Updated: Jul 1
What does the former Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband have in common with his ex-opponent, former British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron? What do both of them have in common with the current British Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak?
The answer is simple and brief: PPE. It stands for a highly prestigious Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree at Oxford University that is very popular among aspiring politicians and journalists in the UK. And the word "popular" isn't really enough to express the level of influence this 103-year-old degree has on modern British politics and its prevalence in Parliament and the media.
But what is really going on during this renowned course? And what makes it so unique that even politicians from abroad - Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, the Australian prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke - came to Britain to study it? We decided to find out.
What do you study if you choose PPE?
Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) is a rigorous and demanding interdisciplinary degree course. It covers all three disciplines in a range of modules. Students can prefer specializing in two disciplines at the end of the first year or continue with all three.
Some argue that such generalist education might have an advantage over early specialisation, allowing one to have a broad and solid understanding of the most important concepts helping to make sense of the world around us - from modern political thought to data analysis and abstract philosophical theories.
The Economics part of the PPE degree includes studying classical economic theories and solving problems using mathematical methods. The Politics modules have a strong focus on the ins and outs of political systems and institutions and political analysis, while the Philosophy part is all about developing one's critical and logical thinking skills, teaching students to evaluate complex ideas and theories and formulate technically sound, strong and compelling arguments of their own.
It's also important to note that one's experience of the course very much depends on one's individual PPE module/subject choices and tutors. The three branches of PPE are taught by more than 200 respected scholars.
Oxford has a unique system of teaching based around the so-called tutorials - in-depth conversations between two or three students and their tutor, who is an academic expert on a particular topic. For example, Ed Miliband's views on the economy were heavily influenced by the economist Andrew Glyn who happened to be his tutor at the time.
How demanding is PPE?
This course is very intense. Students are expected to learn a new topic every week, spending tens of hours on reading new material (for example, research papers and journal articles), taking notes, and writing long essays (about 2000 words long). In general, PPEists pen about 16 essays a term (a term at Oxford equals 8 weeks).
And, as we mentioned earlier, every week students need to meet their tutors to discuss what they learned so far and to get feedback on their work. Obviously, they need to come to these meetings well-prepared too.
What are the entry requirements for PPE?
Needless to say, PPE is a very competitive course. Just 11% of applicants are lucky enough to get in. However, it doesn't mean that this degree is somehow reserved for people with a specific background and/or profile. Students from the UK can take a completely free (fully-funded) one-year intensive academic course (Foundation Year in PPE) that allows one to be automatically admitted into Oxford as an undergraduate student if she passes it at the required level.
Otherwise, the course requires AAA A Level grades. It's also helpful to have A-Level Maths and History. Other necessary steps are the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) admissions test that evaluates one's problem-solving, numerical reasoning and critical thinking skills and, of course, the traditional interview.
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