Category Archives: Student post

A blog post from a current MPP student

Reflections on the first term of the MPP

Rosie Saffell, MPP candidate 2017 – 2018 and class representative

The mince pies and mulled wine are in full flow and my first term on the MPP is coming to an end: it is a good time to reflect on what I have learned, encountered and loved about the last 8 weeks. I chose Cambridge to be part of one of the most intellectually stimulating academic communities but also because the size of the MPP cohort strikes a good balance between diversity and the opportunities for individual attention. What I underestimated was how far I would be pushed outside my comfort zone,  growing professionally and intellectually, but also on a deep personal level. I have discovered more about my passions, strengths and weaknesses in the last eight weeks than in the last ten years. When I try to articulate what has made this term so special, I think of three elements:

  1. My MPP cohort keep me on my toes – The beauty of the Cambridge MPP adventure is that I am surrounded by the absolute best people, both in my student cohort and my faculty. My MPP cohort is not only my main social circle but a daily source of inspiration and encouragement. We are from all over the world, every kind of policy focus and lived experience. Even on tough days, where I feel out of my depth or statistical regressions get the better of me, my classmates’ energy motivates me to keep engaging in different events, meet new people and to take advantage of all the incredible resources that Cambridge has to offer. We are all in it together, and I never imagined that I could feel so comfortable with a group of people that were total strangers eight weeks ago. Further, my fortnightly one to one meetings with my supervisor have helped me to focus my attention on researching my topics of interest and acted as an anchor, especially a directional one. I feel that everyone, not only in the POLIS department, but the University is rooting for me 100%.
  2. You will have constant FOMO – Cambridge is a knowledge hub and magnet for world-renowned speakers. There is an event happening at every hour of the day and I am always torn – “I can’t decide between going to see Professor Stephen Hawkins or Mohammad Yunus tonight!”. This term alone I have had the opportunity to discuss gender and the UN with Helen Clark, learn about the history and evolution of the Civil Service with Lord Wilson and consider fundamental policy challenges such as generational inequality with Paul Johnson of the IFS. To have the opportunity to challenge leading thinkers and policy shapers has helped bring policy theory and analysis to life.
  3. You will practice the ‘craft’ – We are taught mixed methodologies and to take a critical and holistic approach. Ultimately, our teachers focus on equipping us to be confident and informed when making choices and presenting information to a broad policy audience. Our weekly professional development sessions have really stood out, and not just because of our fun speech writing sessions with the ever so charismatic Dr. Dennis Grube. The onus is to develop our own unique style by trying new things, from writing an Op Ed on a topic of my choice, to learning how to synthesise complex information in a short memo or a 60 second brief; the opportunities for practical application are endless. Our cohort is encouraged to read and provide feedback on each other’s writing. This reinforces the importance of peer learning and that competition, whilst healthy, is second to collaboration.

All this in only one term! Whilst a well-deserved break is in order, filled with lots of Christmas carols and watching The Muppet Christmas Carol for the 50th time, I can’t wait for next term. Together we will tackle economic policy and start our work placements with organisations such as the UN, World Bank and the Treasury.


Rosie Saffell is the student representative for the 2017/2018 MPP cohort. After working across Banking and Management Consulting for six years, Rosie came to Cambridge to research whether technology giants have a duty of care in relation to democracy, and how effective policy and use of technology can improve financial services access for those in developing countries.  

Moving from the classroom to the briefing room

Where does the MPP lead? Well in some cases it leads straight to giving advice to government, even before you’ve left the course. One of our students from the 2014 – 2015 cohort, Tom Hitchings, completed his work placement within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and was asked to present his work to staff from across the department at the end of his time here in Cambridge. Here’s Tom’s reflections on the process, along with a video of his briefing to the BIS team.

Does the UK need a ‘clusters’ policy?

Tom Hitchings, MPP 2014-15

One of the most satisfying aspects of the Cambridge MPP is the range of opportunities to tackle real-life problems and influence policy-makers. The work placement is a great example of this.

During the MPP I spent 14 weeks researching clusters for the UK government’s Cities and Local Growth Unit. If you’ve not heard the term before, Silicon Valley is probably the best example of a ‘cluster’, where people with particular skills and knowledge concentrate in a small area to network, exchange ideas and start new businesses.

Fast-forward to July and I submitted a 5,000 word policy briefing to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on what I thought government should do to promote clusters. This research was based on over 30 interviews with people in industry, local government and academia, plus countless hours spent reading policy journals.

My conclusion was a little unusual: I argued the government shouldn’t have a ‘clusters’ policy.

Instead, I proposed government focus on removing the impediments that my fieldwork showed were constraining the growth of successful clusters. For example, some current challenges faced by clusters include poor housing supply, inadequate infrastructure and visa restrictions.

When BIS asked me to come in and give a presentation on my findings and recommendations to a wider group of staff, I jumped at the opportunity.

It gave me a great chance to present my research to a larger audience, receive feedback from a diverse group including policy-makers, academics and industry leaders, and talk with civil servants about possible reforms over the course of the new Parliament.

I was pleasantly surprised by the level of support in the room for the ‘hands-off’ approach I was recommending. You can judge for yourself below:

Playing with live ammo – reflections on the MPP policy simulation

Ruth Canagarajah, MPP 2014 – 2015

Of the many strengths of the Cambridge MPP programme includes the ability and resources to simulate real-world policy issues, sometimes with the professional feedback of those who know the issues best.

In the week of May 18, 2015, the MPP students had a crash-learning course with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kosovo for a one-week Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE). The aim of the PAE is to harness the arsenal of policy analysis tools learned throughout the year and apply it to a concrete problem. The problem in this case was how to help Kosovo’s 38 municipalities make the most effective use of a highly limited municipal budget in an environment of fiscal austerity, all the while creating space for innovation and transformation despite competing demands.

The resources to confer with were many: official UN Kosovo papers, background documents and expert knowledge that was essentially on-call throughout the week. Speakers from the IMF, OSCE, the World Bank and other institutions all gave their time and expertise to ensure we had sufficient knowledge to frame and discuss the issue.

Over the week, teams researched and created policy proposals for UNDP Kosovo, ranging from public-private partnerships to systematic engagement with diaspora. At the end of the week, the proposals were presented to Andrew Russell (the UN Development Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kosovo), who judged the final outputs to identify the most practical and implementable solution.

All policies were analyzed through the lenses of direct savings, political salability, ease of implementation, improved competitiveness, and ability for all to exploit. The winning team (Chris Holder Ross, Lizzie Presser, Andy Parker, and myself) focused on the importance of improving municipal property tax collection. Currently, 30% of existing property in Kosovo is unregistered, and only around 40% of residents pay property taxes. Key challenges in the existing system included the currently high rate of non-payment (with a payment rate of 45%) and the difficulties in maintaining accurate records of policy. This is significant because 30% of municipalities’ own source revenue comes through property taxes.

We recommended immediately contracting with a GIS Service Provider to use satellite maps and other data to ensure that all properties and roads were identified, then classified and assigned a unique identification number. Such data would allow municipalities to apply a standard policy of tax collection across the area and ensure equitable contributions for municipal services. To do this affordably, we recommended recruiting local valuation officers, and training them to perform identification as well. Alongside our other policies to roll out e-procurement processes as well as enabling municipalities to share services among them, our analysis found that the short-term strategy of improving property tax collection offered the most robust policy option to manage municipal budgetary demands.

While the MPP class ironically refers to these crash policy exercises as “one week to save a country”, there is no substituting for face-to-face interactions with UNDP experts, extensive and sustained reflections on the dilemmas of policy-practice tensions, and the resources to encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking. Sometimes you need to play with live ammo to really bring the learning home.

The view from the UNDP Kosovo team was also written up as a blog, available here.