School of Social and Political Science

MSc Public Policy

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The application deadline for this programme is 27 June 2022.

The great thing... 

There are lots of good reasons to come and study public policy in Scotland, and especially in Edinburgh. It's a small country with a relatively new system of government, and plenty of ideas and ambition to make innovative and progressive public policy. Edinburgh's its capital, its seat of government and parliament, its centre of banking, the law and the church. Many of Scotland's principal NGOs are headquartered here and it's a globally-renowned cultural city, too.  

This is a notably accessible democracy, and Edinburgh's policy world is an unusually open community. Edinburgh alumni staff government, public bodies and the media, and our faculty serve as advisers, advocates and commentators. Our teaching is grounded in the immediate concerns of the policy maker, and our students get to connect cutting-edge, contemporary social and political science with the challenges of governing. 

We're a relatively large department of social and public policy, including both early career and more experienced staff with a wide range of research interests and teaching experience in both academic and professional settings. We're proud to host colleagues working in the Global Health Policy Unit, in the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy (SKAPE), and in the School's new Research Training Centre. 

We're part of a large school, which creates opportunities for us to work closely with colleagues in Politics, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Social Work, International Development and Science and Technology Studies. It also gives our students access to an unusually wide range of additional specialist courses, and to engage with students on a variety of parallel programmes. 

We're a cosmopolitan staff and student community from many countries around the world, and we want you to feel you belong in Edinburgh. 


We've recently redesigned our flagship MSc Public Policy, wanting to create a programme which is theory-led, empirically-informed and practice-oriented. 

We want you to be able to think critically, cleverly and creatively about public policy, that is about social problems and economic and political issues, as well as about the organizational resources, both governmental and non-governmental, which might be mobilized to address them. 

We want you to know what matters: to appreciate the challenges presented by the scope and complexity of a range of issues, including health, education and social security, and the way they're addressed at national, international and local levels. But we also want you to know policy from the inside: to know how policy makers must think, and how they experience and respond to the challenges they must face. 

We want you to be able to engage with the policy process, to acquire skills in the acquisition and assimilation of detailed and sophisticated information; to articulate and present a specific understanding or position; to know how to contribute to a collective strategic project. We want you to leave Edinburgh ready to work in the world of policy. 


Our curriculum has three essential components, which provide a framework for your learning over the course of the year. They are: (i) a core course in each of semesters 1 and 2; (ii) a set of specialist elective courses, and (iii) your dissertation. 

Your core course in S1 covers Political Issues in Public Policy, introducing you to government, institutions and the policy process. In Policy in Action (S2), groups of students work through a portfolio of materials to write a ministerial brief, in consultation with a key practitioner in the field. 

In each semester you choose two further courses from a list of recommended options, though you may take others offered across the School. While the core courses support your working together as a programme cohort, option courses give you contact with students across topics and disciplines. 

Your electives might explore a specific area of policy making, such as education, energy or the labour market; a specific policy mechanism, such as public engagement, or a specific method of information-gathering and assessment, such as comparison or evaluation. We encourage you to make the programme your own at every stage, and your programme director will help you work out what it is you really want to do. 

The third element of your programme is a dissertation, an extended, independent research-based project. It's wholly your own, and it's what makes your MSc a masters degree. Many students work on their own with a supervisor, but we also have a placement-based alternative, supported by a dedicated team.   

We're glad also to be able to offer a mentoring scheme, connecting students with senior practitioners in their field. 

In essence, we want you to develop in the way we'd want government or any other policy community to develop, as a cohort of specialists informed and enriched by contact with others. 

Career opportunities

Our graduates

The MSc in Public Policy can be used as a gateway to a range of employment opportunities and further study. Graduates from the School's postgraduate Policy programmes have gone on to employment in:

  • The Scottish Executive
  • Social research
  • Housing associations
  • Local government
  • Other public and private sector bodies
  • Civil service
  • Think tanks
  • NGOs

Others pursue further study at doctoral level and to take up internships. 

How to apply

Application Deadlines

Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines.

We will make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis, but hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline when we will offer a proportion of the places available to applicants selected through a competitive process.

Please ensure that you have submitted all supporting documentation and paid the application fee before the deadline for the round you wish to be considered in.

Deadlines for applicants applying to study in 2022-2023:

Round Application deadline Places awarded by
1 28th February 2022 25th March 2022
2 27th June 2022 22nd July 2022


Application fee

This programme requires a non-refundable application fee of £50. Your application will not be processed until we have received your application fee.

Living costs

You will be responsible for covering living costs for the duration of your studies.

Tuition fees

Award Title Duration Study mode  
MSc   1 Year Full-time Tuition fees
MSc   2 Years Part-time Tuition fees


Reading recommendations

As students take a diverse range of courses, they read a wide range of sources. 

Here are some texts that might give you a sample of what our students are looking at:  

The University library subscribes to thousands of electronic and paper journals across a wide range of disciplines giving students access to the most up-to-date high-quality peer reviewed research.

Some examples are:

  • American Journal of Sociology    
  • Critical Social Policy
  • Economy and Society
  • European Journal of Political Economy
  • Governance
  • International Journal of Public Administration
  • Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis
  • Journal of European Public Policy
  • Law and Social Inquiry
  • Philosophy and Public Affairs
  • Policy and Politics
  • Political Studies
  • Sociology

If you want an introduction to the area of social policy, see Social Policy by John Baldock and colleagues, now in its 3rd edition (Oxford University Press) or The Students’ Companion to Social Policy by Pete Alcock and colleagues (Blackwell Publishing).

Other info

Alexandra, MSc Public Policy 2019-2020:

"It's flexible. The two compulsory courses are broad and teach you the fundamentals of public policy, while your four electives give you the chance to deepen your knowledge in your chosen areas. It's great for those new to policy as well as those with existing knowledge."

Jim, MSc Public Policy 2019-2020:

"The best thing about the programme is the opportunity to meet so many people, from completely different backgrounds, but with whom you share a passion that policymaking and governance can be done better. You learn from and will likely be inspired by your fellow students just as much as your teachers. "

Atia, MSc Public Policy 2019-2020:

"This programme prepares the student to understand the complex problems of policy making, providing them with the concepts and skills needed for crafting concrete solutions."

Sam, MSc Public Policy 2019-2020:

"There are so many moments where you think: 'Of course, that's exactly how that works!' The programme throws new perspectives at you constantly and gives you the tools to evaluate them against one another. I feel I understand what goes on in and around government with far more nuance and clarity than I did before."

Scott, MSc Public Policy 2019-2020:

"The training I have received to analyse, review and innovate policy options within different domains has improved my overall employability chances within this sector."

Director, Scottish Policy NGO, 2020:

"I am just back from meeting with your students, and wanted to say how impressive they were. They were thoroughly prepared, asked extremely thoughtful and well-informed questions, and were courteous and professionally attentive to my time. I wish everyone I met with was so on-point." 


Undergraduate contact

The School of Social and Political Science sits within the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.  All enquiries and applications relating to undergraduate admissions to the School are handled by our College. Please contact:

CAHSS Undergraduate Admissions
University of Edinburgh
57 George Square
Edinburgh, EH8 9JX

Tel: +44 (0)131 650 3565