Undergraduate study - 2024 entry
Edinburgh. Extraordinary futures await.

MA Social Policy and Politics

UCAS code: LL42

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: Social and Political Science

College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Study abroad

Introducing MA Social Policy and Politics

This popular joint degree programme provides a grounding in both social policy and politics, two subjects which complement and enrich each other.

Social Policy

Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh will help you engage with confidence in many of the political debates of our time.

We cover a wide variety of policy areas, for example:

  • health
  • welfare
  • labour markets
  • education
  • family and childhood

We discuss how policies affect our civic culture through studying political engagement and citizen participation.

Our programme will equip you with the knowledge to understand how policies affect society and the economy. It will also enable you to critically assess how policies are made, and what actors and processes influence the policy-making process.


Politics studies the theory and practice of how societies are governed.

How do our political institutions create collective rules? Who has the power to make these rules, and what are the consequences of political decisions? What is the nature of a just society, and how do we get there?

Drawing on the expertise of leading academics and researchers in the field, you will explore the origins and present-day contexts of societal conflicts about power, participation, and resources.

You will not only study the processes of governance at the local, national, and international level, but also the morality of political action, and the limits of freedom and justice.

Why Edinburgh?

You will be taught by staff members who are passionate about conducting research with strong applications to the world outside academia.

We work closely with:

  • governments
  • NGOs
  • third sector and interest representation groups
  • international organisations
  • other external actors

International comparative analyses are one of our main strengths. We place a strong emphasis on providing you with empirical research skills, so that you can become a critical researcher yourself.

Study Social Policy and Politics at the University of Edinburgh and you will be challenged to re-evaluate how you look at politics, society and the economy, with the ability to improve others’ understanding as well.

Our joint honours degrees allow you to gain a disciplinary understanding both in core social policy analyses as well as another subject area.

You will take core courses to understand how social policy affects different parts of society and will learn how different systems of social policy can result in very different relationships between the state and other actors.

You will also learn the foundations of politics in the first two years.

You can gain insights into particular methods of understanding society, but apply those to real-world problems that stretch beyond the reach of those disciplines to understand the impact particular decisions have on different parts of society.

This allows you in Years 3 and 4 to take specialisation courses in both disciplines.

On the Social Policy side of the degree you will be able to choose from a range of specific Social Policy courses (between 2-4) that cover particular policy areas or processes. You will also choose specific options from your second discipline (between 2-4) in addition to the central methods and approaches courses in both disciplines.

You can usually choose in which subject area you want to write your dissertation project in.

Year 1

Social Policy

You will take Social Policy & Society.

In this course we will introduce key ways to analyse how government policies affect society. We use a variety of important concepts like power and inequality to make sense of societal structures.

This allows us to look at the impact of policy on different groups of people (for example based on class, gender or race).

You will also take Politics of the Welfare State.

This course examines social policy as a political issue in the UK. It introduces you to the politics of welfare, an area that constitutes one of the largest sets of government expenditure.

You will be confronted with debates about the different ways of delivering welfare, and the interplay between the state and the private sector.


You will also study three compulsory courses in politics:

  • Politics and International Relations 1A: Concepts and Debates
  • Politics and International Relations 1B: The Global Dimension
  • Political Thinkers (an introduction to political theory)

Year 2

Social Policy

You will take Comparative Social Policy: Global Perspectives.

This course compares different approaches to social policy in European and non-European countries.

In addition, you will take Evidence, Politics and Policy.

This course will enable you to critically assess how evidence is used or misused by different actors and in the media to influence public opinion.

You will also take a course on research skills and design, in which you will learn how to create the foundations for high-quality social research yourself.


You will study Comparative Politics in a Globalised World.

Year 3

You will select optional courses that cover a wide array of policy fields such as:

  • family policy
  • labour market policies
  • social inequalities
  • criminal justice
  • health policy
  • education policy

You will also take courses in qualitative and quantitative research methods, and a course that will enable you to analyse policies from multiple lenses (economic, political and sociological).

Year 4

You will continue to take social policy courses and will complete an individual research project.

This may involve collecting and analysing data and information from sources such as:

  • the European Commission
  • UK Government
  • Scottish Government
  • local authorities
  • voluntary organisations

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 (2022/23)

Our facilities

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

Take a virtual tour

You can take a closer look at the School of Social and Political Science and explore our facilities and campus on the University's Virtual Visit site.

Take a virtual tour of the School of Social and Political Science

Study abroad

You may apply to spend Year 3 abroad in one of many institutions where the University has special links, in locations such as:

  • Europe
  • North America
  • Central and South America
  • Australia
  • Asia

We also have a dedicated European exchange scheme with Leuphana University Lüneburg in Germany.

What are my options for going abroad?

How will I learn?

You will be taught through a combination of:

  • lectures
  • tutorials
  • seminars
  • individual supervision

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed through a wide range of methods. These will enable you to develop different academic and practical skills.

Our assessments methods include:

  • traditional academic essays and exams
  • policy analyses and briefs
  • policy blogging
  • analyses of political actors
  • project work
  • seminar engagement

Most of our graduates move into careers in policy or research, within areas such as:

  • government
  • voluntary organisations
  • pressure groups
  • commercial organisations

This programme also equips you with skills and knowledge that could be applied to a career in teaching, or to the management and delivery of services, whether public or commercial.

Some graduates have gone on to study for professional qualifications in:

  • housing management
  • social work
  • human resource management

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: AAAB by end of S5 or AAAA by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAB.
  • IB: 37 points with 666 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 655 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

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

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


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 at C
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 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: total 6.5 with at least 5.5 in each component.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 162 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 62 with at least 54 in each component.

(Revised 29 August 2023 to remove PTE Academic Online)

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 degree you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

English language requirements

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

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 Social Policy and Politics

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