In conversation with Professor Rajeev Malhotra on Public Policy as a career

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Rajeev Malhotra bridges the world of academics and policy making. He is currently Professor and Executive Director, Centre for Development and Finance, School of Government and Public Policy, O.P. Jindal Global University, Delhi NCR, India. A development economist with over 25 years of experience, he has worked with the Government of India where until August 2012, he was Economic Adviser to the then Union Finance Minister.

Given the opportunities in Public Policy for students as a career path, we recently spoke to him about its prospects and uniqueness.

What makes the discipline of ‘public policy’ different from other academic degree?

Public Policy unlike other post-graduate degrees is truly multidisciplinary. It combines theoretical and conceptual study of relevant subjects with practice. It seeks to provide students with solid grounding in policy making processes and trains them to apply ethics, economics, politics, social theory and public leadership to policy design, programme implementation and evaluation. Public policy as a ‘practice’ means thinking critically about public policy as it is presently manifested, and thinking critically about what public policy could become if it is to be true to its proper purposes. As a discipline public policy is primarily focused on people, recognizing that technical expertise is meant to serve the interests of people, and policy decisions should be made after due deliberation, with ample opportunities afforded to ordinary people to shape those policy decisions.

In India, which are the popular courses in this discipline which can be pursued by interested candidates and where?

Public policy as a taught discipline at the graduate level is new in India. Indeed JSGP -JGU is the first university in the country that has a Master’s programme in public policy. A few others  are now developing a MA programme in public policy. Some other degrees that could be considered by  students interested in public policy programme include  development studies/gender studies, development economics which are being offered by several universities.

What is the reason behind growing popularity among youngsters in participating in policy making with the government in India?

India’s  youth, like youth elsewhere, is restless and seeks opportunities to make a good living. It recognises the shortcomings in India’s policy making and its implementation process. The youth  values  democracy and the right to vote in the country. Furthermore, it has access to several avenues  and platforms, including through the reach offered by social media, to voice its concerns and make a difference to the business-as-usual  approach in the country. All this has encouraged the youth to participate in the policy making process in the country.

Since public policy mainly revolves around government administration, how can one pursue their aims for contributing to public policy in private sector?

India has become the first country in the world that has a law on corporate social responsibility, which makes it mandatory for corporates above a certain threshold to contribute a fixed proportion of their profits for funding CSR activities. On an annual basis, this amounts to a spending of about Rs 30,000 crore by the corporate sector on activities identified for CSR under the act. There is therefore a huge demand emerging for persons who understand public policy and development practice to work in the corporate sector. At the same time, the process of policy making is becoming more transparent and participatory, which provides the scope for people to contribute to the process of policy formulation and its effective implementation.

What kind of skill set and education would you look for in a candidate to excel in this discipline?

A graduate student in any disciple who has an open mind to pursue a multi-disciplinary study at the post -graduate level in public policy. There is a need for good engineers, doctors, social scientists and students trained in science streams to enrich the policy making process in the country. While  some familiarity with quantitative analytical skills  is beneficial, it is not necessary. Above all it is the motivation of the candidate  to make a difference to the society  at large that will help in making her /him a good policy practitioner.

How is a career in ‘public policy’ In India different from a career in developed countries like U.S and U.K?

Public policy in India has been typically associated with the work that the civil servants and politicians do. However, that is not so in the developed countries. It is a much broader process which involves other stakeholders in the society, who are adequately informed and participate in the policy making  process at multiple levels. Also the high level policy makers in developed countries invariably come from academia and business. India is only now opening up to such a model and only gradually so. This will change in the near future as complexities of policy making and governance in a globalised world will make it necessary to get the state-of-the-art expertise into the policy making process.


Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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