Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

Government Policy and Society

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: Government, Policy and Society
UCAS code: L230
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Social Policy, Politics and Sociology
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr Jan Eichhorn
Date of production/revision: February 2015

External summary

The Government, Policy and Society Programme is specifically designed for students interested in the content of public policy, the process by which policy is made, and its impact on society. If you are fascinated by how politicians and civil servants make decisions; how they are constrained by resource constraints, developments in the global economy, market forces and existing institutions; how crucial areas of social policy, such as health, education, inequality, welfare and employment are shape; the relationship between government and society; and the ways in which various non-governmental actors try to influence policy, then this is the programme for you. GPS allows students to engage with core debates that divide political opinion on how to develop societies positively. GPS is committed both to interdisciplinary learning and to understanding the interactions of multiple levels of government in the policy process. Students will be enabled to do so by engaging with core concepts from diverse social science disciplines such as political science, social policy, sociology, economics, and public administration and then be able to specialise in specific policy areas of their interest. And our expertise covers Scotland, the UK, the European Union, and the international as well as the linkages between these levels of government. 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 and is deeply embedded in a very open and vibrant public policy community. Our varied forms of assessment, our emphasis on developing critical thinking skills, and our commitment to rigorous methodological training will ensure that GPS graduates are well equipped to enter the world of government, third-sector organisations or business, whether national or international, with the tools necessary to succeed.

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims to develop:


  • A strong understanding of how public policy is developed and what policy making processes entail

  • An appreciation of the complexity of the pathways that affect policy making requiring cross-disciplinary perspectives to understand how government decisions in the policy process affect society

  • An understanding of the importance of comparative policy analysis in the investigation of how policy is made and of its impact on society

  • A sound knowledge of the major fields of study within contemporary social policy

  • Substantive knowledge of a range of areas of social policy analysis and the empirical evidence underlying them, informed by an active research culture

  • The ability to understand, evaluate and use a range of theoretical frameworks from contemporary social policy

  • The ability to use both quantitative and qualitative methods to collect, evaluate and interpret empirical evidence, and undertake independent research,

  • The capacity to apply social policy knowledge and knowledge about public policy processes to the understanding and evaluation of social issues and problems in the contemporary world

  • Key generic skills in critical thinking, evaluation of evidence, conceptual analysis, logical argument and oral and written communication.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

On completion of the programme students should be able to:


  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key concepts and theoretical approaches within Social Policy

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key concepts and theoretical approaches in public policy analyses

  • Demonstrate a working knowledge of being able to apply their knowledge on policy areas and about the policy process to the engagement of concrete policy problems

  • Understand the relationship between policy argument and empirical evidence;

  • Use of a range of research strategies and methods to gain knowledge relevant to the analysis of policy problems that can engage with the content of the problem as well as the policy process within which it is situated.

How is this accomplished?

  • Compulsory and optional elements in the curriculum ensure coverage of the points above

  • Course handbooks, lectures, lecture handouts, tutorials, statistical lab sessions, seminars, and presentations, delivered face to face, via hard copy or electronically, are the key channels for dissemination of knowledge and guidance to further reading and research;

  • Content and assessment of courses and the requirements of the compulsory project/dissertation ensure cumulative knowledge and critical engagement with key concepts, theoretical approaches and research strategies within public policy analyses and contemporary social capital issues

  • Essays, examinations, oral presentations, statistical lab sessions and project work require independent reading and research beyond knowledge and understanding provided in the classroom;

  • Essays, examinations, oral presentations, contributions to statistical lab sessions and project work encourage application of alternative and comparative perspectives on and explanations of social phenomena, the weighing of evidence and argument and the identification of what is distinctive about a policy explanation


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

Graduates in Government, Politics and Society will be able to create new knowledge and opportunities for learning through the process of research and enquiry, including the abilities to:


  • Draw on a range of available constructions to develop policy making procedures in specific contexts;
  • Evaluate, critique, and build on the work of social policy scholars;
  • Evaluate and critique policy documents from policy-making bodies;
  • Critically appraise policy decision making processes in terms of their societal legitimacy, effectiveness, transparency and inclusivity; 
  • Contribute to strategies of different actors within the policy process, including government, private and third sector actors;
  • Discuss and assess empirical evidence and theoretical argument in a clear and reasoned way;
  • Apply different theories to the interpretation and explanation of social processes or structures;
  • Understand the ethical implications of social enquiry;
  • Select and use appropriate methods of social scientific enquiry, to identify a range of different research strategies and methods and to comment on their relative advantages and disadvantages;
  • Apply quantitative and qualitative methods to any research enquiry;
  • Judge the value and relevance of empirical evidence and theoretical argument and interpretation in social study;
  • Plan and carry out a research project and report its findings appropriately;
  • Creatively and constructively identify and design ways of solving problems with a social dimension;
  • 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.


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

Graduates in Government, Politics and Society 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

In addition to the above these will be accomplished through:


  • requirements for tutorials and group work to focus on students’ own reading, practical work and application of knowledge to the solution of specific policy problems,
  • requirements for completing written and oral coursework assignments independently;
  • requirements for planning carrying out and writing up the research project within a given timetable;
  • requirement for self directed study guided by course reading lists;
  • requirements to for students to manage their time effectively to meet deadlines.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

Graduates in Government, Politics and Society will recognise and value 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.

In addition to the above these will be accomplished through:


  • requirements for and feedback on effective individual and group oral presentation and communication in tutorials, statistical lab sessions and seminars;
  • assessed tutorial participation in some tutorials;
  • the requirements to communicate and present quantitative evidence effectively in core courses;
  • the requirement to design, carry out and report on a research project, and feedback on it.

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

Graduates in Government, Politics and Society 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 social analysis skills in personal, professional, and community life;

  • apply understanding of social risks, in relation to diverse stakeholders, while initiating and managing change;

  • be both adaptive and proactively responsive to changing social 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;

  • be able to make effective use of empirical evidence in contexts where evidence of diverse kinds is being debated;

  • understand and promote effectively the values of diversity and equity, while also recognizing possible trade-offs between these.

How is this to be accomplished?

By the combination of skills acquired listed in the above sections

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

Library, information location and retrieval skills; use of Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS) and other data processing and presentation software; use of word processing and presentation packages (e.g. Powerpoint).

Programme structure and features

Government, Policy and Society – Degree Programme Table


Semester 1

Semester 2

Year 1

Social Policy & Society

Politics of the Welfare† State


Understanding Public Policy

60 or 80 credits outside courses

Fundamentals (GPS focus)

Year 2


European Social Policy

Social Policy Enquiry

Rethinking the Financial Crisis


60 or 80 credits outside courses

Fundamentals (GPS focus)

Year 3



Analytical Perspectives in Social Policy


Doing Survey Research

60 credits from option lists: 40 credits from a list of policy specialisation courses & 20 credits from a list of process-oriented courses

Year 4


80 credits from option lists: At least 20 credits from a list of process-oriented courses & at least 40 credits from a list of policy specialisation courses

Dissertation 40 credits

Core courses (taken by all GPS students)

Specialisation courses: Pre-honours: Students choose at least 2 out of 3

Outside courses (pre-honours)

† Students would have the flexibility to take this course in Year 2

Draft list of honours-level options (agreement for options in other subject areas will be sought)

Policy specialisations

(min. 60 credits)

Process-oriented courses

(min. 40 credits)

Children’s Rights

Criminology 1

Population Health and Health Policy

Global Politics of Public Health

Labour Market Policy in Europe

Education Policy in the EU

Educational Politics and Policy

Social Inequality and the Life Course

Social Determinants of Health and Health Policy

(new options in planning at the moment)

Political Work


Scotland: Social Structure and Social Change*

Contemporary Feminist Debates*

Economic Sociology: Theories and Enquiries*

Parliamentary Studies*

Governing the Social

(new options in planning at the moment)

* Indicative examples of SPS courses SPS, for which permissions are being sought



Students must pass all subjects.


A pass in six courses overall, with a mark of 50% or more in required courses. Where students have taken more than one specialised course in the second year, that with the highest grade will be used to assess progression


End of semester degree examinations


Students with sufficient credits may exit at end of Year 3 with BA Humanities and Social Science. Students who choose not to continue after year 3 of the Honours programme may also, with the discretion of the examination board, be awarded the BA.


Degree classification based on performance in 240 credits courses taken in Y3 and Y4, assessed in the year they are taken.

Modes of study

Methods courses will include practical exercises and assessments. The Dissertation is an extensive research project focussed on a particular aspect of policy analysis and/or a particular topic within social policy and is conducted by the student on an individual basis guided by a series of supervision meetings with a member of staff.


Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Study in most courses in years 1 and 2 combines lectures and small group tutorials. Most courses in years 3 and 4 combine lectures with student discussion and presentation.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 117830
Year 219810
Year 313870
Year 410900

Assessment methods and strategies

Methods courses will include practical exercises and assessments. The Dissertation is an extensive research project focussed on a particular aspect of policy analysis and/or a particular topic within social policy and is conducted by the student on an individual basis guided by a series of supervision meetings with a member of staff.

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 120575
Year 218478
Year 30892
Year 400100

Career opportunities


Other items

  • The subject area, together with on course students, external examiners and quality assurance procedures, continually monitors the quality of the organisation, content, and delivery of its teaching with the aim of achieving the highest standards.
  • The teaching of the first cohort of students will be the subject of a report to the Nuffield Foundation as a condition of their funding.  This will provide further external input on the quality of the programme.
  • Opportunities for overseas exchanges in year 3 are possible. Social Policy’s existing ERASMUS agreements (Jacobs University Bremen and Leuphana University Lüneburg) would both be accessible by GPS students and would allow for the fulfilment of most required courses. With an increase in students it would be worth exploring at least one additional exchange programme outside of Germany.