Philosophy, politics and economics are usually taught as degree subjects in their own right. However, at Oxford you can study them in a single degree, which is often abbreviated to ‘PPE’. This degree was in fact invented by the University of Oxford in the 1920s, and graduates from the course have been curiously well represented in public life ever since.
Many British politicians studied PPE at Oxford, including former Prime Minister David Cameron, former leader of the opposition Ed Milliband, and several recent or current government ministers. Oxford PPE graduates include Burmese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and former leaders of Australia, Pakistan, Ghana and Sri Lanka too. However, PPE doesn’t just produce politicians; a large number of influential journalists in the UK also studied the course.
So what is PPE and why does it count so many powerful people among its graduates? The idea of studying all three subjects is to equip students with the intellectual tools to properly understand social phenomena, which are rarely simple enough to pigeon-hole within a single discipline. PPE was intended to replace classics as a route into civil service, giving people the ability to reason along with an ethical awareness, an understanding of political institutions and their role in affecting change, and an understanding of economics, given that most political issues feature the economy. While all three subjects are studied equally in the first year, most students elect to drop one in the second year.
The course has certainly developed a reputation as a springboard to a career in politics or the media, and for this reason, its role in supplying graduates to positions of power is at least partly self-perpetuating. Some students choose the course in the belief that it will help them access these careers, and as those ambitious students achieve their goals, it reinforces the perception of PPE as key stepping stone. While other universities now offer PPE as a course, the draw of Oxford is paramount – it is, after all, one of the country’s best universities. It may be that the networking opportunities are as important as the course itself, as talented students with political or media ambitions move in the same circles, and these relationships are often carried on after graduation. Many PPE students are active in the student union, student papers or debating societies, helping them further prepare their CV for their desired careers.
Not all PPE students in Oxford are aiming for positions of power though. Some take the course as it’s a chance to try something new, and if you find you don’t enjoy one of the three subjects, you can drop it after the first year. It also offers students a greater degree of freedom than most courses, as, while there is a high workload of essays and reading, lectures are not compulsory and students can largely plan their own time. As a course which encompasses so many different topics, PPE is a great choice for the intellectually curious and for those who are looking for a prestigious degree but haven’t yet decided upon a specific career path.
Whether you’re aiming for a career in politics or the media, or are simply looking for a course which caters to your broad interests, PPE at Oxford is a highly prestigious course and one that will well prepare you for the job market or for postgraduate study. You can take politics & economics as a subject on Varsity’s university preparation courses, and if you chose to couple this with philosophy, you can get a fantastic insight into what it’s like to study PPE at Oxford or another top university. For more information, have a look at our subjects here.
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