The leadership we need

The Master of Development Policy and Practice (MDPP) is the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance’s flagship programme. Running since 2014, it equips leaders with the skills they need to inspire and create meaningful change for public good.

This immersive and practice-driven programme offers a unique perspective on leadership and caters mainly for mid-career professionals working in the public sector, civil society, non-profit, and organisations who grapple with complex development and leadership challenges.

The aim of the MDPP programme, offered on a full-time and part-time basis with intensive blocks in Cape Town, is to develop your potential in high-level strategic public leadership. The degree offers a structured and sustained learning opportunity, at the cutting edge of global knowledge and experience, with opportunities for applied research on effective approaches and practices of public policy design and implementation in developing countries.

The curriculum is designed to develop strategic and ethical leadership in development and public governance. Graduates may expect to become development practitioners who are able to address the challenge of designing, winning support for and implementing new programmes in the public sector and related development spheres. The MDPP curriculum also offers exposure to a range of specialist areas and the opportunity to work in depth on areas such as leadership and accountability, sustainable economic transformation, and implementation of public policies.

The MDPP will strengthen students' capacities to:

  • Analyse how governance, political economy and institutional shortfalls influence outcomes.
  • Build organisational capabilities and effectiveness through careful diagnosis and adaptation to prevailing constraints and opportunities.
  • Become increasingly skilful leaders able to lead teams and navigate the complexities of the working environment.
  • Undertake rigorous applied research that addresses both practical policy and implementation challenges.
  • Design, implement and manage policy processes that are compatible with the authorising environment and the political-institutional context.

Once students complete their MDPP, they may apply for the PhD.


Admission criteria

  • Candidates must hold an Honours degree or NQF level 8 equivalent.  Candidates must have at least five years’ professional experience, preferably in the public sector.
  • Admission is highly selective, based principally on track record, achievements in the public service or civil society, and demonstrated potential, with an acceptable baseline of academic performance. Classes are capped at 25 students annually.
  • Preference will be given to public officials. Civil society leaders, managers in international organisations, and others interested in the practice of public policy are also encouraged to apply.



See the most recent Student Fees Handbook for details.

There are particular fees for South Africa students, SADC students, non-SADC students. For more details and information, see the Fees page on UCT's Postgraduate Support Hub.



The programme consists of six substantive courses and two research courses, plus the Research Project.

The programme is structured with a combination of in-person block release segments and online classes. Each semester begins with a two-week intensive contact session held in Cape Town, known as the block release segment. It is compulsory to attend the block release in person. This is followed by online classes conducted after hours on weekdays, spanning over six weeks. 


Course descriptions



All postgraduate applications must be made online via the UCT application portal.

Along with your details, you will need to submit the following:

  • Current CV with referee details
  • Certified academic transcripts
  • A motivational letter

How to apply


The Master's in Development Policy and Practice at the Nelson Mandela School

Meet some of our students from across the African continent and hear what they say about our Master's degree in Development Policy and Practice.

Master's in Development Policy and Practice at the Mandela School
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Unlock your potential with a degree from the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance.

Engaging with the Schools' programmes empowers you to contribute to effective governance and policy implementation in Africa. Gain the knowledge and skills needed to make a lasting impact.

Apply now!


How to apply

All postgraduate applications must be made online via the UCT application portal. For detailed information on the process, see "Applications and registration". You will need a working email address and your South African identity number, or, if you are an international applicant, your passport number.

Apply online Applications and registration

Please keep the following documents nearby as you will be asked to upload these during the application process:

  • Current CV with referee details
  • Certified academic transcripts
  • A letter motivating your participation in the class (please indicate in your letter of motivation where you heard about our Master’s programme)

You will also need to courier the original certified academic transcripts to:
The Admissions Office
University of Cape Town
c/o Bremner Building Lower Campus
South Africa

Should you experience any difficulties with your application please contact the Admissions Office:
Email: admissions-pg@uct.ac.za Tel: 021 650 2128

Physical address
The Admissions Office, University of Cape Town, Level 4, Masingene Building
Middle Campus
Cape Town
South Africa 


Course descriptions


Strategic Policy for Development: Analysis and Practice

This course aims to equip participants with knowledge and tools to identify, design and build support for priority development policies. The course will:

  • Provide a comparative overview of different approaches to development policymaking across countries and over time
  • Explore ways to identify a ‘good fit’ between policy design and a country’s economic, political, and social context and institutions.
  • Introduce and apply tools that can help build momentum for policy change by engaging multiple government and non-governmental stakeholders in the policy formulation process.
  • Anchor the learning in case studies, with an emphasis on South African, and other African examples; and
  • Provide a practical bridge between priority policy objectives in the participant’s place of work and the knowledge and tools explored in the course.
  • Provide participants with methodological tools to evaluate current knowledge and data and facilitate the making of sound judgements on policy and implementation.

Policy Implementation 

This course aims to equip students with knowledge and tools to move from broad policy goals and strategies to the details of design and implementation that are key to development effectiveness. The course will: 

  • Survey the multiple management functions that need to be addressed within the public sector (including budget planning; management of public expenditure and administration; procurement; parastatal governance); 
  • Diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of public bureaucracies as instruments of implementing public policy. 
  • Examine the potential of a variety of tools to enhance the transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of public bureaucracies.
  • Anchor the learning in case studies, with an emphasis on South African, and other African examples; and
  • Provide a practical bridge between priority policy implementation challenges in their places of work and the knowledge and tools explored in the course.
  • Review key economic concepts, with a focus on their relevance for policymaking, and the governance of markets.
  • Explore the role and challenges of market regulation, e.g., utility regulation, environmental regulation, competition policy, with a focus on how economic reasoning can help guide regulatory design.
  • Provide continuing instruction in methodological tools to evaluate current knowledge and data and facilitate the making of sound judgements on policy and implementation.

Public Leadership and Governance

The aim of the Public Leadership and Governance course is to support students in their leadership development journey through gaining insights into their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours and contextual developmental realities in Africa and globally. The course is offered in two parts: the first part takes you on a journey of self and social-awareness in supporting your personal development and agency in effecting change in your management and leadership roles. Classes focusses on understanding self; emotional intelligence; transformational leadership; personal, interpersonal and organisational transformation; mindfulness; neuro-leadership; COVID-19 and leadership; and public governance. The second part explores ethical leadership and public accountability with a focus on ethical awareness, ethical blindness and ethical decision-making, including whistleblowing. The interaction between individual and institutional integrity is examined in the light of a critical evaluation of current international efforts to counter corruption. The course introduces students to a range of relevant theories, conceptual frameworks, case studies, tools, and practices in class, supported by distance assignments and coaching.

Topics in African Economic Development

This course will help students navigate the challenges presented by an adverse global context and emerging mega-trends when pursuing structural transformation. It will assess the opportunities offered by regional dimensions, modern-day industrialisation pitfalls and innovative sources of financing. Africa undoubtedly has great potential, so too is the size of the challenge that African leaders face as countries prepare to take their place in the future global economy. They must transform their economies in the context of a harsh global climate, where patterns of industrialisation have changed, characterised by an unfriendly trade environment, complex intellectual property rights, circumscribed policy space, and fractured internal structures. Case studies and in-depth analysis of uneven efforts at structural transformation will help illustrate the complexity of policy making.

Research Design and Qualitative Methods

The course will provide students with the foundational knowledge, skills and orientation to help them prepare for their thesis proposals and thesis research activity and writing. This course introduces students to the fundamental concepts and principles of research design and methods for application in their thesis research. It begins with an introduction to the philosophies of contemporary research paradigms and proceeds to learning the key methods of data collection, analysis and writing of qualitative research. Also included is a focus on ethics and values in research, and issues related to conducting research in institutional contexts.



Discourses in Development Policy in Africa

This course aims to provide students with the capacity to critically examine and evaluate development policies in Africa. Key subject areas include discourses in trade policies of South Africa and the African continent, including regional integration, bilateral relations, global governance, and the climate-development nexus in Africa. The subject areas will enable students to engage and participate in discourses on the challenges of African public institutions, and development policy formulation and implementation, with a primary focus on trade strategy formulation and negotiations at a bilateral, regional, or multilateral level, and a secondary focus on the political economy of climate change, just transition, and the green economy, among other topical discourses.

Global Leadership Priorities

This multi-disciplinary course explores the intricate relationship between climate change and development on the African continent. It introduces students to various climate change-related topics that are prevalent in African policymaking circles and encourages students to also think about climate change critically through different disciplinary lenses. The primary objectives of this course are: (1) to introduce and help students understand African interests in climate change negotiations; (2) provide analytical tools and knowledge to help students understand different (and sometimes competing interests) of international players, especially global powers, in climate negotiations; and, (3) draw on different disciplines, such as economics, international relations, environmental science, and development studies, to provide students with a broad spectrum of knowledge that they can draw on to think critically about climate change and its impact on Africa’s development.

Research Design and Proposal Development

The course is designed to equip students to carry out successful research for their research project. It builds on the previous courses focussing on research design and methodology for qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research. This course will emphasize the development of the topic and research question to structure the design, execution, and completion of research project. The course will also cover issues of ethics, research reporting and academic writing, and plagiarism. Teaching during the course will be through seminars, workshops, and individual supervision, working towards the submission of a completed research proposal.

Research project

This is the final phase of the Masters programme, in which the participant submits a research project written up in the form of a long paper up to 15 000 words. The research project should demonstrate the participant’s ability to apply the material covered in the Masters programme to a concrete development problem. It is desirable, though not required, that the research project address a development problem linked to the participants’ work experience.




  • What 4-year degrees or qualifications are regarded as acceptable for admission to the Master's in Development Policy and Practice?

    The standard requirement is a four-year degree, such as the South African Honours degree.  As degree structures differ from country to country, the university is currently developing a centralised policy for assessing equivalence.  We have submitted the names of the countries we are expecting applications from, for consideration in this process.  If you would like feedback on your qualifications, please supply full details of your degree/s and the university that you graduated from so that we can forward the details to Central Admissions for rating purposes.

  • Is there any kind of payment plan for tuition? When would payment be required and could it be paid over time? 

    There are no payment plans available. An initial payment needs to be made at the beginning of February to enable you to register and the balance needs to be received in full by the end of June.

  • If there are scholarships, would they be awarded for the two years, or would people have to re-apply after one year? 

    The School has a limited number of partial fee only scholarships which can be applied for once you have been offered a place. These are, however, not guaranteed and we strongly urge all prospective students needing funding to seek support from external sources. Scholarships would be awarded for one year with the option of continued support in the second year depending on satisfactory academic performance and availability of funds.

  • When will applicants hear about their selection and scholarship awards?

    Offers of places will be made to successful applicants by the end of November.  The timeline for scholarship awards will be announced in due course.

  • What are the fees for the Master's in Development Policy and Practice?

    See the most recent Student Fees Handbook for details.

    There are particular fees for South Africa students, SADC students, non-SADC students. For more details and information, see Fees on the UCT Postgraduate Support Hub website. 

  • What are the selection criteria?

    An Honours degree, or its equivalent, as well as five years of professional experience, with an orientation towards public service.

  • How many coursework modules are there?

    There are seven semester-long courses and a research project: 

    • Strategic policy-making for development
    • Policy implementation and the regulation of markets 
    • Topics in development policy
    • Leadership 
    • Ethical Leadership and Public Accountability
    • Research Design and Qualitative Methods Issues in economic development in Africa
    • Research Design and Proposal Development
    • Research Project
  • Are there exams?

    No, all assessments are based on written assignments.



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