Undergraduate study - 2023 entry
Open to the world

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 designed for students interested in the content of public policy, the process by which policy is made, and its impact on society.

Decision-making in government

You will examine how politicians and civil servants make decisions and how they are restricted by resource constraints, such as:

  • developments in the global economy
  • market forces and existing institutions

Shaping social policies

You will explore how crucial areas of social policy are shaped, such as:

  • health
  • education
  • inequality
  • welfare
  • employment

You will study the relationship between government and society, and explore the ways in which various non-governmental actors try to influence policy.

You will also 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.

Examining social sciences

You will engage with core concepts from diverse social science disciplines such as:

  • political science
  • social policy
  • sociology
  • economics
  • public administration

You can then specialise in the specific policy areas of interest to you.

Why Edinburgh?

Our expertise spans Scotland, the UK, the European Union, 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. We are deeply embedded in a very open and vibrant public policy community.

Year 1

Students take the compulsory courses:

  • Social Policy and Society
  • Understanding Public Policy
  • Politics of the Welfare State

Social Policy and Society

In this course, we will introduce you to core concepts in the analysis of key government policy areas. We do this by contrasting various lenses through which we can understand social policy. You will explore the consequences of different policy decisions by governments on different parts of society.

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.

Politics of the Welfare State

In this course, we introduce you to the politics of the area that in many countries constitutes one of the largest sets of government expenditure. You will be confronted with debates about different ways of delivering welfare and the interplay between the state and the private sector.

Optional courses

You will take further 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
  • social work

You can also choose options from other disciplines, such as:

  • economics
  • philosophy
  • history

Year 2

You will take three compulsory courses:

  • Evidence, Politics and Policy
  • Comparative Social Policy: Global Perspectives
  • Research Skills for Social Policy

Evidence, Politics and Policy

You will discuss how particular types of research and evidence affect public policies while others do not. This course engages with the making of real politics. We ask how different actors in government, media and academia use evidence well to substantiate policy proposals or misuse evidence to manipulate outcomes. We focus on four contemporary hot-topic policy areas.

Comparative Social Policy: Global Perspectives

You will compare different approaches to social policy in European and non-European countries

####Research Skills for Social Policy

In this course, you will learn how to create the foundations for high quality social research yourself.

Optional courses

You will take further 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
  • social work

You can also choose options from other disciplines, such as:

  • economics
  • philosophy
  • history

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:

  • Qualitative Research: Principles and Practicalities for Social Policy
  • Doing Survey Research
  • Analytical Perspectives in Social Policy

Qualitative Research: Principles and Practicalities for Social Policy

This course will introduce you to a wide range of qualitative research techniques and teach you how to carry out high quality research yourself.

Doing Survey Research

You will be equipped to work with large scale quantitative datasets. You will 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

This course 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.

You will also choose seven specialisation courses from a wide range of options falling into two categories:

  • Policy-oriented courses, focusing on the specific areas of policy your area of specialisation (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. You will 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. Where appropriate, we will help you find ways to share your findings with the appropriate audiences.

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 takes place in the University's Central Area. You will also have access to our 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 several universities where the University has special links in locations such as:

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

We also have European exchange schemes with Leuphana University Lüneburg and Jacobs University Bremen (Germany).

You can also apply to university-wide 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
  • individual supervision

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 range from traditional academic essays and exams, but also include:

  • policy analyses and briefs
  • policy blogging
  • analyses of political actors
  • project work
  • seminar engagement

Our graduates are well equipped to enter the world of government, civil service, third-sector organisations or business, whether national or international. We ensure this through emphasis on:

  • developing critical thinking skills
  • our commitment to rigorous methodological training

This programme opens up many exciting pathways to you. Our focus on analytical and research skills, and content knowledge, will make you a strong asset to many different organisations.

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-AABB by end of S5 or AAAA-AAAB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAB - ABB.
  • IB: 36 points with 665 at HL - 34 points with 655 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

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 at C
  • SQA Standard Grade at 3
  • 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.

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 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