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This course offers an opportunity to an in-depth understanding of contemporary Social Policy and research and policy analysis skills.


The MSc in Social Policy offers the student the opportunity to acquire detailed knowledge and understanding of contemporary social policy, including the working of devolution in the UK. Students receive an excellent training in social research methods, effective dissemination, policy analysis, and the ability to apply theoretical perspectives and concepts to real-life problems. The course has a strong focus on major societal challenges such as social justice and inequality and global perspectives on these issues. Students will benefit from working with a team of internationally recognised researchers and educators committed to facilitating students’ personal, intellectual, and professional development. As a student in the School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences you will also benefit from the research expertise of our staff and from the work of specialist research centres in the School such as ARK (

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About this course

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The course will appeal to those who have studied Social Policy or another social science subject at undergraduate level, or those who want to study social policy for the first time at postgraduate level. It is especially suited to those aiming for a career in the public sector or in NGOs or professionals in those sectors seeking to enhance career progression. With exit points at PgCert and PgDip levels, the course provides a detailed knowledge and understanding of contemporary social policy, an excellent training in social research methods, the ability to apply theoretical perspectives and concepts to real-life problems, and an appreciation of the complexity and diversity of social problems and society.

In an increasingly uncertain and fast changing world questions around human need, welfare, inequality and wealth distribution are to the fore of public discourse. In this course you will explore how concerns such as new social risks and precarity are experienced by individuals and communities, and how they can be addressed by policy. This course considers social policy within the context of broader political, social, economic and demographic developments. It will equip you with a critical knowledge and understanding of Social Policy, which will allow you to challenge perceived wisdom. You will examine major societal challenges such as inequality and social justice and, with a range of optional modules to choose from, you will have the opportunity to choose a specialist research pathway, recognized by the ESRC as a research training programme or study topics such as the democratization of Social Policy, the racial politics of conflict and migration, NGOs and social welfare delivery and policy making in an uncertain world. There is a strong focus on the application of knowledge and skills, including policy analysis and conducting equality impact assessments. You will gain in-depth knowledge of Social Policy in Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland but will also be well equipped to address issues of global relevance.

As a passionate team of internationally recognised researchers and educators, we are dedicated to the pursuit of evidence-based policy-making and committed to facilitating students’ personal, intellectual, and professional development. Members of the staff team have strong national and international relationships with learned societies, professional bodies, government bodies and NGOs. Our programmes and students benefit from this expertise. As a student in the School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences you will also benefit from the research expertise of our staff and from the work of our specialist research centres such as ARK (


Taken in full-time mode the MSc takes one calendar year. You will normally be expected to attend class for 4-5 hours on two days a week during Semester One (Sept- Jan) and Semester Two (Jan - May). Students conduct their dissertation during Semester Three (June - Sept). The programme will be supplemented with seminars and lectures by visiting academics and practitioners.

In part-time mode students normally take 5/6 semesters of study to complete the MSc.

Start dates

  • September 2019
How to apply


Here is a guide to the subjects studied on this course.

Courses are continually reviewed to take advantage of new teaching approaches and developments in research, industry and the professions. Please be aware that modules may change for your year of entry. The exact modules available and their order may vary depending on course updates, staff availability, timetabling and student demand. Please contact the course team for the most up to date module list.

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Year one

Theorising and Researching Social Policy, Equality and Social Justice

Year: 1

This module is designed to introduce participants to approaches to investigating and understanding key aspects of social inequality and key processes of social exclusion.

From Theory to Practice: addressing inequality and injustice through Social Policy

Year: 1

The module is designed to familiarise students with the role of policies, frameworks and mechanisms to address inequality and social justice and their application in different contexts

Year two

Foundations of Social Science Research

Year: 2

This module will introduce students to some of the key concepts, ideas and debates in social science research. The module will also introduce students to the main stages in the research process, the main approaches and methods and will give students a firm foundation in the basics of social research that will prepare them for other research methods modules.

Specialist Research Methods for Social Policy

Year: 2

This module is designed to introduce participants to approaches to research with groups who are most impacted by social inequality, how to develop research specificiations and proposals and to the criteria they need to use when assessing whether qualitative research is suitable to use as evidence in policy development.

The Northern Ireland Conflict

Year: 2

This module is optional

This module on the Northern Ireland conflict aims to give students a detailed overview of the historical roots and longevity of the Northern Ireland conflict. It will also seek to provide the student with an understanding to enable them to explore and analyse the various participants in the conflict, their motivations, objectives and tactics. In addition it will seek to explore the role and use of political violence in the escalation and maintenance of the conflict, to identify the turning points, and to examine and critique the various components of the 1998 peace accord. Finally the module will offer an opportunity to examine some of the social and economic issues facing Northern Ireland society as it emerges out of decades of conflict.

Policy in Divided Societies

Year: 2

This module is optional

Policy debates are central to the way societies make sense of social and political conflicts in their midst. Drawing on a wide range of policy fields and country case studies, this module critically appraises how such policy dynamics unfold in the particular contexts of divided societies.

Racial politics of conflict and migration

Year: 2

This module is optional

The study of migration and 'race' is an essential element to scholarship in peace and conflict today. This module traces the legacies of colonialism, imperialism and historic migrations through engagement with case studies from around the world, identifying and understanding contemporary challenges.

Contemporary Issues in Public Policy

Year: 2

This module is optional

This module provides the mechanism to draw together theoretical materials studied during the Postgraduate Certificate stage of the programme and apply these to real-world issues. Hence, topical issues such as: Delivering Social Change; reforms in primary and post-primary education; the implementation of the Review of Public Administration; local government reorganisation; and, community planning, will provide opportunities for a discussion of contemporary issues facing the public sector in Northern Ireland and beyond. Given the composition of the student body (public sector officials), the module offers an opportunity for them to link theory and practice.

Delivering Services with NGOs

Year: 2

This module is optional

This module is focused on the field of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and will examine the relationship between public bodies and the NGO sector and the potential for improved public services as a result of contracting out services to organisations within the sector. Are NGOs a better source of welfare services than the public or the private sector' Can NGOs be trusted to deliver key welfare services' Do they add value in terms of quality of services delivered' These are examples of questions which the module will address.

Survey and Quantitative Methods

Year: 2

This module is optional

This module provides students with a thorough knowledge of survey research and quantitative analysis. It takes students from an introduction to the principles and practice of elementary techniques through to use of advanced quantitative methods. Topics covered include survey methods and sampling as well as univariate, bivariate and multivariate techniques. Practical applications are used to give the student experience of data handling, analysis, inference and results presentation.

Social Policy in an Uncertain World

Year: 2

This module is optional

This module introduces students to contemporary debates in the politics of social policy and provision in the UK and internationally.

Democratising Social Policy

Year: 2

This module is optional

This module is intended to introduce students to the context of policy making as a contested process.

Qualitative Research Methods

Year: 2

This module is optional

The module will introduce students to essential features of qualitative research through: conceptualizing research, constructing appropriate and effective data collection instruments, accessing archived data, interpreting and presenting research findings. Throughout, the module explores issues of ethics, access and accountability; and issues of application and limitation of different qualitative approaches in different exampled research contexts. By the end of the module, students are expected to be conversant with qualitative research perspectives and methods, skilled in the techniques of qualitative research design and data collection, and competent in both manual and computer-aided qualitative data analysis (Nvivo), and will be required to demonstrate their newly acquired competencies through coursework.

Year three

MSc Dissertation

Year: 3

This module enables students to develop and apply policy analysis and research skills in a 15,000 word dissertation. The dissertation represents a sustained period of independent work which addresses a research question or issue in the field of Social Policy

Entry conditions

We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.

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Entry Requirements

Applicants must have a second class honours degree or better in Social Sciences, Humanities, Law or a cognate discipline from a university of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, or from a recognised national awarding body, or from an institution of another country which has been recognised as being of an equivalent standard.

Where an applicant has substantial and significant experiential learning, a portfolio of written evidence demonstrating the meeting of graduate qualities (including subject-specific outcomes, as determined by the Course Committee) may be considered as an alternative entrance route.

English Language Requirements

English language requirements for international applicants
The minimum requirement for this course is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. Trinity ISE: Pass at level III also meets this requirement for Tier 4 visa purposes.

Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.

Teaching and learning assessment

The design of the curricula and assessment methods have a strongly applied focus, reflecting the demand for professionals with advanced skills in research and critical policy analysis skills and the ability to communicate effectively with a diverse audience. In studying for the MSc Social Policy you will be challenged to think independently. You will be taught through a combination of student led seminars, workshops and lectures. You will receive one-to-one supervision whilst undertaking your thesis on a topic of your choosing.

Assessment will be continuous and based on written assignments such as policy briefs, research project reports, impact assessments and essays. Other forms of assessment include oral presentations.

Our approach to teaching in an intellectually stimulating environment will enable you to gain the knowledge, skills and opportunities to allow you to excel.

Careers & opportunities

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Career options

The course is suited to those aiming for a career in the public sector, in NGOs and in private sector research organisations. It is also geared towards professionals working in these sectors seeking to enhance career progression. Employability and progression opportunities are enhanced through the opportunity to receive advanced research methods and skills training and opportunities to apply theoretical learning to real life policy situations.

Work placement / study abroad

The Social Policy team has strong working relationships with a range of organisations working on Social Policy issues, and can help facilitate internship opportunities for those students who wish to gain practical work experience during, or after, the course.


How to apply Request a prospectus

Applications to our postgraduate courses are made through the University’s online application system.

Start dates

  • September 2019

Fees and funding

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Fees (total cost)

Important notice - fees information Fees illustrated are based on 19/20 entry and are subject to an annual increase. Correct at the time of publishing. Terms and conditions apply. Additional mandatory costs are highlighted where they are known in advance. There are other costs associated with university study.
Visit our Fees pages for full details of fees

Northern Ireland & EU:

£14,060.00  Scholarships available

Additional mandatory costs

Tuition fees and costs associated with accommodation, travel (including car parking charges), and normal living are a part of university life.

Where a course has additional mandatory expenses we make every effort to highlight them. These may include residential visits, field trips, materials (e.g. art, design, engineering) inoculations, security checks, computer equipment, uniforms, professional memberships etc.

We aim to provide students with the learning materials needed to support their studies. Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of books and journals as well as first-class facilities and IT equipment. Computer suites and free wifi is also available on each of the campuses.

There will be some additional costs to being a student which cannot be itemised and these will be different for each student. You may choose to purchase your own textbooks and course materials or prefer your own computer and software. Printing and binding may also be required. There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines. Additional costs vary from course to course.

Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs as well as tuition fees.

Please contact the course team for more information.


  1. The University endeavours to deliver courses and programmes of study in accordance with the description set out in this prospectus. The University’s prospectus is produced at the earliest possible date in order to provide maximum assistance to individuals considering applying for a course of study offered by the University. The University makes every effort to ensure that the information contained in the prospectus is accurate but it is possible that some changes will occur between the date of printing and the start of the academic year to which it relates. Please note that the University’s website is the most up-to-date source of information regarding courses and facilities and we strongly recommend that you always visit the website before making any commitments.
  2. Although reasonable steps are taken to provide the programmes and services described, the University cannot guarantee the provision of any course or facility and the University may make variations to the contents or methods of delivery of courses, discontinue, merge or combine courses and introduce new courses if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Such circumstances include (but are not limited to) industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key staff, changes in legislation or government policy including changes, if any, resulting from the UK departing the European Union, withdrawal or reduction of funding or other circumstances beyond the University’s reasonable control.
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