Jobs in this field require a skill-set that is technical and specialised, and integration of a broader understanding of development theory. Most institutions prefer that students obtain a first degree in one social science subject, "ideally in economics,"

You’ve been watching the trends in the economy. You’ve realised that given your passion to work on Indian development issues, development studies is the subject for you. Now you cannot pick from the wide range of options available and ask yourself — what should I do?

If you’re just finishing or have finished school, note that colleges offering undergraduate courses labelled ‘Development Studies’ are rare. Development studies as a discipline can encompass any subject from human rights to financial modelling for project finance. Jobs in development usually require, therefore, a skill-set that is technical and specialised; in addition they require integration of a broader understanding of development theory, for example, Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach or the political theory of ‘late industrialisation.’

Most institutions thus prefer that students obtain a first degree in one social science subject, “ideally in economics,” says K. Nagaraj, Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS). Technical specialisations can follow in more advanced degrees.

At the master’s level and above, the options are plentiful. Institutions offering M.A., M.Phil. or Ph.D. degrees in development studies include Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research (IGIDR), MIDS, IIT-Madras, Delhi School of Economics and Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata (IDS).

For M.A. courses, such as the one offered by TISS, candidates are expected to possess a strong (usually first class) B.A. degree. For M.Phil. degrees, an M.A. in social sciences such as economics or quantitative subjects such as physics or statistics is preferred — IDS is an example.

“One of the best courses in the country,” according to Mr. Nagaraj, is the M.Phil./Ph.D. programme at CDS. Admission is based on performance in M.A., a research proposal that demonstrates the candidate’s understanding of theory, empirics and methodology and teaching qualifications (such as UGC), if any.

Research Methods, Economic Theory and Indian Economic Development are the core courses and account for 16 credits; a dissertation is awarded eight credits. The blend of courses offered reflects “the parallel focus of our rigorous two-year programme: first, acquiring empirical tools for research, and second, understanding the theoretical framework of development issues,” says K. Narayanan Nair, Professor at CDS.

Experts such as Mr. Nagaraj would also recommend the M.A. and Ph.D. programmes at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-Madras. It offers a “unique five-year integrated programme, launched in 2006, [which] leads to Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in three major disciplines — Development Studies, Economics and English Studies.”

Students enrolled in this premier institution could also expect to benefit from close contact with the rigours of the Engineering, Sciences and Management departments.

For M.A. degrees, the curriculum allows more flexibility. At TISS, for example, students have a wide range of concentration options in disciplines such as economics, sociology, political science, psychology, and women’s, cultural and media studies.

Another option, often conditional on obtaining scholarships, is enrolling in the many development studies courses offered abroad, for example in the U.K. Oxford and the London School of Economics (LSE) have master’s degrees that are popular.

Scholarships that support such study include British Chevening, Rhodes (for those with strong extracurricular achievements as well) and Commonwealth scholarships.

Kaveri Kumar studied development at the LSE and now works in development in London. She says, “What I enjoyed most about the course was the freedom to explore various aspects of development theory; working in development has been more about learning on the job rather than applying any principles I studied at university.”

As with the numerous options available within India, it is important to do your ‘due diligence’ on foreign degrees and make an informed decision about applying.