The joint degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) brings together some of the most important approaches to understanding human societies.

It appeals to both those who want a broad grounding in all three subjects and to those who want to specialise (up to six out of the eight finals papers may be in one subject). 

It is not necessary to have studied Politics, Economics or Philosophy at A-level to be successful in PPE. Teaching in the PPE Course assumes no prior knowledge of any of the three subjects, and Somerville welcomes applicants with any combination of A-level or AS-Level subjects, or similar qualifications. That being said, students often find the economic component of the course much easier if they have some background in maths. We find that applicants who have studied maths at least to AS level are more likely to succeed at interview and be offered a place to read PPE. 


PPE teaching is based mainly on tutorials and lectures. All three subjects are studied for the first year (after which undergraduates may drop one subject if they wish) and there is a wide range of lecture courses given by philosophers, politics specialists and economists in the university at large. Undergraduates reading PPE also attend weekly or twice-weekly tutorials for which they produce written work. A few papers, particularly in economics, are taught in a mixture of classes and tutorials. Tutorials, some of which are in other Colleges, are usually in twos or threes.

Somerville has full-time Tutors in each of the subjects of the course. We have two Tutors in Philosophy: Associate Professor Karen Margrethe Nielsen, whose research centres on questions in Aristotle’s practical philosophy; and Dr James Kirkpatrick, whose work focuses on the philosophy of language and the meaning of certain linguistic constructs such as generic sentences, impersonal pronouns, definite descriptions, and proper names, as well as related issues in epistemology and ethics. 

Politics is taught by our two Tutorial Fellows in the field. Professor Patricia Owens is our Tutor in International Relations, and teaches the core International Relations papers. Her research interests include twentieth-century international history and theory, disciplinary history and the history of international and political thought, and historical and contemporary practices of Anglo-American counterinsurgency and military intervention. You can find out more about her work and how she became an academic in this Q&A: Our Tutor in Politics is Professor Lois McNay, whose research interests involve continental social and political thought and feminist theory, and the work of Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and the Frankfurt School Critical Theorists.

Teaching in Economics is led by our full-time Tutor Dr Margaryta Klymak, a development economist whose research focuses on the behaviour of firms in empirical and theoretical settings. Her recent work has examined the effect of information provision about child and forced labour in developing countries on international trade, particularly in relation to the behaviour of firms in Georgia and Ukraine. 

Somerville has one of the largest college libraries in the University, Somerville is the closest college to the Philosophy Department, which is located just next door in the Radcliffe Humanities Centre. The Economics and Politics faculties can be reached in 5 minutes by bike.


Somerville usually admits approximately ten undergraduates a year to read PPE, who join a vibrant student community across the three disciplines. PPEists make up the majority of Economics students at Somerville (students reading History and Economics make up the rest) and about half of our Philosophy students, who number around 60 at any one time. Our philosophers tend to form a lively group in college, Students enjoy discussing their studies with those in other Joint Schools and in other year groups as well as with their direct classmates, and from time to time arrange for external speakers to come in and present current work in Philosophy. 

Somerville’s alumni PPEists recently celebrated the course’s 100th anniversary with an online event. Over the last century, many Somervillians have gone on from their studies to play an important role in public life, including the politician Baroness Shirley Williams; the investment banker Shriti Vadera, a former government minister, chair of Prudential and the first woman and person of colour to chair the Royal Shakespeare Company; Farhana Yamin, the lawyer and climate activist who worked as a negotiator for the Marshall Islands during the creation of the Paris Agreement; Dame Anne Warburton, the UK’s first female ambassador; and Rachel Glennerster, the Chief Economist of the Department for International Development.

Next Steps 

Graduates go into a wide variety of careers including the Civil Service, international organisations, the media, finance and industry, law, politics, teaching, social work, and academic research. Those intending to become professional economists go on to do the graduate degrees that are now universal requirements for this.

Fellows and Lecturers
  • James Kirkpatrick

    Fixed-Term Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy
  • Daniel Barker-Flores

    Graduate Teaching Assistant
  • Lois McNay

    Shirley Williams Fellow & Tutor in Politics; Professor of Theory of Politics; Vice-Principal
  • Karen Margrethe Nielsen

    Fellow & Tutor in Philosophy; Associate Professor in Philosophy
  • Patricia Owens

    Fellow & Tutor in International Relations; Professor of International Relations
  • Farhana Yamin

    Honorary Fellow
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