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Postgraduate Admissions

Course closed:

Development Studies is no longer accepting new applications.


The MPhil course consists of three core 'papers' (or modules) and a selection from up to 15 optional papers so that study pathways suited to a range of different interests can be explored. Each of the core papers (examples of possible - albeit not guaranteed - courses listed below) are taught by a permanent member of Development Studies' academic staff; most optional papers are offered by academics affiliated to the Centre and change periodically to reflect their current interests and concerns. Some optional papers are 'full' papers which span for two terms, and some are 'half' papers which span one term only; students take four full papers (or their equivalent in half papers) concurrently to fulfil the MPhil programme. At least two papers must be core papers. A 12,000-word dissertation can be taken as a full optional paper, but this is not a mandatory requirement of the programme. It is advised to those interested in taking the dissertation option, that they prepare material and their research topic prior to commencing the course, due to the length of the course itself.  Students may also have the opportunity to replace their optional papers with approved papers borrowed from other departments. A list of borrowed papers may not be available prior to Induction Week, and we endeavour to communicate these with incoming students as soon as they are confirmed. 

The teaching for all papers predominantly takes place over the first two terms in the academic year (Michaelmas and Lent terms) but may continue into the first four weeks of the third (Easter) term. Written examinations take place in the Easter term. Students who choose to write a dissertation must complete and submit their dissertation along with the rest of their coursework before the written examinations begin, so being mindful of deadlines and incorporating a sensible working schedule is crucial.

Papers are examined by assessed essays written and submitted throughout the course of the year and/or by a formal written examination. At the discretion of the examiners, there may also be an oral examination.

Please note that we do not guarantee the below list as the final selection of the Core Papers offered. It is given as an example only. 

Core papers

Paper 1: Development economics

Paper 2: Institutions and development

Paper 3: Sociology and politics of development

One to one supervision

Students will be allocated an individual supervisor as soon as possible after they have made their initial examination choices, by the end of the second week of the Michaelmas term, and are encouraged to meet with them at least once a term to discuss general progress and flag any issues. There is no scheme of regular academic supervision; paper coordinators may, however, offer one-to-one or small-group supervisions at their discretion, and students are welcome to contact paper coordinators on an ad hoc basis to arrange appointments to discuss both the course material and their written work.

Students are also encouraged to complete termly self-assessments to review their own progress and indicate any difficulties.

The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which sets out the University’s expectations regarding supervision.

Seminars & classes

There are small-group discussion classes for each core paper per term. The numbers of hours vary according to the paper. Some of the optional papers also involve small-group discussion classes from 8 to 12 hours per term. Some papers may also have student-led seminars based on group presentations in the Lent term.

There is also the Development Studies Seminar Series, where guest speakers from across the country give academic talks to members of the Centre. The attendance for MPhil students is mandatory to this series, as it supplements topics discussed throughout the programme.


There are at least 16 hours of lectures per term per paper.


Students can expect to receive an online feedback report each term from their supervisors.

Each student will have the option of writing an unassessed essay on each of the core modules, to be submitted at the end of November. Students will receive written comments on these unassessed essays before the core papers' assessed essays are due.  Students may request to meet paper coordinators individually if they are in need of extra feedback.

Subject to the agreement of the examiners, students will receive a provisional mark for their assessed essays for optional papers prior to the final examiners' meeting at the end of June. Students will not receive provisional marks for any core paper before the final examiners' meeting. Should there be any written feedback for assessed pieces of work, this will be distributed to the students as soon as it is processed by the administrators. 


Thesis / Dissertation

One (full) optional paper may be replaced by a 12,000-word dissertation on a subject of the student's choice. As mentioned previously, we expect incoming students who wish to choose the dissertation option to have formulated a research topic, as well as an outline of the research material. Incoming students who choose this option will also need to choose a dissertation supervisor (different to your allocated individual supervisor) who compliments your research topic. It is encouraged that applicants explore the academic page of the Development Studies website to establish those academics who may be a suitable fit. Dissertation supervisors may also be chosen from outside of the Centre, as long as they are from a department or Faculty within the School of Human Social and Political Sciences. However, only successful applicants who have accepted a place on the course need do this, in the summer months leading up the course commencing. Applicants do not need to include dissertation supervisor information on their application form.

Research carried out for the purpose of the dissertation must have ethical approval by the Ethics Committee prior to the student commencing research otherwise it cannot be used. Incoming students are encouraged to read the guidance regarding the dissertation which can be found on the following link: 


All students are examined by written examination and/or assessed essays written and submitted during the course of the programme. The core papers require one essay and one examination, whilst optional papers are assessed by either one (half papers) or two (full papers) essays.

Written examination

The examinations are generally two hours long, sat in exam hall conditions, unless otherwise indicated by the Student Disability Resource Centre. Students will be required to answer two exam questions from a set list provided at the start of the examinations. 

Past exam questions are provided on the online learning platform, Moodle, for students to access.


There may be an oral examination at the discretion of the examiners.

Key Information

9 months full-time

Master of Philosophy

This course is advertised in multiple departments. Please see the Overview tab for more details.

Course – related enquiries

Application – related enquiries

Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2020
Application deadline
Feb. 7, 2021
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2021

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Graduate Funding Competition
Jan. 7, 2021
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 14, 2020

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2021, Lent 2022 and Easter 2022.

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