Thomas Simpson

A new Blavatnik School online short course will explore the key moral and ethical concepts that inform public policy.

Public policy is not just technical: it involves fundamental values, and conflicts between different values. The new Values and Public Policy course is an intensive, eight-week course which explores and applies political philosophy to the practice of policymaking, starting from one fundamental question: “What is the purpose of government?”

Values and Public Policy is delivered entirely online so that everyone around the world can benefit from Oxford’s excellence in teaching. It is based on our Master of Public Policy and is co-directed by Blavatnik School's faculty Tom Simpson and Jonathan Wolff.

Enrolment is open now for the first intake of students starting on 8 January 2021; there is an early bird offer of 10% off for those who enrol before 10 December.

Find out more about Values and Public Policy and enrol now.

Jonathan Wolff, Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy and course co-director, said:

"Every question in public policy is a question that involves values. Even the decision to promote economic growth assumes that economic growth is a good thing, but that is something we shouldn’t simply take for granted. When we dig a little deeper, questions about the common good, equality, and rights are everywhere. Think, for example, about recent protests around climate change or Black Lives Matter, or even discussions about who should get a COVID vaccine first. If we don’t raise questions about values from the start we may drift into ethically questionable policies without realising until it’s too late."

Tom Simpson, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy and course co-director, said: 

“Political debate often seems dominated by a relentless news cycle and entrenched partisan positions. The Values in Public Policy course is a chance to go beyond 280 characters, and think in a sustained and systematic way about the moral and political values that do and should inform public policy. This raises questions which are both perennial and contemporary, and both institutional and personal. What is a fair tax and welfare system? What are the promises and perils of democracy? When should I resign or blow the whistle?”

The Values and Public Policy course features eight modules, introducing the concepts of the common good, distributive justice – property, tax and welfare and social justice – democracy, human rights and civil disobedience, and philosophy in public life. Activities will include readings, reflection exercises, multiple-choice questions and discussion forums. There is also an independent assignment due at the end of the programme.

From mid-career professionals working in an NGO, agency, public or private sector, to journalists and civil servants, Values and Public Policy is designed for those who need to interact, understand and interpret policy as part of their jobs. It is also aimed at concerned citizens who are looking to better understand the complex public policy-making process which directly affects you and your community.

This is the second online course created by the Blavatnik School and delivered in partnership with Pearson; our Evidence in Public Policy course, launched earlier this year, is also currently open for enrolment and starting in January. Visit to find out more about both courses.