Department of Economics

SOAS-Wits Joint MPhil/PhD in Applied Development Economics

Key information

3 years
Attendance mode
Russell Square, College Buildings; NCB Building, University of the Witwatersrand

Course overview

This joint PhD programme delivered in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa will coordinate a programme of work in heterodox (feminist) economics or political economy that focuses on the way in which mutually reinforcing tendencies of climate breakdown, financialisation, and post-pandemic economic and social pressures affect multiple dimensions of wellbeing, including the institutions, norms, policies and practices conditioning daily life in Africa.

Why study the SOAS-Wits Joint MPhil/PhD in Applied Development Economics?

  • We are ranked 27th in UK for economics (QS World University Rankings 2023)
  • We are top 20 in the UK for student satisfaction with teaching (Complete University Guide 2023)
  • We are top 40 in the UK for economics (Complete University Guide 2023)

The joint PhD between SOAS and Wits pushes boundaries of heterodox economics or political economy by anchoring the analysis explicitly in African realities and confronting particular conceptual frames with emerging empirical evidence. Whether they focus on a micro or macro object, the research projects will have in common a systemic and historic analysis, taking into account, as appropriate, intersecting social relations, mutations of the state and evolving international political-economic and financial relations.

The research projects will hence strengthen analysis that is strongly theoretically grounded while empirically informed, in contrast to current trends in (development) economics to eschew theory in favour of an experimental and purely empirical knowledge base. The research programme will also be explicitly decolonial, by critically querying existing research practices, by drawing on knowledge across Africa, and by explicitly situating contemporary phenomena in their historically evolved (and regionally interdependent) contexts.


The programme seeks candidates interested in conducting doctoral research on one of the following areas/projects:

Project 1: Labour relations, financialisation and technological change in Africa 

We call for PhD research proposals that explore changing labour relationships and forms of work in Africa in the context of financialisation of the economy and technological change. Over the last twenty years, these economies have undergone transformations linked to financialisation and digitalisation. These changes in modern capitalism have impacted both the core and the periphery of the global economy, including areas where industrialisation is least advanced. This has had an impact on the contractual forms involving wage relationships and on the organisation of labour in Africa, regardless of the sectors and the degree of formality of these jobs. Moreover, it has also had an impact on the daily life of Africans, retroacting on the wage relationship, and other forms of labour and work more generally. Thus, much of the working life that takes place in the sphere of production is connected to and partly determined by other spheres, including circulation and reproduction. How does the digitalisation and financialisation of everyday life in Africa impact on the mutations of work in Africa? 

Supervisors: Ben Fine (SOAS), Bruno Tinel (Wits) and Satoshi Miyamura (SOAS) 

Project 2: Unlocking sustainable structural transformation pathways in Africa 

This call is for PhD proposals that investigate new structural transformation pathways in an age of climate crisis, with a focus on the industrial, competition and political economy dynamics of diversification in Africa. In this context, the research will also look at the role of government, specifically with respect to industrial and competition policy as key instruments for promoting structural transformation, shaping industrial value chains and regulating markets. 

The project would explore country or value chain specific issues at the intersection of four inter-linked research and policy areas: energy transition, mineral resources, reorganization of supply chains, and infrastructure development. Each one of these areas will be explored from a developmentalist perspective, hence looking at them as opportunities for industrialisation (or re-industrialisation) in Africa.   

The project would include an assessment of the feasible pathways through which structural transformation can be made more environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive. In this respect, one aspect of this research will be also to analyse ways in which real (and apparent) trade-offs between social, economic and environmental objectives have been understood and overcome in specific country contexts. 

We welcome comparative and mixed methods approaches, including quantitative and qualitative analysis based on both primary and secondary data, interviews with key stakeholders and secondments in relevant organisations. 

Supervisors: Antonio Andreoni (SOAS) and Lumkile Mondi (Wits) 

Project 3: Examining the financialisation of infrastructure in Africa: a feminist political economy approach 

This project seeks to examine the implications of private financial involvement in public sector infrastructure provision in Africa using an interdisciplinary feminist political economy approach. We seek proposals which explore infrastructure provision in African economies, with particular reference to the imperatives posed by the climate crisis for both mitigation and adaptation, preferably utilising the Systems of Provision approach as pioneered by Fine and Leopold (2013) (see Bayliss and Fine 2021) to provide a multidimensional assessment of the chosen sector. Proposals can focus on any (infrastructure) sector of interest to the candidate (for example, transport, water, energy, and so on) and focus on one or multiple African countries. The proposal is part of a broader Wits-SOAS doctoral programme that seeks to advance heterodox (feminist) political economy in a research programme that examines the implications of the interactions between climate breakdown, financialisation and post-pandemic economic and social pressures for the infrastructure of daily life on the African continent. 

Supervisors: Gilad Isaacs (Wits) and Elisa Van Waeyenberge (SOAS) 

Project 4: State responses to unemployment in South Africa 

This is a call for PhD proposals that interrogate state responses to unemployment in post-apartheid South Africa. South Africa has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world, and it might have been expected that substantially reducing unemployment would have been a priority of the democratically elected government from 1994. Part of this research project would involve cataloguing the different government initiatives to reduce unemployment over the last three decades and contextualising these initiatives in the national political economy of South Africa as well as within the global economic context. The project would also engage with the effectiveness of different interventions and compare the approaches adopted by the government in South Africa to those adopted in other countries in the Global South with high unemployment regimes. The project considers mixed methods approaches, including econometric analysis based on survey and administrative data, international comparative analysis and a close examination of policy documents, appropriate databases, and relevant academic literatures. There is also the possibility of including qualitative research methods, involving, for example, interviews with key stakeholders in government and other institutions. 

Supervisors: Dorrit Posel (Wits) and Miguel Niño-Zarazúa (SOAS) 

Admissions and Entry Requirements

Students will need to apply to both institutions via each institution websites by 31 May 2024. For details on how to apply to SOAS, see the how to apply pages.

Students will need to meet entry requirements of both institutions. For SOAS, this is a "good" Masters degree in (development) economics or any relevant discipline and a reference. For Wits, this is a Masters in Economics or in Applied Development Economics or any other suitable background.

As part of the application process, students will be asked to indicate either SOAS or Wits as their ‘home institution’. This is the institution where students will physically enrol and be based at for the duration of the PhD.

International Mobility

All students will be offered the opportunity to undertake international mobility to and from SOAS or Wits during the PhD, however it is not mandatory to complete this programme.


The research degree embodies a core of training in research methods combined with a clear structure of progression thereafter. The duration and structure of the research degree will be as follows:

Full time research degree: 3 years plus 1 year writing up

Year 1 - Research Training

Research training will be offered by the SOAS Economics Department and the SOAS Doctoral School and delivered in a blended fashion, providing the opportunity for remote attendance for the PhD students with Wits as their home institution.

Year 1 – Literature review and Upgrade

Students will normally be expected to set the foundations of their project through an extensive literature and plan for the continuation of the research and, on this basis, pass an upgrade from MPhil to PhD status within 9 months of commencing the degree.

Year 2-3 - Research

Core research undertaken; primary and secondary data collection as appropriate, thesis chapters finalised. Students may also choose to undertake international mobility to and from their home institution.

Year 4 - Write up

If necessary, a fourth year can be taken to write the final thesis. Examination of the thesis will take place after submission within the 4th year.


Upon successful completion of the programme, students will be awarded a single co-badged certificate conferred by both SOAS and Wits.

Teaching and learning

Supervision Arrangements

Each research project will be jointly supervised across SOAS and Wits. Remote access will be deployed to facilitate joint meetings. Students will have a supervisor at SOAS who will normally be located in the Economics Department and a supervisor at Wits who will usually be located in the School of Economics and Finance. Supervisors from each institution will be appropriately qualified for doctoral supervision. Beyond this, at SOAS, the Departmental Director of Doctoral Studies has overall responsibility for SOAS

research students, being available to discuss general problems. At Wits, this role falls to the PhD Coordinator of the School of Economics and Finance. Further details are set out in the Student Agreement. The PhD Student Agreement must be approved by the Participating Student and designated authorised signatories from each Partner Institution.

Fees and funding

Fees for 2024/25 entrants per academic year

 All student fees (per year)
Full-time (SOAS at the 'home institution')£3,997
Full-time (Wits at the 'home institution')R91,692
  • Please note that fees go up each year.


Scholarships are not available for the 2024/25 intake of this programme.


Graduates of this programme will leave with a solid grounding in technical and statistical skills, research methods and data collection and an ability to think laterally, take a global perspective, and employ critical reasoning with a detailed insight into the context of African countries.