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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Keith MacAskill

MSc Comparative Public Policy (2008-2009)

What were you doing before you applied to the MSc in Policy Studies?

Before I applied for the MSc CPP I had been working for ten years in higher education in London, latterly in programme management with adult learners, prior to that in student advice and guidance. Before that I had been teaching in further education. My last period of study was a PGCE (for FE teaching) at the University of Greenwich in 1992-3. Although I had taught study skills to adult learners, and knew the challenges faced by those returning to education, I had not experienced being a student first hand for a long time.

Why did you apply to the programme?

My partner and I had talked about moving back to Edinburgh for a number of years, we are both originally from the city but were both long-time London residents, and I had also been considering returning to study. So we decided to do both. I wanted to study something that would be both useful to me professionally and interesting in its own right, so I started looking at social policy masters programmes. The only two courses I seriously considered were Policy Studies and Comparative Public Policy at Edinburgh, and I chose the latter, because the comparative dimension was particularly appealing. I was interested to see how social policy was approached in other national contexts, to see if different approaches could yield different results – and better outcomes.

What are your best memories from your time studying here?

One of the best aspects of studying is the ability to step back and reflect and contextualize the world you are involved in. It was great to be able to study with such a range of resources, not only the university library, but also being able to access the National Library of Scotland. The expertise and the support of the university staff were always impressive, and the students were from an interestingly diverse range of backgrounds. I thoroughly enjoyed writing my dissertation and my supervisor was extremely supportive, providing valuable criticism, suggestions on sources and a large amount of his time.

What are you doing now? Did the degree help you to get where you are?

My dissertation was a comparative study of widening participation policy in higher education in Scotland and England. I am once again working in higher education, this time for ELRAH, the Edinburgh, Lothian, Fife and Borders Regional Articulation Hub a project dedicated to improving the opportunities of students with Higher National Certificates or Diplomas from colleges entering year 2 or 3 of degree programmes. I divide my time equally between Queen Margaret and Heriot-Watt Universities. Studying the MSc has helped me to look critically at ways in which policy outcomes can be better measured, and how student evaluations of their own experiences can be used in developing articulation processes and practice.

What's it like being a student in Edinburgh?

Returning to live in Edinburgh again after 25 years, and in a more central location than where I had grown up, was a terrific experience. While studying I lived in Marchmont, a popular area with students but a vibrant community in its own right, which is 10 minutes walk across the Meadows – a fantastic urban open space – from George Square, another twenty minutes walk or so and you’re in the centre of town. Edinburgh is beautiful architecturally, full of surprising open spaces and yet small enough to get around relatively easily.

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