Undergraduate study - 2020 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2019/2020

MA Honours in Social Policy and Sociology

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: N/A
Final award: MA Honours
Programme title: Social Policy and Sociology
UCAS code: LL43
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Social Policy and Administration
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Mr Richard Parry
Date of production/revision: 09/05/2011

External summary

Social policy is the study of the distribution of welfare and well-being within societies and the policies which influence that distribution. Primarily, the focus is on social and economic change, what causes it and its consequences for society.  Specifically, Social Policy considered how the organisation of services such as social security, health, education, housing, personal social services, the criminal justice system and the labour market can influence and alleviate the effects of social change.  Reflecting how policies are developed, students will learn about both the policy making process in the UK (including devolution in Scotland and elsewhere) along with the influence of international bodies such as the EU and OECD. The Edinburgh experience draws upon the location of the University in the seat of the Scottish Government, responsible for most social policy functions, and practitioner networks developed through decades of teaching and research in the subject.

Educational aims of programme

We seek to :-

  • Study social policy in a broad analytical perspective
  • Promote an appreciation of interdisciplinary approaches, drawing in particular on sociology, law, political science and economics
  • Introduce students to a variety of perspectives encouraging an ability to appraise and understand different points of view and theoretical frameworks
  • Foster an appreciation of the role and the use of evidence in informing debates about social issues
  • Study social policy comparatively in an international context
  • Provide opportunities to acquire experience of the practice of social policy

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

At the end of their degree students should have:-

  • Knowledge of activities and organisation of the main institutions of the UK welfare system
  • Knowledge of the main sources of data about social welfare and a critical grasp of the main research methods used to analyse them
  • Understanding of methods of comparative analysis and an ability to apply these with reference to social policy across Europe.
  • Understanding of theoretical perspectives on welfare and the state
  • Understanding of interdisciplinary approaches to social policy issues

This will be accomplished through:-

  • Lectures, lecture hand-outs, and seminars are the chief channels for conveying knowledge and understanding and give the guidance for reading required
  • Data and data analysis are explicitly addressed in a) the 1st year classes, including tutorials, b) the 2nd year Social and Political Enquiry course and c) the 3rd year courses on research methods
  • The required course in second year is concerned with European social policy
  • One required course in third year provides an in depth introduction to different theories and approaches which can be used to understand social policy topics which are then considered in specific policy areas through optional courses in 3rd and 4th year.
  • Essay and examination questions require an understanding of different perspectives and independent reading
  • Inter-disciplinarity is a feature of our degrees. Students are encouraged to bring knowledge from the other subject area which contributes to their joint degree and apply this to issues within Social Policy. The topic of a student’s Senior Honours dissertation is expected to span both subjects in the joint degree

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

Graduates of the School of Social and Political Science will be able to create new knowledge and opportunities for learning through the process of research and enquiry, including the abilities to:-

  • Identify and analyse the strengths and challenges of different social and political systems, and develop processes for promoting social progress
  • Evaluate, critique, and build on the work of social scholars
  • Exercise creativity in the formulation of important and constructive questions about social science and social policy
  • Recognise, build on, and transcend the boundaries of the various social science disciplines – their empirical methods and their analytical traditions - in the pursuit of publicly useful knowledge.

Within Social Policy, these will be accomplished through:-

  • The study of how different countries respond to similar social problems (notably during the 2nd year course on European Social Policy)
  • The study of the increasingly devolved nature of Social Policy within the UK
  • Small group teaching which encourages students to put forward their view about particular policies or social problems and debate these opinions with fellow students and staff
  • Through encouragement for students to consider the link between the major theories which influence social policy debate and specific policy areas in which they are interested
  • Feedback on coursework which encourages students to think critically about the points they are making and support their arguments with appropriate evidence.
  • Ensuring students become aware of, and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of a range of alternative approaches to researching social issues. Notably, students will have the opportunity to learn and practice skills in interviewing, running focus groups, conducting documentary analysis and statistical analysis.
  • Providing detailed assistance to students who which to write their dissertation on a social policy related topic. Guiding them to develop a research question which is appropriate for investigating alongside their other studies and encouraging them to consider a range of different research approaches they could use to complete their dissertation.
  • Encouraging students, both within classes, but also in their coursework and exams, to draw on knowledge they have gained in the other half of their joint degree when considering issues of Social Policy.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

Graduates of the School of Social and Political Science will be able to work independently and sustainably, in a way that is informed by openness, curiosity, and a desire to meet new challenges, including the abilities and dispositions to:-

  • Be independent learners who take responsibility for their own learning and are committed to continuous reflection, self-evaluation and self-improvement
  • Be able to sustain intellectual interest by remaining receptive to both new and old ideas, methods, and ways of thinking
  • Be able to make decisions on the basis of rigorous and independent thought, taking into account ethical and professional issues
  • Be able to use collaboration and debate effectively to test, modify and strengthen their own views
  • Be able to respond effectively to unfamiliar problems in unfamiliar contexts
  • Have a personal vision and goals and be able to work towards these in a sustainable way

Within Social Policy, these will be accomplished through:-

  • Advising students about the range of academic sources available to learn about particular topics and encouraging them to consider a range of competing sources in their work
  • The provision of reading lists which encourage students to undertake further individual investigation of a topic, along with appropriate training in conducting bibliographic searches and finding of other resources
  • Encouraging students to debate issues within classes, and with staff from across the subject area
  • Encouraging students to think critical about how they can best use evidence to support points they wish to make in class activities and in their written work.
  • Providing feedback on coursework and class activities which highlights where students could have further engaged with common theories or evidence within Social Policy
  • Ensure that generic skills around evaluating evidence and structuring arguments are highlighted when they are developed within individual courses
  • Assisting students with their honours level dissertation, ensuring they are aware of how their work fits with wider discussions with social policy and social science more generally, encouraging them to think about which skills they have previously learned might be most useful for their dissertation, and ensuring they are sufficiently aware of any ethical issues which might arise during their work.
  • Providing generic advice on skills needed to study at university, either through feedback on coursework, meetings with a student’s Director of Studies or by directing students to specialist sources of information within the University.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

Graduates of the School of Social and Political Science will be able to recognise and value of communication as the tool for negotiating and creating new understanding, collaborating with others, and furthering their own learning, including the abilities to:

  • make effective use of oral, written and visual means to critique, negotiate, create and communicate understanding;
  • use communication as a tool for collaborating and relating to others;
  • further their own learning through effective use of the full range of communication approaches;
  • seek and value open feedback to inform genuine self-awareness;
  • recognise the benefits of communicating with those beyond their immediate environments;
  • use effective communication to articulate their skills as identified through self-reflection.

Within Social Policy, these will be accomplished through:

  • Credit for active tutorial participation in first and second level courses, in which questions for discussion are linked to specified reading and students are encouraged to  debate  the issues, with feedback from tutors
  • Assessed group presentations as part of many honours courses, in which students will typically form small groups and prepare a mini-lecture for the class in the normal lecture room, using handouts and PowerPoint slides, and answer questions, course teachers give write feedback and allocate a mark (usually the same for all members of the team)
  • Feedback on effective written communication throughout the degree;
  • Invitations to attend subject area seminars, including the opportunity to talk to the speakers over refreshments afterwards alongside staff and postgraduate students
  • Consultation with Personal Tutors about communication issues

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

Graduates of the School of Social and Political Science will be able to effect change and be responsive to the situations and environments in which they operate, including the abilities to:

  • make constructive use of analytical skills in personal, professional, and community life;
  • be both adaptive and proactively responsive to changing socio-political contexts;
  • have the confidence to make decisions based on their understandings and their personal and intellectual autonomy;
  • transfer their knowledge, learning, skills and abilities from one context to another;
  • understand and act on social, cultural, global and environmental responsibilities, and help others to do the same;
  • be able to work effectively with others, capitalising on their different thinking, experience and skills;
  • understand and promote effectively the values of diversity and equity, while also recognizing possible trade-offs between these.

Within Social Policy these will be accomplished through:

  • The supportive learning environment through a smaller cohort of undergraduate students than in most subject areas;
  • The contemporary subject-matter of the courses and the challenge of applying research to social circumstances;
  • ‘buddying’ systems to facilitate the effectiveness of first year students and the students in later years who are mentoring them
  • consultation with Personal Tutors about time management and activities outside the formal curriculum;
  • encouragement of group working in courses and of understanding the diverse backgrounds of students

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

Students at the end of the course should be able to:-

  • Use the theories and concepts of social policy and other social sciences to analyse policy problems and issues
  • Seek out and use statistical data derived from research publications
  • Distinguish between normative and empirical questions
  • Undertake investigations of social questions

This will be accomplished through:-

  • Acquired in essays and examinations throughout the course
  • The dissertation gives experience of conducting a social investigation with support provided by an appropriate academic expert

Programme structure and features

First and second year courses are taught by a mixture of lectures and tutorials. Assessment for Social Policy courses is by assessed tutorial participation, an essay and an examination. The pattern of essay and examination questions is designed to let students provide evidence of meeting all the learning outcomes of the course, including quantitative skills.

Year 1

  • Social Policy and Society and Politics of the Welfare State (each 20 SQCF credit points
  • 1st year courses in the joint subject (each 20 credit points)
  • One other first year course in each semester (20 credit points)
  • (total for year 120 credits)

Year 2

  • European Social Policy (20 credits
  • Social & Political Enquiry 2 and Social & Political Theory 2 (20 credits each)
  • 2nd year course in the joint subject (20 credits)
  • One other 1st or 2nd year course (120 credits)

To proceed to the Honours years a pass is required in all subjects so far, including normally at least a 50% mark in European Social Policy, the joint subject course and the Enquiry and Theory courses. Exceptionally failed outside course totalling up to 40 units can be retaken. It is also possible to proceed for just one more year to gain a BA in Humanities and Social Sciences if 360 credit units have been passed.

This and fourth year courses are generally taught in seminar format with student participation; larger courses may divide into tutorials. Assessment is by a mixture of coursework, participation and examination designed to cover all the learning outcomes of courses. The honours curriculum promotes attention to University strategic objectives of sustainability, social responsibility, and equality and diversity, which all fit naturally into the content and emphasis of Social Policy as a discipline

Year 3

All Social Policy courses are 20 units

  • Analytical Perspective in Social Policy
  • Designing and Doing Social Research and/or Doing Survey Research or equivalent in joint subject
  • Core courses in joint subject
  • Optional courses in either subject (total 120 credits)

Degree exams for year 3 courses are taken in 3rd year. Progression to fourth year depends on passing at least 80 credits at 40% and achieving a mean mark of 40% over all courses.

Year 4

Dissertation

Two Social Policy optional courses (both 20 units

Optional courses in the joint subject (total 120 credits)

Degree classification is based on performance in both Honours years. The Dissertation is weighted the same as a full year course: (40 credits).

Features of particular joint Honours degrees (schedules as in Degree Regulations and Programmes of Study)

Social Policy and Sociology

Combined honours

Normal year taken

Course

Schedules

Level

Credit

Total

1

Social Policy and Society

J

8

20

Politics of the Welfare State

J

8

20

Sociology 1A: The Sociological Imagination: Individuals and Society

J

8

20

Sociology 1B: The Sociological Imagination: Private Troubles, Public Problems

J

8

20

Further courses

A-Q,T, W

7/8

40

2

European Social Policy

J

8

20

Sociology 2: Transformations of Self and Society

J

8

20

Social and Political Enquiry 2

J

8

20

Social and Political Theory 2

J

8

20

Further courses

A-Q,T, W

8

40

3

Analytical Perspectives in Social Policy

J

10

20

Social Theory

J

10

20

Designing and Doing Social Research

J

10

20

Doing Survey Research

J

10

20

Courses in Social Policy OR Sociology

J

10

40

4

Dissertation in Social Policy OR Project in Sociology*

J

10

40

Courses under Social Policy

J

10

40

Courses under Sociology

J

10

40

* If taking the Sociology Project students are expected to use part of the summer vacation of their third year on research for it.

The teaching approach in Social Policy is based around lectures, seminars and smaller group formats that reflect the contemporary subject matter of the discipline. The first and second year courses have twice weekly lectures and weekly tutorials. Lectures are supported by slides that are placed on the internal website of the course in advance. Tutorial are on set topics and a course reader is supplied (electronically or in hard copy) that provides the specified reading. Extensive use is made of government documents, research reports and journal articles that are available electronically. The first year courses Social Policy and Society and Politics of the Welfare State include study skills training, including note-taking, understanding government documents and the interpretation of statistics. To assist students at the start of their degree programme, a summary version of the lectures in Social Policy and Society is recorded by lecturers and available electronically, with plans to extend this to other courses.

Honours courses are taught in seminar format, with student participation and usually assessed student presentations. Larger courses divide into tutorials. A methods course Designing and Doing social Research (offered jointly with Sociology) provides training in qualitative and quantitative research techniques; a further optional methods course Doing Survey Research presents more advanced techniques of primary and secondary analysis. Team working with fellow students is an important part of honours learning.

All students prepare a 10-15,000 word dissertation on the topic of their choice in the final year, and are given an academic supervisor. Topics typically reflect important current issues in Social Policy and use a range of research methods such as interviews, documentary analysis, and statistical analysis of data sets. 

Facilities available include computer terminals in the Library, IT advice, an Undergraduate Reading Room in the Chrystal Macmillan Building, and extensive electronic access to journals.

Social Policy activities during Innovative Learning Week include a tour of housing in Edinburgh and students also take part in policy debates and alumni and networking events.

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

The teaching approach in Social Policy is based around lectures, seminars and smaller group formats that reflect the contemporary subject matter of the discipline. The first and second year courses have twice weekly lectures and weekly tutorials. Lectures are supported by slides that are placed on the internal website of the course in advance. Tutorial are on set topics and a course reader is supplied (electronically or in hard copy) that provides the specified reading. Extensive use is made of government documents, research reports and journal articles that are available electronically. The first year courses Social Policy and Society and Politics of the Welfare State include study skills training, including note-taking, understanding government documents and the interpretation of statistics. To assist students at the start of their degree programme, a summary version of the lectures in Social Policy and Society is recorded by lecturers and available electronically, with plans to extend this to other courses.

Honours courses are taught in seminar format, with student participation and usually assessed student presentations. Larger courses divide into tutorials. A methods course Designing and Doing social Research (offered jointly with Sociology) provides training in qualitative and quantitative research techniques; a further optional methods course Doing Survey Research presents more advanced techniques of primary and secondary analysis. Team working with fellow students is an important part of honours learning.

All students prepare a 10-15,000 word dissertation on the topic of their choice in the final year, and are given an academic supervisor. Topics typically reflect important current issues in Social Policy and use a range of research methods such as interviews, documentary analysis, and statistical analysis of data sets. 

Facilities available include computer terminals in the Library, IT advice, an Undergraduate Reading Room in the Chrystal Macmillan Building, and extensive electronic access to journals.

Social Policy activities during Innovative Learning Week include a tour of housing in Edinburgh and students also take part in policy debates and alumni and networking events.

Assessment methods and strategies

Social Policy assessment is designed to use a variety of approaches to develop written and oral skills, encourage effective work in groups, and prepare students for communication of policy-relevant material to a range of audiences.  In first and second year courses the normal pattern of assessment is assessed tutorial participation to count for 10% of the marks, an essay from a list of specified topics 30%, and a two-hour examination 60%. Tutors assess the first two elements, with moderation by the curse organiser and the senior tutor who take the lead in marking examinations. In the honours years some courses have unseen or take home examinations alongside an essay, while others have two assessed essays (one of them often a bibliographic or review exercise or a policy brief). Many courses have assessed presentations, usually prepared in groups. All assessed work is moderated by a second member of staff and reviewed by the external examiner.

Feedback is provided by detailed comments on essays in a standard format and the opportunity for personal discussion about them with the marker. Generic feedback on examination answers is provided and there is an opportunity for students to review their papers.

The dissertation is assessed by two members of staff and moderated by the external examiner; counting for 40 credits, it is the central task of the honours years.

Career opportunities

Most graduates move into careers in policy or research within local government, voluntary organisations or pressure groups. The course also equips them with the skills and knowledge for careers in teaching or the management and delivery of services. Some go on to study for professional qualifications in housing management, social work or human resource management.

Other items