Undergraduate study - 2020 entry

MA Government, Policy and Society

UCAS code: L230

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: Social and Political Science

College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Study abroad

Introducing MA Government, Policy and Society

Our Government, Policy & Society programme is specifically designed for students interested in the content of public policy, the process by which policy is made, and its impact on society.

It examines how politicians and civil servants make decisions; how they are restricted by resource constraints, developments in the global economy, market forces and existing institutions; how crucial areas of social policy, such as health, education, inequality, welfare and employment are shaped; the relationship between government and society; and the ways in which various non-governmental actors try to influence policy.

You will engage with the core debates that divide political opinion, on how to develop societies positively. The programme makes use of interdisciplinary learning to help you understand the interactions of multiple levels of government in the policy process.

You will engage with core concepts from diverse social science disciplines such as political science, social policy, sociology, economics, and public administration and then be able to specialise in the specific policy areas of interest to you.

Our expertise spans Scotland, the UK, the European Union, and international government as well as the linkages between these levels. Learning about the workings of government and the development of policy in the capital of a powerful sub-state is a highly enriching experience.

The University is on the doorstep of one of the most powerful sub-national governments and parliaments in the world and is deeply embedded in a very open and vibrant public policy community.

We use a wide range of assessments for our courses to develop a broad set of skills that will be useful to you in many areas of work after graduation. These include classic formats such as essays and exams, as well as innovative assignment types, such as policy briefs and policy blogging.

Year 1

Students take three compulsory courses: Social Policy and Society; Understanding Public Policy; Evidence, Policy and Politics. In addition, you will select at least two options from Politics of the Welfare State; Rethinking the Financial Crisis; European Social Policy.

You will also study a two-year long course called Fundamentals in Government, Policy and Society, developing the analytical skills to discuss contemporary policy issues and produce relevant outputs.

You will take a further seven options from across the University to broaden your perspectives. These options may include courses within social and political science (such as social anthropology, international relations, sociology, political science or social work) or could be from other disciplines (such as economics, philosophy, history and many others).

Social Policy and Society will introduce you to core concepts in the analysis of key government policy areas by contrasting policy models based on classic economic perspectives with models based on a social policy approach. The course allows you to explore the consequences of different policy decisions by governments on different parts of society.

In Understanding Public Policy you will develop the skills needed to analyse specific policies created by governments with regards to their goals, structures and effectiveness. You will engage with external practitioners to understand the practical implications of their academic knowledge to the world of real policy making.

Evidence, Politics and Policy will see you discussing how particular types of research and evidence affect public policies while others do not. The course engages with the making of real politics and asks how different actors in government, media and academia use evidence well to substantiate policy proposals or misuse evidence to manipulate outcomes, focusing on four contemporary hot-topic policy areas.

Politics of the Welfare State introduces you to the politics of the area that in many countries constitutes one of the largest sets of government expenditure. Students will be confronted with debates about different ways of delivering welfare and the interplay between the state and the private sector.

Rethinking the Financial Crisis equips you with expertise to engage with economic questions in contemporary policy discussions. It introduces thoughts by traditional thinkers (such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx or Friedrich Hayek) to help understand our current economic system after the great financial crisis of 2007/08.

European Social Policy engages you with perspectives beyond the nation state, highlighting that much policy making is a multilevel affair and while there are differences between countries, supranational organisations, such as the European Union, play an important role in the development of policy.

Year 2

As Year 1.

Year 3

You will take three compulsory courses that help you sharpen your analytical abilities and develop transferable research skills with applications in many professional areas: Designing and Doing Social Research; Doing Survey Research; Analytical Perspectives in Social Policy.

Designing and Doing Social Research opens the world of social research to you as you learn about the necessary steps for successful research and are introduced to a range of methods. Through practical assignments you will apply these methods and develop experience in their application.

In Doing Survey Research you will be equipped to work with large scale quantitative datasets to analyse information from surveys of any unit, ranging from people to countries and firms. Using real-life data you will develop skills useful for many career paths.

Analytical Perspectives in Social Policy provides a forum for you to discuss specific policies in great depth. You will take a variety of perspectives (such as sociological and economic ones) to understand that there is usually more than one plausible way of framing policy.

In addition, you will choose seven specialisation courses from a wide range of options falling into two categories:

  • Policy-oriented courses, focusing on the specific areas of policy you are interested in and wish to deepen your understanding of (for example policy on labour markets, health, education, poverty amongst others)
  • Process-oriented courses focusing specifically on political decision making and perspectives on government (such as government budgetary politics, practical political work, the governing of social affairs and many others)

You will also undertake a major project and write a 10,000-15,000 word dissertation. This is a genuine, original piece of research that you will conduct over the course of a year. With guidance and mentoring from a member of staff, you will choose whether to work with quantitative and/or qualitative skills, analyse existing data or conduct your own primary research, either in the UK or, as many of our international students do, in your home country.

There is also the possibility to combine your dissertation research with external work in placement or volunteering contexts. Past students have combined practical interests with their research work to make their dissertation useful beyond the University and where appropriate, we will help you find ways to disseminate your findings.

Year 4

As Year 3.

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2019/20)

Our facilities

Most of the teaching takes place in the University's Central Area. You will also have access to the University's computer facilities and libraries.

Study abroad

You may apply to spend Year 3 abroad in one of several universities in North America, Central and South America, Australia and Asia with whom the University has special links.

In addition, we have European Erasmus exchange schemes with Leuphana University L√ľneburg and Jacobs University Bremen (Germany).

You can also apply to university-wide Erasmus exchanges in Amsterdam (Netherlands), Dublin (Ireland) and Lund (Sweden).

What are my options for going abroad?

How will I learn?

You will be taught through a combination of lectures, tutorials/seminars and individual supervision.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed by a combination of exams and coursework, and through a Year 4 research project.

Programme details

Find out more about this programme's aims, what you will learn, how you will be assessed and what skills and knowledge you will develop.

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme details (2019/20)

Our varied forms of assessment, our emphasis on developing critical thinking skills, and our commitment to rigorous methodological training will ensure that our graduates are well equipped to enter the world of government, third-sector organisations or business, whether national or international, with the tools necessary to succeed.

This programme opens up many exciting pathways to you. Our strong emphasis on analytical and research skills, in addition to content knowledge, will make you a strong asset to many different organisations. Work in government and the civil service, the private sector, third sector and non-profit organisations are avenues open to our students.

Many of our graduates have been successful in achieving high impact in their fields of work in national and international settings or research - after attending high profile masters and PhD programmes.

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: AAAA - ABBB by end of S5. If you haven't achieved this by the end of S5 we may consider your application based on a strong performance in S6. A minimum of BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6. (Revised 18/10/2019 from 'AAAA - AABB'.)
  • A Levels: ABB. (Revised 21/06/2019 from 'ABB'. Revised 11/12/2019 from 'AAB - ABB'.)
  • IB: 40 points (grades 766 at HL) - 34 points (grades 655 at HL) (Revised 11/12/2019 from '40 (766 at HL)').

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6, with a minimum of BBB achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points (grades 655 at HL).

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: no specific Higher subjects required. National 5: English at grade C.
  • A Levels: no specific A Level subjects required. GCSEs: English at grade C or 4.
  • IB: HL: no specific subjects required. SL: English at grade 5.

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

International Foundation Programme

If you are an international student and your school qualifications are not accepted for direct entry to the University you may be eligible for admission to this degree programme through our International Foundation Programme.

International Foundation Programme

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.


For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 Grade C

  • SQA Standard Grade 3

  • SQA Intermediate 1 Grade A

  • SQA Intermediate 2 Grade C

  • GCSE Grade C or 4

  • Level 2 Certificate Grade C

  • IB Standard Level Grade 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic module overall 6.5 with 5.5 in each component

  • TOEFL-iBT 92 or above with 20 in each section

  • Cambridge English: Advanced or Proficiency overall 176 with 162 in each component

  • PTE Academic: Total 61 with at least 51 in each "Communicative Skills" section

  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with a distinction in all four components

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

English language qualifications must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, PTE or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

English language requirements

(Revised 05/06/2019 to provide more accurate/comprehensive information.)

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It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for MA Government, Policy and Society

Additional costs



For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding