A New Kind of Degree for Development Professionals

By Michael Clemens

Get ready for a new kind of training in development.  We are about to see massive expansion of a new graduate degree—Master’s in Development Practice (MDP)—all over the world.  Today the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a grant of $5.6 million in support for the creation of such programs at ten universities, doubling the worldwide number of these programs. They expect to graduate 400 professionals a year by 2013.

These MDP degrees, pioneered at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, are different from most development-related master’s degrees you might be familiar with. Some key differences are:

- They constitute a global network. Graduates will be emerging throughout South Asia, Latin America, Africa, and China, in addition to Europe and North America. The curriculum will be open-access.

- They are multidisciplinary with a focus on practical application. The curriculum is a four-part blend of basic social science, health science, natural sciences, and—crucially—management.  It’s kind of an MPA/MPH/MS/MBA.  Many other programs either blend disciplines without a focus on application, or emphasize application within one discipline

- They require extensive operational experience as part of the curriculum.  Students must work within development projects for several months at multiple points in the two year program.

CGD has a long-standing interest in improving university-level education for development policy, so we certainly wish this enterprise well.

Of course success is by no means guaranteed.  How many of the graduates will end up actually doing operational work in development? Will they succeed in making those projects substantially more effective, suggesting that a lack of the right kind of professional has indeed been a major constraint on project work, or do the principal constraints to project effectiveness lie elsewhere? Will the multidisciplinary focus succeed in creating basic competencies in several areas at once, rather than creating scattered and superficial knowledge?

Re-published with permission by the Center for Global Development.

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