The world is changing rapidly, new challenges arise every day at the global and the local levels. Technology is altering the very fabric of society at an unprecedented rate. We are at the dawn of a new industrial age where advances in automation, 3D printing, robotics, and artificial intelligence have deep implications for jobs. Politically, too, the landscape is shifting. In India, we have a set of challenges and opportunities that are unique to us. We have a young population with 14 million new entrants into the job market every year. The government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission is showing positive results in improving sanitation in India.
However, our healthcare system leaves a lot to be desired; India is one among the 15 countries with high death rates due to Malaria, according to 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) report. We need to ask ourselves, how can we, as citizens of this nation, ensure a better life for ourselves and for everyone else? What measures should be taken to improve the female participation in the labour force? What should be the guidelines for ethical use of public data? Is foreign direct investment in retail a good thing for India in the current economic situation? We need problemsolvers who can understand these difficult challenges and frame solutions at both macro and micro levels.
Public policy is pervasive and affects us all. Governments formulate laws and rules about things that impact us on a day-to-day basis, like roads, water, trade, etc. For instance, it is in the realm of public policy to understand if water should be free for all citizens of a country. Concepts learnt in public policy help people understand and balance the tradeoffs involved in adopting one solution over another.
Engaging in public policy and governance is not just limited to the traditional channels of politics, bureaucracy, and think tanks. Knowledge of public policy is vital in many careers today. Economists, journalists, public campaign managers, lawyers, leaders in business and non-profit sectors, and even independent researchers increasingly find themselves in situations where, in order to make a real and sustainable impact, they must understand and influence policies.
The private sector too needs skilled professionals in areas such as regulatory affairs, compliance management, and corporate social responsibility. These public affairs professionals are policy advocates, whose job is to persuade politicians, bureaucrats, and civil society that their firms’ private interests can be aligned with the public interests. Facebook’s free basics fiasco made it amply clear that technology-driven companies have to increasingly deal with public policy. This has, in fact, translated into big technology companies creating separate public policy departments and hiring people trained in the field.
Field of study
Public policy education is interdisciplinary and equips one with knowledge and skills from many subjects — Political Science, History, Economics, Law, Corporate Diplomacy, Writing, Quantitative Analysis, etc.
There are many options today to study public policy in India. There are both full-time and part-time programmes available at the Masters level. Full-time postgraduate programmes are offered by institutions like the National Law School (Bengaluru), Jindal School of Governance and Public Policy (Sonipat), Azim Premji University (Bengaluru), Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi),etc. These are all two-year programmes that involve either an internship component or a capstone research project, at the end of which students must submit a project report or a dissertation.
Indian Institute of Management (Bengaluru) and Indian School of Business (Hyderabad), offer full-time one-year programmes aimed at mid-level civil servants. The Takshashila Institutions (Bengaluru) offers part-time certificate programmes for students and working professionals. The Centre for Civil Society (Delhi) conducts a three-day policy workshop in multiple cities across India.
The eligibility criteria to be admitted to any of these programmes is to have an undergraduate degree in any discipline. Admission process mostly involves filling up an online application form that asks students some essay-type questions. Some institutions might additionally conduct an online entrance test followed by an interview. Institutions, typically, select those applicants who demonstrate a strong motivation to learn and who can write original essays.
The India we will see a decade from now will be vastly different from the one we see today. We need the right people, the right ideas, and the right networks to prepare ourselves for the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Studying public policy is the first and most important step in one’s quest to actively participate in India’s social and economic progress.
(The author is with Takshashila