, ODID)

MPhil in Development Studies

About the course

The two-year MPhil in Development Studies will provide you with a rigorous and critical introduction to development as a process of managed and unmanaged change in societies in the global South. Our students go on to careers in development policy or practice or for further study in the field.

Aims

The course will introduce you to development studies as an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary subject. It covers the intellectual history of development, the paradigm shifts and internal conflicts within the discipline and the contemporary relevance of research to development policy and practice.

Structure

The course comprises five elements: foundation courses, research methods, the core course, the thesis and two option courses.

In the first year, you will study two out of three foundation courses:

  • Economics
  • History and Politics
  • Social Anthropology

If you have no previous training in economics you must take this as one of your foundation courses; otherwise you must take the other two.

You will also follow a course in research methods for the social sciences, comprising sessions on research design and qualitative and quantitative methods. Thesis workshops offer preparation for your research. Additional sessions will be held on aspects of fieldwork ethics and safety, library resources and software and computerised databases.

The core course, also taken in the first year, is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary course with two component modules:

  • Theories of Development
  • Key Themes in Development

You will spend the summer following your first year working on a 30,000-word thesis. You will choose the topic, with the guidance of your supervisor, and, in most cases, spend some of the summer doing fieldwork and gathering data. 

In the second year, you will take your chosen option courses and continue work on your thesis. More information can be found in the course handbook on the department's course page.

Teaching

Each course entails three to five hours of teaching per week, delivered through lectures, classes and workshops. Class sizes are small – between 5 and 30 students – encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other. You prepare for sessions by reading a selection of recommended books, book chapters and articles.

Supervision

You will be allocated a general supervisor who will support your academic development and with whom you will meet regularly. Allocation is based on your research interests, optimal fit with the supervisor’s expertise, and staff availability. In your first year, you will identify a thesis supervisor . This is typically someone from the MPhil core staff. You will also have a college advisor whom you may consult on issues concerning your personal wellbeing.

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Oxford Department of International Development and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Oxford Department of International Development.

Assessment

Year one

Formal assessment will normally comprise a three-hour written examination at the beginning of the third term for each foundation course; a three-hour written examination at the end of the third term and a research design essay, submitted in the same term, for research methods; and two 5,000-word essays for the core course. You must pass all examinations to continue into Year 2. There is an opportunity to re-sit in September.

Year two

Formal assessment will comprise a three-hour examination for each option course at the end of the final term and the thesis, submitted at the beginning of the final term.

Graduate destinations

A number of MPhil students choose to continue to doctoral study after completing the course, taking their MPhil thesis and expanding it further into a DPhil thesis in ODID or elsewhere. Others have gone on to jobs in the United Nations, government, diplomacy, politics, NGOs, the media, art, business, finance, management, technology and development consultancies.

You can read more about the kinds of careers the department’s students pursue on the ODID Alumni page.

“My education in Oxford not only contributed to my intellectual development and increased my confidence to work in challenging, intense and competitive environments, it has also continued to open doors for me professionally. The University is respected globally and the extensive and powerful alumni network is a valuable asset for all new graduates.” Shaharzad Akbar, the first Afghan woman to study at postgraduate level at the University of Oxford. 

Changes to this course and your supervision

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. In certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

Courses suggested by the faculty

African Studies MSc
Economics MPhil
Global Health Science MSc
Latin American Studies MSc

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in a social science subject.

As one of the purposes of the course is to provide a basic education in the subject, in exceptional cases, students who have not specialised in a social science may be admitted to read for the MPhil in Development Studies. It should be recognised that for some students, the transition to a social studies approach to learning may not be easy.

Entrance to the course is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA normally sought is 3.8 out of 4.0.

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are required for application.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Research or working experience in developing countries is desirable but is not essential.
  • An ability to work both independently and in groups is essential.
  • Publications are not expected or required for admission, but any can be listed on the CV.

Further guidance

  • It is essential to apply as early as possible and to submit all required materials by the advertised deadlines. 
  • A number of the department's master’s students apply to continue doctoral research both at the department and in other departments of the University. Entry requirements and deadlines will differ slightly in each department and details will be available on departmental websites.

English language requirement

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement.

Detailed requirements - higher level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are:

IELTS Academic7.5Minimum 7.0 per component
TOEFL iBT110

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced191Minimum 185 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency191Minimum 185 per component

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. For more information about the English language test requirement, visit the Application Guide

Supporting documents 

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Supervision

Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Resources

The Oxford Department of International Development (ODID) is one of the world’s leading centres for research and teaching in development studies. In the UK’s 2014 Research Excellence Framework it was ranked top in its subject area.

The department is known for its frontier research on economic growth and instability, trade and investment, poverty and inequality, insecurity and conflict, the history of social and political change, migration and refugees, global governance and the environment, children and human development and technology and industrialisation.

It hosts some 70 outstanding academics and houses five externally funded research groups that are at the forefront of their specialist fields. As part of a global epistemic community, the department aims to generate ideas that set agendas for scholars, governments, international agencies and civil society.

As an MPhil student you will be able to attend the wide range of public seminars organised by the department and the individual research groups. Beyond the immediate degree, Oxford offers access to a very large number of events including seminars and lectures by distinguished academics and policy-makers in related fields.

Libraries

The Social Sciences Library, the largest freestanding social science library in the UK, with considerable print and digital strengths in development studies and a specialist librarian, is nearby. This is complemented by the world-class resources of the Bodleian Library and the satellite libraries. As alumni of the University, students can sign up for lifetime access to key online journals.

IT support

The department provides hot-desking areas with desktops and printing, as well as wireless internet access. Technical support is available through the department, your college and the University’s IT Services, which also offers training courses. Course materials are available online via Canvas, the University’s Virtual Learning Environment.

Department facilities

Teaching takes place in the department’s seminar rooms, and there is a common room area where students from all the department's courses can gather. Light lunches in the cafeteria are available during term.

Funding

There are over 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£22,050
Overseas£28,040

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you will need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Most students will choose a topic which will require them to do fieldwork for their thesis. This fieldwork will be conducted during the long vacation between the first and second year. Students should note that they will have to meet all costs of fieldwork themselves and these costs are likely to include travel and related costs such as visas, accommodation, subsistence, translation and research assistant services if required. These costs will vary according to the location and length of the fieldwork and the department estimates that these costs may range from £1,500 to £20,000. Each MPhil student is is able to apply for a fieldwork grant of £700. This is awarded once only usually at the end of Trinity Term of their first year, before they go to the field during the summer vacation. Further information will be provided in the course handbook. You may also be able to apply for small grants from your college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2020-21 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,135 and £1,650 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2020-21, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

It is not necessary for you to make contact with potential supervisors or other academic members of staff before you apply. New MPhil students will be informed about their supervisor during their induction sessions.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
500 to 1,000 words

You will need to provide a statement of purpose, written in English.

You must state in what way you believe the MPhil might contribute to your career development plans. You must also indicate an awareness of the structure of the degree, for example by stating the foundation courses you might take in the first year, and the options which might be of interest to you in the second year. You should also indicate, very briefly, what your thesis topic might be.

This will be assessed for your reasons for applying, evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study and the course applied to, as well as commitment to the subject and evidence of a defined set of research interests.

It will be normal for your ideas subsequently to change in some ways as you investigate the evidence and develop your project. You should nevertheless make the best effort you can to demonstrate the extent of your research question, sources and method at this moment.

Written work:
Two essays of 4,000 words each

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts from longer pieces of work are acceptable but if two extracts are submitted they should not come from the same piece of work; and should each be prefaced by a note that puts it in context. It is important that the writing samples relate closely to the proposed area of study.

Please note that multi-authored works are not acceptable. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for a comprehensive understanding of the subject area; understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; and powers of analysis and expression.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, all of which must be academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and plan your time to submit your application well in advance.

Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.

Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).

Application GuideApply

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