NIFK14015U Topics in Development Studies

Volume 2014/2015
MSc Programme in Agricultural Economics

The course will focus on different topics within the field of development studies. Examples of topics that could be explored during the course are:

-           1. Agriculture in Development:

Three central questions within the area of agriculture are addressed: (i) The role of agriculture in the broader development process. (ii) The role of technological and institutional change in successful agricultural development. (iii) Understanding how households and individuals participate in the process of agricultural development. Discussing ways of commercializing small-holder agriculture is central within this theme and reflects recent debates in relevant policy circles (World Development Report, 2008).

-           2. Nutritional Effects of Commercialization:

While commercialization of small-holder agriculture may contribute to raising incomes and improving overall food availability in rural communities, orienting production towards cash crops and away from subsistence crops potentially increases household vulnerability to market fluctuations and adverse environmental circumstances. For these reasons amongst others, the links between commercialization of subsistence agriculture, household food security and dietary intakes are complex and will be explored.

-           3. Childhood Development and Human Capital Formation:

Maternal and childhood under- or malnutrition are important topics in development, as they fundamentally and often irreversibly influence the future health and cognitive skills of children. As such, dealing with nutritional deficiencies in utero and early childhood, has the potential to not only improve the lives of these children directly, but also increase the returns to subsequent investments in their human capital development as young people. Developing, protecting and deploying human capital of young people, in turn, is an important step in development and one of the main priorities of the World Bank (World Development Report, 2007). The relationships between nutrient intakes, nutritional status, cognitive skill formation and subsequent outcomes in life will be explored.

-           4. Educational Policies – What do we know and what do we need to know:

Another important factor in cognitive skill formation is the presence of a well-functioning educational system - where children are attending and most importantly learning. This is an important part of the World Bank’ focus on investing in the next generation (World Development Report, 2007); however  there is still no consensus on which policies are most effective in obtaining this objective. In this topic we will look into the controversies of educational policies focusing on school autonomy and accountability as well as specific policy interventions such as teacher incentive schemes and tracking of students.

-           5. Non-production benefits of education -  Political participation, Social Capital and Civic engagement:

Besides the benefit of higher productivity and thus higher wages, education also has important non-production benefits on the society. Youth is where people begin to interact independently with the society and according to the World Bank the lack of opportunities of productive civic engagement can lead to violent conflicts and thus economic and social instability (World Development report, 2007). Hence, it is important to understand how enhancing human capital capabilities can facilitate productive civil engagement by enabling people to hold public officials accountable for their actions. This topic will focus on this broader societal importance of education by looking into the effects on political participation, social capital and civic engagement.

-           6. Conflict:

Conflicts are both a cause of and a symptom of poverty (see World Development Report, 2011). We will look into both the causes and effects of conflicts by reading background texts ranging from Collier's Greed and Grievances in Civil War to the recent work about the effects of civil conflict (e.g. Chris Blattman). We will further analyze conflict data and link our findings to aspects of education, health and natural disasters.

-           7. Natural Disasters:

Vulnerability and resilience to shocks is of paramount importance to development (see World Development Reports, 2010 and 2014). We will explore the literature on how natural disasters affect the lives of poor people in developing countries. We will use data to determine whether households have experienced shocks such as droughts, earthquakes or typhoons and use this information to explore a variety of feasible research questions.

Learning Outcome

Upon completing this course, the students should be able to

  • summarise the main contributions of the articles discussed in class


  • study scientific journal articles with theoretical, empirical and/or applied content in international economics, and
  • - identify the central contributions of the article
  • - explain the main results in terms of assumptions, methodology, and economic intuition
  • - relate the article to other relevant research within the area
  • - identify potential questions for further analysis as well as possible strategies for addressing those questions



  • be able to relate the articles to other relevant research within the area of development research.
  • be able to identify potential questions for further analysis as well as possible strategies for addressing those questions.
  • engage in group discussions in English



Selected journal articles

To benefit from this course the student needs basic undergraduate knowledge economics
Lectures are supplemented by lab sessions (exercise classes to ensure in-depth understanding of specific topic contents. An important objective of the course is to train the students in techniques for carrying out an independent study of scientific journal articles. Studying a journal article is very different from reading textbooks. Articles are not specifically written for teaching purposes, and authors often sacrifice careful explanation for brevity and precision. Articles can therefore be very challenging and time consuming to study. We discuss how to overcome these challenges and how to get the most out of the articles (in terms of the elements detailed under the Learning Outcomes below). We thereby aim at providing the students with an in-depth knowledge of important topics and recent debates within the aspects of development studies.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exercises
  • 28
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 136
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 minutes
Oral exam at the end of the block (open book and 20 minutes preparation).
Exam registration requirements
Active participation in lab sessions (Thursday afternoons) is a requirement to be eligible for the exam.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
More than one internal examiner
Criteria for exam assesment

See Learning outcomes