Careers in Public Policy

If you wish to work with the government to promote social good, then consider a career in public policy

November 19, 2022 01:48 pm | Updated 03:07 pm IST

For students who want to make a difference, public policy offers great options.

For students who want to make a difference, public policy offers great options. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

Public policy is fast becoming a buzzword in liberal arts colleges. This means, working on formulating large-scale policies that promote social good and working closely with the government to analyse, plan and implement relevant policies in areas such as health, politics, climate, social issues, human rights, poverty, and energy.

Typically, a Public Policy professional will specialise in one area of policy over his/her career and then further into a sub-field within that such as water science within environment, child nutrition within health, and conflict in South Asia within foreign policy.

An interdisciplinary field, Public Policy covers several areas in Economics, Law, Sociology, Politics, History and Geography, mainly with Data Analytics, giving professionals an added advantage.

A Public Policy professional can work with government ministries, “think tanks” or NGOs. “Think Tanks” are organisations that “think” i.e. they research, analyse and identify policy solutions to problems and advise government and companies accordingly. For instance, the NITI Aayog is the Indian government’s think tank that led the research to build the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP). Other prominent Indian think tanks include the Centre for Civil Society, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and Development Alternatives.

Important areas

Three of the leading areas of work, funding and research in Public Policy are:

Environment: Given the worldwide push for climate action and the recognition of it as the world’s most urgent need, this area has a lot of funding, research and job opportunities across the world. Environmental policies concentrate on ensuring that the relationship between humans and the natural environment is mutually beneficial. Some of the main issues are water and food scarcity, climate change, population paradox, waste management, ecosystem management, and management of natural resources, wildlife and endangered species. For example, India banned the use, manufacture, import, export, stocking, distribution and sale of single-use plastic in 2022 to tackle pollution. Last month, the government introduced a carbon credits trading market in India. In 2021, SEBI introduced the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) for companies to share quantitative and standardised disclosures on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) parameters to enable comparability across companies, sectors and time. The COP27 delegation has representatives from public policy think tanks like Council for Energy, Environment and Water, and the environment and sustainability practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in India to figure out policy measures to meet climate change.

Education: This focuses on the principles and policies around the educational system. It is a set of guidelines and rules aimed at improving the quality of education. In 2021, the NEP was hailed for its focus on early childhood education, gender inclusion, employability skills and merit-based teacher recruitment and promotion.

Health: Healthcare policies are designed to fulfil certain societal goals. At the national level, the policies are about providing access to healthcare, its coverage and cost. One example is “Medicaid” in the U.S., which provides healthcare to low-income individuals, uninsured pregnant women, temporarily unemployed individuals and disabled people. Similarly, in 2020, Scotland became the world’s first country to make period products such as tampons and sanitary pads free anyone who needs them.

Remuneration varies according to the level of study and expertise one builds within international relations and public policy. It is a field with great options. Starting salaries are in the range of ₹3-12 lakhs per annum with peaks ranging over Rs 60 lakhs per annum.

Build a career

A highly academic field, public policy professionals typically study Economics, Sociology or Political Science at the undergraduate level, going on to do a Master’s in Public Policy from leading universities such as the National University of Singapore, Oxbridge, Harvard, and New York University among others. While a postgraduate degree is a minimum requirement for a career in specialised think tanks, a Ph.D. is highly recommended.

So, if the idea of studying and formulating policies for positive social change excites you, this is the perfect path.

(with inputs from Kritika Malhotra)

The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm.

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