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March 02, 2017



One thing that you're recklessly excusing here is that the fact that the 'ruling class' is mostly drawn from a narrow circle could to some extent be pinned on the Oxford PPE. If it let in a more diverse class each year -- then people from other backgrounds would get the networking bump from being in the program. If instead it is merely accepting those people it assumes will go into politics anyways -- that is a failure all of its own.

Dave Timoney

There is always a common ideology. For example, PPE assumes that politics, philosophy and economics are complementary (which leads to teaching that seeks to make them so) and also that they are members of a distinct "class" of knowledge. If broader degrees are beneficial, then why not politics, ceramics and physiotherapy?

Luis Enrique

... "whilst discouraging critical thinking."

this does annoy me. my econ education got me thinking about counterfactuals, what evidence would test a theory, what assumptions results rest on, thinking about mechanisms, thinking in terms of distributions and probabilities and magnitudes instead of categories, it taught me about sampling error, fallacies of composition, and if I gave it more thought I'd come up with more - must of this stuff common to any decent social science / science I suppose, but still, I count this stuff as important "thinking" skills, and I got it from econ - my first degree was English Literature and Philosophy joint hons, and I did not get any of it there. 'Critical thinking' there rewarded the construction of elaborate clever arguments.

what it did not encourage was essays about capitalism etc. which is maybe what they want more of.


How do you tell if someone did PPE at Oxford?

Don't worry, they will tell you soon enough.

Tim Bassett

Overconfidence is one thing, pretending knowledge that you don't actually have is another. PPE types seem great at learning jargon but not the underlying maths in derivatives and, given they tend to be in management roles, completely undermining risk management.

To be fair the problem happens the other way round as mathematicians produce beautiful models which fail on contact with the real World

However, more confident can knock common sense into a physicist than get a PPE graduate to understand either straightforward maths. The probability of either being commonsensical is about the same


Considering the state of economics and david cameron's government's austerity policies I dont think the economics part works in this degree.We need to analyse exactly what's being taught in these degrees and how are people selected for it. If david cameron can get into PPE in Oxford then I certainly can sell a bridge!


"In a women’s toilet cubicle in one of the university libraries, there used to be graffiti above the toilet roll: "PPE degree. Please take one."" - Priceless.

Economics, PPE, and Law must cover just about every degree in the House of Commons. The case of rote learning is proven. Not an original idea between them. "It's rooted in the stagnation of real incomes caused" by mismanagement by the alumni of Oxbridge courses in Economics, Law and PPE.

The criticism is justified.

Entry to Oxbridge is via private school.

Entry to Parliament is via Oxbridge.


"A staggering 59% of the Cabinet went to the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, compared to the average of less than 1% of the public as a whole."

"Those who have studied at Oxford or Cambridge make up 75% of senior judges, 50% of diplomats, 44% of public body chairs."

"A closed shop at the top can all too easily give rise to a 'not for the likes of me' syndrome in the rest of society." - Alan Milburn

Bill Posters

At the very least the Oggsford PPE course should change its name to avoid confusion.

To those out working PPE means Personal Protective Equipment. I highly recommend the heath and safety executive website it could save your life.



I suppose the problem is not the PPE degree but the people who 'do PPE' and the people who 'read PPE'. For what career options are open to a person who 'reads' PPE at Oxbridge, mainly nice elegant ones involving Earl Grey and biscuits. But the person who 'does' PPE has Typhoo and doughnuts to look forward to.

The underlying question is how these people apply themselves, how much GDP do their thoughts and strategies add to GB plc. For on a purely wage for wage basis we might hope that a PPE grad might add say 5 to 7 times more value per hour than a car worker. We might ask ourselves how much Cameron actually added to the common weal, not much I fear.


@ Tim - since you mention it, what's notable is that those most obviously responsible for the 2008 crisis were NOT PPEists. To take some obvious candidates, Fred Goodwin read law, Matt Ridley zoology, Adam Applegarth maths & economics, James Crosby maths and Andy Hornby English.
From that list, one might infer that the problem has been too few PPEists in positions of power, not too many.


1. People who are interested in becoming politicians are attracted to PPE.

2. People who are attracted to PPE are interested in becoming politicians.

It's entirely possible that the first of those statements is true. But all too often in this debate, the first statement is confused with the second.


I think PPE is a convenient proxy for a set of problems:

1) Class - you've mentioned this already.
2) We talk about "Oxbridge" but PPE highlights that in fact in politics there's a strong bias to "Oxford" - and given the different culture at Cambridge, this may have an effect.
2a) Add in all the other good universities in the UK that are not being drawn on.
3) If we look back to WW2, government and politics had a higher proportion of e.g. scientists (and not just zoologists). Mental diversity is not a silver bullet for groupthink, but it can help. I've been writing for years about the lack of STEM types in politics not because they are so, so special, but because so many of our big policy challenges involve STEM issues and sometimes PPE/Law/Econ just isn't enough background - but that is the majority of our MPs.
4) Career learning - you mention this, but it needs a bit more attention. The PPEists who go in for lifelong learning largely appear to be those who don't go into politics. Is that PPE's fault - probably not, more about political culture, but it does matter.
5) "PPE" is not even a single thing - there are some really educationally valuable routes through the degree and some "slide by in a glib way" options - again, there appears to be a correlation between the sliders and "going into politics.
6) PPE culture isn't just about politicians, it also covers a lot of the kind of journalists we expect to be examining our politicians. (c.f. the beginning of the PPE long read) - and the groupthink of assumptions does rather matter. It's not "ditch all the PPEs" but asking about the balance & diversity.
7) I'd look at your list again, minus David Cameron (who is such a cipher I think invoking "ideology" is difficult) and minus yourself, I think if you look closely you'll notice the ideological commonalities.

Simon Harrison

The main things that I learned from studying PPE in be 80s were to avoid overgeneralisations and absolutes. Neither of these traits are present in the comments here. The group of 10 PPE graduates from my own college have gone on to teach, work in the oil and gas industry, campaign on the far left, go into business start-ups and work for the FT. These are the 5 or 6 that I can vaguely remember, but it is a diverse set of individuals with radically different backgrounds and outlooks.

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