Undergraduate study - 2019 entry

Subject area: Social Policy

Why choose Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh?

  • We're ranked in Europe's top 10 universities for social policy in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018.

  • You will be able to combine social policy in a joint honours programme. Options include quantitative methods, for which the innovative Q-Step programme includes a paid internship between Years 3 and 4.

  • We have close relationships with the Scottish and UK governments, as well as European and global institutions – all of which provide opportunities to be immersed in a diverse range of contemporary policy developments.

Study abroad

Edinburgh is home to Scotland's devolved parliament, countless influential think tanks, and third sector organisations. This allows students to witness agenda setting, policy formulation, implementation and evaluation first-hand.

Kevin Forrest 2nd year MA (Hons) Government, Policy & Society
Kevin Forrest 2nd year MA (Hons) Government, Policy & Society

Social policy is the study of societies and the way they change through policy making.

Generally studied as a joint honours programme, for example with sociology, politics, economics or another subject, social policy looks at the ways in which public policies, social institutions and market forces affect how contemporary societies operate and are affected by debates about inequality and social justice.

Social policy is relevant to many areas of everyday life, including housing, employment, income, health and education. Our programmes will appeal to students who are interested in current political and social issues that appear in the news as well as longer-term changes in how societies work - whether at local, national, European or global levels.

Year 1

You will take Social Policy & Society, which revolves around three main themes: social needs, social problems and social rights, and how different debates about welfare have been influenced by these themes.

You will study Politics of the Welfare State, which examines social policy as a political issue in the UK. It introduces you to the politics of the 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 can choose option courses from other academic areas and will also take the course Fundamentals of Social Policy, which provides the key subject-specific learning skills you'll use in your further years of study.

Year 2

You will take European Social Policy, which compares different approaches to social policy in various European countries.

You will also take Evidence, Politics and Policy as well as further Fundamentals courses, which will equip you with analytical skills needed to engage with controversial policy issues in public debate.

You will also study other compulsory courses appropriate to your programme and will select one option course.

Year 3

You can study option courses that cover areas such as children's rights, labour market policies, family policy, social inequalities, criminal justice, health policy and education policy. You will also take at least one course on research methods.

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 and voluntary organisations.

Are there additional costs?


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

There are opportunities to study abroad in Year 3 through the University's international exchange programme, or through the School's Erasmus exchange programmes.

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.

Most of our graduates move into careers in policy or research within government, voluntary organisations, pressure groups or commercial organisations.

These programmes also equip you with skills and knowledge that could be applied to careers 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 or human resource management.