Undergraduate study - 2025 entry
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

MA Social Policy and Economics

UCAS code: LL41

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: Social and Political Science

College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Study abroad

Introducing MA Social Policy and Economics

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

Social policy

Social policy at the University of Edinburgh will enable you to engage with confidence in many of the political debates of our time.

We deal with a wide array 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.


In economics, you will examine the incentives that shape and reconcile the important decisions made by:

  • individuals
  • businesses
  • governments
  • societies

You will also explore the macroeconomic outcomes that may arise from those decisions, such as:

  • economic fluctuations
  • growth
  • unemployment
  • crises

Who is the programme for?

Our degrees are for students who are interested in how political actions affect the real lives of people.

Our programmes are designed to foster critical thinking about policy to ensure our graduates are able to look beyond news headlines and understand in detail why certain political decisions are taken and what their impact may be.

Why Edinburgh?

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

We work closely with:

  • governments
  • non-governmental organisations (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.

Take a social policy degree 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 economics 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 two and four) that cover particular policy areas or processes. You will also choose specific options from your second discipline (between two and four) 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.

Year 1

Social policy

You will take Social Policy and 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 expenditures. 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 take Economics 1, which will give you an understanding of core economic models and analysis, and their applications.

Optional courses

You can choose optional courses from other academic areas across the University.

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 two social policy courses, which are likely to focus on research skills and the use of evidence in politics and the economy. Further details are subject to our current review of our pre-honours curriculum for Year 2 students.


You will study:

  • Economics 2
  • Statistical Methods for Economics

These courses will introduce you to the statistical theory central to your economics study.

You will also select one optional course.

Year 3

You will select 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 take:

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

You will take Essentials of Econometrics and Topics in Microeconomics, and you may also select either Applications of Econometrics or Topics in Macroeconomics.

Year 4

You will continue to take social policy and economics courses.

You will complete either a dissertation in economics, or 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 (2024/25)

Our facilities

Most of the teaching on this programme takes place in the University's Central Area. You will also 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 universities 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

⁠The peer-assisted learning scheme offered by the School of Economics aims to help first-year students transition into higher education, develop their learning and study strategies as well as to provide opportunities to socialise.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed through a wide range of methods that 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

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
  • 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: AAA.
  • 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: Mathematics at B. Higher Applications of Mathematics is not accepted in place of Higher Mathematics. National 5s: English at C.
  • A Levels: Mathematics at B, or AS Mathematics at A. GCSEs: English at C or 4.
  • IB: HL: Mathematics at 5. SL: English at 5 and Mathematics at 6 (if not at HL).

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.We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • 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 65 with at least 54 in each component. We do not accept PTE Academic Online.*

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

Unless you are a national of a majority English speaking country, your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start of the month in which the degree you are applying to study begins. If you are using an IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Trinity ISE test, it must be no more than two years old on the first of the month in which the degree begins, regardless of your nationality.

English language requirements

(*Revised 24 May 2024 to change PTE Academic requirement from total 62 with at least 54 in each component, and to clarify that we do not accept PTE Academic online.)

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 Economics

Additional costs

Economics textbooks are required for Years 1 and 2. These cost about £100.


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