Man on laptop studying a public policy course

Public policy and public sector professionals are responsible for shaping, influencing and implementing policies that aim to solve the most challenging issues in our society.

For this reason, if you are looking to build a successful career in this area, it’s strongly recommended that you take a public policy course. Having relevant and up-to-date knowledge and skills will mean you are empowered to develop policies that effectively address society’s ever-evolving demands, and therefore produce the best results for both your organisation and the people you serve.

However, everyone has different needs and priorities when it comes to learning. Below we explore the different types of public policy courses out there, and how to choose the most suitable one for you. 

Considering short-term, flexible study?

Discover our online short courses in government and public policy and upskill whilst still advancing in your career.

Master’s in public policy

Blavatnik School of Government lecture theatre ©Hufton+Crow
image ©Hufton+Crow

A masters in public policy is usually a full-time, one to two-year graduate degree that offers an in-depth learning experience covering a number of key areas within public policy. It may also involve a period of practical public policy work, during which you will apply your learning to real-world policy challenges.


  • Duration: One to two years, depending on the country, provider or whether you are studying full-time or part-time 
  • Cost: Between £10,000 and £50,000 a year 
  • Delivery: Usually face-to-face 
  • Time commitment: Full-time with potential part-time options, depending on the provider 
  • Entry requirements: Often proficiency in the native language, along with general academic success and certain individual qualities 
  • Best suited to: Those who are motivated to make a positive difference in society in a policy context, can demonstrate previous achievements and have the time and finances to cover a full-time course

For example, the Blavatnik School of Government’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) course is an intensive and dynamic one-year degree which evolves from year to year to address emerging trends in public policy and respond to developments in worldwide practice. It ends with a six-to-eight-week Summer Project – a placement at a policy-focused organisation of your choice. On this project, you will bring together the core skills you have gained during the MPP and apply them to real-life problems. 

Master’s: entry requirements

If you are a non-native, most public policy master’s courses will ask for evidence of proficiency in the language in which it is being taught.

Beyond this, most universities will not ask for any set experience to enrol in a master’s in public policy, but some may prefer you to have an undergraduate degree (in any subject) or some previous work experience in public policy.  

A high-scoring undergraduate degree is favourable but, largely, many public policy master’s simply look for certain attributes, ambitions and general qualities. For example, the Blavatnik School’s Master of Public Policy programme looks for those with academic and analytical excellence; strong commitment to public service; and the ability to show leadership and have impact. 

Though not an essential requirement, having unique professional experience can help showcase your career passion and enable you to contribute original perspectives to discussions and make your mark on the course. 

Master’s: time commitment

This kind of public policy course is usually full-time and lasts one to two years, depending on the country and university. The full-time nature of a master’s means that you will need to dedicate most of your time to your studies; it may be a challenge to complete it alongside either a full-time or part-time job.

Course pace is also a factor to consider – would you rather learn a lot in a shorter space of time, or take things a little slower? If the course is one year, it is more likely to be ‘intensive’, and if it is nearer to two, the content and teaching is probably more spaced out. The Blavatnik School’s Master of Public Policy programme is concentrated over 50 weeks from late September to August, covering three teaching terms.

Furthermore, a public policy masters is usually delivered in person, on campus, requiring you to attend face-to-face lectures and seminars. Given the full-time nature of the degree, you may need to relocate and live near the university to be able to participate.

Learn from the best, when it suits you

When you study with us, you’ll be learning from the world’s top academics without interrupting your career to do so. Discover our online short courses in government and public policy.

PhD in public policy

Woman studying PhD in public policy at table with laptop writing notes

A PhD (also known as a Doctorate or a DPhil at the University of Oxford) in public policy is a full-time course over three years. It often involves deep research into a chosen area of policy and policymaking, followed by a thesis in your final year.


  • Duration: Three years (full-time) or six to eight years (part-time) 
  • Cost: Between £10,000 and £50,000 a year 
  • Delivery: Usually face-to-face 
  • Time commitment: Full-time or part-time, depending on the provider 
  • Entry requirements: Often proficiency in the native language, along with general academic success and certain individual qualities 
  • Best suited to: Those who are motivated to address research questions with real-world policy interest, can demonstrate previous achievements and have the time and finances to cover a full-time, lengthy course

For instance, as well as the Master of Public Policy programme, the Blavatnik School of Government also delivers a DPhil in Public Policy. The DPhil is structured as a full-time course over three years, with a part-time option for candidates with exceptional circumstances. The course focuses on providing robust training for understanding pressing policy challenges and evaluating, devising or implementing solutions to them. 

PhD: entry requirements

Much like a master’s in public policy course, a PhD in the subject does not usually have any set entry requirements, beyond proficiency in the taught language for non-native speakers. However (again, similar to the master’s), it will likely ask for certain qualities in applicants.

For example, the DPhil in Public Policy at the Blavatnik School seeks academically outstanding students who can present an interesting, innovative and achievable research proposal and can show they are motivated and able to make positive change in the context of policy. It does not require any specific experience, instead welcoming applicants from all backgrounds with similar achievements, goals and passions.

As with a public policy master’s, it would also benefit you to have some work experience in government or public policy, but this isn’t essential.

PhD: time commitment

In most cases, a PhD in public policy is full-time, meaning you would need to dedicate most of your time to your studies. It would be advisable to avoid seeking employment alongside a full-time PhD, as this would likely be unmanageable. However, if you are studying part-time, working part-time in your free hours may be possible – but we recommend assessing your own situation and seeking the advice of your course provider. 

Like a master’s, a public policy PhD is usually delivered in person at the university, with the full-time structure requiring most students to live on or near campus.

The Blavatnik School’s DPhil in Public Policy spans three years if full-time, and six to eight years if part-time. Studies usually start in early October. 

Public policy short courses

woman studying online public policy short course at home

Public policy short courses are more ‘bitesize’ programmes. They often focus on a specific area of public policy to provide students with an introduction to, or knowledge refresh of, a certain topic. As a general rule, a course is often deemed ‘short’ if it spans less than a year.


  • Duration: Four weeks to nine months 
  • Cost: £300 to £5,000 
  • Delivery: Usually online but some are on campus or blended 
  • Time commitment: Many short courses are part-time with just a few hours of study time expected per week, but some are offered full-time 
  • Entry requirements: Often no set requirements, but passion for the subject and dedication to completing the course is desired 
  • Best suited to: Government and policy professionals who want or need to upskill in a particular area to perform better in their roles, but don’t want to pause their careers to do so. 

In partnership with Pearson, the Blavatnik School of Government offers a range of online short courses in government and public policy, covering a variety of public policy topics including economics and cyber security. The courses aim to give professionals the expertise and qualifications they need to have an impact on their organisation and wider sector. Each one lasting for eight weeks, with three to five hours of study expected per week, these courses will allow you to gain a public policy certificate alongside your existing commitments. 

Short courses: entry requirements

Usually, due to their short and often flexible nature, entry requirements are more relaxed for public policy short courses than for longer types. There are normally no set expectations for work or education experience – instead, you should simply be able to study online and prepared to show a certain level of commitment. Some short courses may be master’s level, so it may benefit to have a certain level of education.

In addition, as with other public policy course types, having a background and work experience in the field will always give you an advantage. For instance, it may give you a head start in dissecting some of the course topics, with assignments and could benefit you in weekly discussions. 

Short courses: time commitment

Public policy short courses are often designed to be studied around existing commitments, without the need to change your lifestyle or pause your career to study them. For this reason, the time commitment for these kinds of programmes is less and can be as little as a couple of hours per week. However, specific timetables will vary across different courses and providers, so it is always best to check before you enrol.

As short courses are often delivered online, you will usually not need to factor in face-to-face meetings or commuting times into your schedule. It’s likely that all you’ll need is a laptop and a good internet connection, giving you the ability to study from anywhere you like. For example, the Pearson and Blavatnik School’s online short courses in government and public policy require 3-5 hours of study per week and can be studied from anywhere. 

What’s the cost of a public policy course?

hand holding credit card in front of laptop

Fees for master’s and PhD courses in general are often much higher than undergraduate or short courses. Because universities can often decide their own fee structure for postgraduate courses, you might expect to pay anywhere between £10,000 and £50,000 a year.

Meanwhile, the cost of a short course in public policy is often lower because they are usually delivered online (with some exceptions) and are shorter in length. For this kind of programme, you can expect to pay between £300 and £5,000.

For all kinds of public policy courses, international fees may differ from local fees, so check the fee details of your chosen course carefully.

Factors influencing cost may include: 

  • Length of the course; 
  • Prestige of the course and university; 
  • Whether you are a local or international student; and 
  • Mode of delivery – if in-person, costs will cover facilities such as study spaces and equipment; if online, costs will likely be much lower. 

Before you enrol, it’s also important to think about: 

  • Accommodation, travel and other living costs; 
  • Whether you may be entitled to any government, university or employer sponsorship to help with your fees; 
  • Potential costs associated with a final project or placement, if relevant to your chosen course; and 
  • Whether you can work alongside your studies – if not, your budgeting should take this into account. As previously mentioned, for full-time master’s and PhD courses, this is not recommended. 

Considering all the points above, it’s important to ensure you can cover both the course fees and extra costs before you enrol on any public policy course.  

Are there funding options?

Universities are often eager to open the door to the best students no matter their background, so some students are able to gain scholarships or other outside financial assistance to help fund their studies. Alternatively, funding routes may include employer sponsorship, government loans, private sponsorship, scholarships, bursaries or financial loans.

For example, the Blavatnik School believes that access to finance should never be a barrier to studying, and this year 83% of students received full or partial funding.

If you are interested in a particular public policy course but you are unsure you can cover the costs, explore all funding opportunities available to you as early as possible.

Whichever type of public policy course you opt for, make sure it works for your needs, your lifestyle and the funding that may be available to you. Whether you study online or in person, full-time or part-time, taking a course in government and public policy will enable you to help enact the change you want to see in society – a worthy investment.

To find out more about studying an online short course with us, read our past student Ruby’s experience of the Evidence in Public Policy course. 

Learn more

Want to gain new skills that will help you to create a world better served, better led and better governed? Discover our range of online short courses in government and public policy.