School of Social and Political Science

Social Policy


Social policy degree options

As a student with us, you can either study Social Policy as a joint honours degree with another discipline, or you can take our interdisciplinary programme Government, Policy and Society, with courses from our own subject area and specialisations from a variety of backgrounds.

Our teaching is applied and aims to give you an understanding of the content of important policies and their impact on society as well as the process of policy making and the practice of government.

We have a real-life approach to studying political processes and discuss contemporary political debates.

Studying social policy as a joint honours degree

Studying Government, Policy and Society

Teaching excellence

At the core of our teaching is cutting edge research, and training you in high quality research methods to enable you to perform your own analyses in your studies and beyond.

This begins in Years 1 and 2 with our Fundamentals courses and continues in Year 3 with specialised methods options.

This allows us to present you from the beginning with real-world research papers, policy reports and practical case studies rather than relying on text book-based teaching.

Our instructors bring their own research and policy experience into the classroom from the first year of study.

Dissertation research

If you are writing your dissertation in our subject area, you will often conduct your own original research over a one-year period.

You might find yourself collecting your own data from the private or third sector, working with local or other levels of government, or engaging with the experiences of underrepresented communities.

The application-oriented approach in our teaching is often adopted by those whose dissertation projects are written to inform actual debates or policies.

Local and international links

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


We use a wide range of assessments for our courses to develop a broad set of skills that will be useful to you in many areas of work after graduation.

These include classic formats such as essays and exams, as well as innovative assignment types, such as policy briefs and policy blogging.

Quantitative Methods

Both Social Policy and Government, Policy and Society can also be taken as a degree with Quantitative Methods as part of our Q-Step centre.

This allows you to develop an advanced level of ability in using survey methods and quantitative techniques.

Years 1 and 2

In Year 1 you will take six courses (three in each semester), including:

  • Social Policy and Society
  • Politics of the Welfare State
  • the full year non-credit course Fundamentals: Social Policy 1

In Year 2, you will again take six courses, including:

  • European Social Policy
  • Evidence, Politics and Policy
  • the full year non-credit course Fundamentals 2: Social Policy

Social Policy Pre-Honours Programme Handbook 2019-2020

Core courses

Year 1
Social Policy and Society

The course aims to deepen your understanding of contemporary social issues and problems by looking at how social policy issues are constructed and contested.

Social policies impinge on many aspects of our lives and embrace a very wide range of activities, from educational and employment policies to family support and child protection.

In all these areas, social policies are hotly contested with regard to the role of the state and the kind of policies it should pursue.

This course revolves around three main issues in debates over social policy: arguments over needs, rights and responsibilities.

The main focus is on the development of social policies in Britain with regard to families and children.

The course gives you an opportunity to examine different social policies and perspectives, and the impact these have on social conditions and problems.

Social Policy and Society

The Politics of the Welfare State

The course explores the politics and institutions of the welfare state.

It begins with a look at the institutional and political factors which have shaped the development of the welfare state (in the UK and in other countries) in the past and currently.

A detailed overview of how the welfare state works, how it is delivered, how it is paid for and who benefits from it is examined next.

This is followed by a closer look at changing welfare agendas in three key policy areas:

  • health policy
  • housing policy
  • employment and social security policy

The course concludes with an examination of changing ideologies of welfare and helps you understand issues regarding the future of the welfare state.

The Politics of the Welfare State

Fundamentals: Social Policy 1 (non-credit)

This course equips you with a variety of general and subject-specific skills that will be relevant to your degree while helping build a personal portfolio of transferable competences.

Fundamentals: Social Policy 1 

Year 2
European Social Policy

The course explores the role of social policy in the European Union and the ways in which the welfare state has developed in different European countries.

The course comprises three sections.

The first offers a critical perspective on the emergence of European welfare states, the models used to classify them, and the general challenges they now face.

In the second section the differing structures of social provision in Germany, Italy and Scandanavia as examples of Bismarckian, Mediterranean and Nordic approaches are examined in more detail.

Finally, the significance of the "social dimension" for the European Union, and the problems facing attempts to promote common EU social policies are assessed within the context for the future of social policy in an enlarged EU.

European Social Policy

Evidence, Politics and Policy

This course illustrates how social research can shed light on topical social and political debates.

After an introduction which asks general questions about evidence and policy, the course then looks at four current policy issues that are prominent in political debate.

The specific aims of the course are:

  • to understand how academic enquiry can be used to understand public political debates and public policy
  • to understand how evidence informs debates, and how it is sometimes distorted and misused in these debates
  • to understand how social and political theory can be brought to bear on understanding topical debates
  • to develop the skills of engaging in topical debates in a rational and evidence-based way while also taking account of the important role of ideology and emotion

Evidence, Politics and Policy

Fundamentals 2: Social Policy

Fundamentals 2 builds on Fundamentals 1, whilst complementing European Social Policy and Evidence, Politics and Policy by following the same structure of debates. 

In each Fundamentals session, the focus is on developing skills appropriate to serious debate, embedding these skills in substantive discussion of actual current issues.

Fundamentals 2: Social Policy

Honours Years

Joint Honours Degrees

You can combine social policy with a wide range of subjects:

Honours Programme Handbooks

Social policy core course

Social policy optional Honours courses

These courses are mostly offered in alternate years

Programme specifications

Programme specifications are summary statements about our degree programmes, regularly revised and approved by our Board of Studies.

They provide very useful overviews of the fundamental objectives and structures of degree programmes. They also provide key information about:

  • basic educational aims
  • anticipated learning outcomes
  • core skills students are expected to acquire through their studies
  • the structure and progression of programmes over the four years

Current versions of the Degree Programme Specifications (DPS) can be found alongside the relevant programme title in DRPS.

Student category
Programme Information