Satyajit Singh, dean, School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi (on leave from the University of Delhi), talks about the evolution of development studies and the avenues it opens for students.
What are development studies all about? What’s the scope in this field for students of different disciplines/streams — sciences and humanities/social sciences?
Development studies is a three-decade-old discipline that emerged due to the perceived limitations of a sub-discipline of economics called development economics. It was felt that the discipline of economics did not have all the answers to problems of poverty and lack of opportunities in developing countries. Given that knowledge could not be fragmented along disciplinary boundaries and as economists themselves drew upon the works of scholars from different disciplines, a broader discipline called development studies, which is primarily housed within the disciplines of economics, political science and sociology (while drawing insights from other disciplines also), would be able to help address problems related to analysis of core issues in development as well as provide practical solutions to solve these problems.
It marked a movement away from the structures of the Bretton Woods system to one of understanding and working with national and local realities. As a discipline, it can be considered to be both a ‘science’ and an ‘art’, much like medicine where you can be both a scholar as well as a practitioner at the same time. Hence, this discipline more than other social science disciplines has to have its ‘feet on the ground’ where policies are debated and made, implemented, analysed and redrawn.
The manner in which development studies has evolved in institutions such as the IDS, Sussex as well as the ISS, The Hague, it cannot be called an ‘applied’ discipline, for there is an emphasis on academic rigour and ideas even while implementing basic tools such as participatory monitoring and evaluation of developmental projects by communities themselves.
Development studies is about understanding theories of growth and development, trade and finance, as well as debates and strategies around industry and agriculture, rural and urban as well as environment and gender issues. It delves into practical issues of policy-making and public policy processes and includes into its ambit debates around gender, class, caste, religious discrimination, poverty, equality and marginalisation. It is a good option for those who want to explore issues pertaining to development.
What are the employment opportunities for students’ with a) a Master’s degree in development studies and b) an MPhil/PhD in development studies in India as well as abroad? Can you talk about their prospects in international organisations like the UN, World Bank and USAID? What’s the entrepreneurship potential in this area?
It is expected that graduates in development studies will be equipped to work in development organisations, government agencies, corporations and financial institutions, non-government organisations, consultancy firms, civil society initiatives, media as well as academia. An MPhil/PhD in development studies would provide an ideal launch pad for the student in the field of research along with the above-mentioned fields. S/he can work as an independent researcher and/or consultant in the chosen field of specialisation. There are a host of opportunities available for those who don’t intend to pursue a job. Independent research projects are one of the few options they can explore. It also opens the doors of international organisations like the UN, World Bank and several other funding agencies. Students can also think in terms of starting an organisation/ consultancy firm/ institution on their own.
There are study programmes in this field with similar names, for example MSc in development studies and MA in sustainable development practice? How should one decide which one to pursue?
There are other courses like MA development economics that would focus within the discipline of economics as well as MA sustainable development practice that focuses only on aspects of development that are related to the environment, natural resource management, agriculture and industry. The use of the word practice also underlines an emphasis on practical learning at the cost of disciplinary and theoretical rigour. Hence, it would be useful for those who are clear that they would want to work with the government or a non-governmental organisation. Programmes such as MA in environment and development are also specialised ones for those seeking a career in issues related to sustainability.