Social Policy

2021/22 Full-time Postgraduate course


Master of Science


Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences


Jordanstown campus

Start date:

September 2021


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

Important notice – campus change Students will complete the next two years on the Jordanstown campus (academic year 2019/20 and 2020/21). Thereafter, from 2021, they may transition campuses. Precise timings will be communicated as we progress through the final stages of the build of the enhanced Belfast campus. Find out more 


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


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. Availability of International student exchange facilitated by our membership of the European Masters in Public Administration Network.

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. This research specialism option is available at Certificate, Diploma and MSc levels. You will also be able to 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 (Jun- 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 2021

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The overall aim of the undergraduate provision is to produce policy-literate citizens, as well as graduates with a range of intellectual, professional and transferable skills appropriate to the personal and employability demands of a competitive labour market. These aims of the provision are all in line with the QAA Social Policy Benchmark Statement (2016).

For knowledge and understanding

Learning and Teaching Methods -Lectures, seminars, supervised group-work sessions, directed reading, blended learning using Blackboard Learn, case study work, directed electronic information retrieval, independent learning, and a work-based-learning six-week placement (and a shorter placement for combined degrees) will be used to impart knowledge and understanding of the subject.

Assessment Methods -A broad range of assessment methods are used to measure knowledge and understanding of the subject, including academic essays; report writing; policy analysis/policy brief-writing; directed seminar discussions, small-group project work; writing and delivering seminar papers; class tests; online tests; the dissertation, the placement (Placement Supervisor’s assessment), and unseen examinations.

Development of intellectual abilities

Learning and Teaching Methods -The importance of understanding, recognising and developing intellectual qualities is emphasised to all students at the start of their level 4 studies; and is reiterated at level 5 and especially at level 6. In line with this, and throughout all undergraduate levels, the staff team will actively encourage the development of intellectual abilities and sensitivities through all teaching and learning methods, where possible.

Assessment Methods -The value of scholarship-led and research-led teaching towards developing intellectual abilities will be primarily assessed through the traditional academic essay. This assessment method allows students to clearly demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes against detailed assessment criteria. Self-reflectivity and the ability for the students to critically reflect on their own performance, attitude and intellectual understanding and development, will be assessed through Reflective Learning Logs, simulation activity and through self-assessment of their submitted work. Informal assessment of students’ developing intellectual abilities will be carried out – and encouraged – through directed seminar discussions at all undergraduate levels. Assessment of intellectual abilities will also be carried out through unseen examinations and completion of the final year dissertation.

Building professional and practical skills

Learning and Teaching Methods -The teaching and learning methods used to build professional and practical skills will build on the methods used in teaching knowledge and understanding of the subject, but are enhanced by a strong element of rigorous research methods training at all levels of the undergraduate provision, and an emphasis on independent learning and engendering a professional attitude, including time-management and meeting deadlines.

Assessment Methods -A broad range of assessment methods will be used to measure professional and practical skills, underpinned by the encouragement of self-motivation, initiative, managing and meeting deadlines, cooperative and respectful team-working skills, respectful tolerance of competing viewpoints, and timely submission of coursework.

Developing transferable skills

Learning and Teaching Methods -Teaching and learning methods to develop transferable skills, including information technology skills, will be used throughout all levels of the provision, and will be delivered via lectures, student-led seminars, hands-on computing workshops, project group-work, blended learning using Blackboard Learn, and subject-specific library sessions on effective literature searching.

Assessment Methods -Assessment methods used to measure transferable skills are class tests, individual and/or group oral seminar presentations, practical tasks and exercises within set timeframes, essay writing, project group-work, project reports, critical reviews, the dissertation, and placement reports. Assessment types include staff assessment, self-assessment and peer assessment.

All assessment is governed by the University’s Criteria for Assessment, separately expressed for levels 4, 5 and 6; and of which all students are informed.

In accordance with SENDO (NI) 2005 and the University’s ethos of inclusion, the facilitation of alternative arrangements for students with disabilities will be applied in relation to assessment schemes. A flexible approach will always be taken, using the guidelines from both the Examinations Office and/or Student Support to ensure that disabled students have the same opportunity as their peers to demonstrate the achievement of learning outcomes.

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    The content for each course is summarised on the relevant course page, along with an overview of the modules that make up the course.

    Each course is approved by the University and meets the expectations of:

    Attendance and Independent Study

    As part of your course induction, you will be provided with details of the organisation and management of the course, including attendance and assessment requirements - usually in the form of a timetable. For full-time courses, the precise timetable for each semester is not confirmed until close to the start date and may be subject to some change in the early weeks as all courses settle into their planned patterns. For part-time courses which require attendance on particular days and times, an expectation of the days and periods of attendance will be included in the letter of offer. A course handbook is also made available.

    Courses comprise modules for which the notional effort involved is indicated by its credit rating. Each credit point represents 10 hours of student effort. Undergraduate courses typically contain 10- or 20-credit modules (more usually 20) and postgraduate course typically 15- or 30-credit modules.

    The normal study load expectation for an undergraduate full-time course of study in the standard academic year is 120 credit points. This amounts to around 36-42 hours of expected teaching and learning per week, inclusive of attendance requirements for lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, fieldwork or other scheduled classes, private study, and assessment. Part-time study load is the same as full-time pro-rata, with each credit point representing 10 hours of student effort.

    Postgraduate Master’s courses typically comprise 180 credits, taken in three semesters when studied full-time. A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) comprises 60 credits and can usually be completed on a part-time basis in one year. A 120-credit Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) can usually be completed on a part-time basis in two years.

    Class contact times vary by course and type of module. Typically, for a module predominantly delivered through lectures you can expect at least 3 contact hours per week (lectures/seminars/tutorials). Laboratory classes often require a greater intensity of attendance in blocks. Some modules may combine lecture and laboratory. The precise model will depend on the course you apply for and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. Prospective students will be consulted about any significant changes.


    Assessment methods vary and are defined explicitly in each module. Assessment can be a combination of examination and coursework but may also be only one of these methods. Assessment is designed to assess your achievement of the module’s stated learning outcomes. You can expect to receive timely feedback on all coursework assessment. The precise assessment will depend on the module and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.

    Coursework can take many forms, for example: essay, report, seminar paper, test, presentation, dissertation, design, artefacts, portfolio, journal, group work. The precise form and combination of assessment will depend on the course you apply for and the module. Details will be made available in advance through induction, the course handbook, the module specification and the assessment timetable. The details are subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.

    Normally, a module will have 4 learning outcomes, and no more than 2 items of assessment. An item of assessment can comprise more than one task. The notional workload and the equivalence across types of assessment is standardised.

    Calculation of the Final Award

    The class of Honours awarded in Bachelor’s degrees is usually determined by calculation of an aggregate mark based on performance across the modules at Levels 5 and 6, (which correspond to the second and third year of full-time attendance).

    Level 6 modules contribute 70% of the aggregate mark and Level 5 contributes 30% to the calculation of the class of the award. Classification of integrated Master’s degrees with Honours include a Level 7 component. The calculation in this case is: 50% Level 7, 30% Level 6, 20% Level 5. At least half the Level 5 modules must be studied at the University for Level 5 to be included in the calculation of the class.

    All other qualifications have an overall grade determined by results in modules from the final level of study. In Master’s degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.

Academic profile

The University employs over 1,000 suitably qualified and experienced academic staff - 59% have PhDs in their subject field and many have professional body recognition.

Courses are taught by staff who are Professors (25%), Readers, Senior Lecturers (18%) or Lecturers (57%).

We require most academic staff to be qualified to teach in higher education: 82% hold either Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Practice or higher. Most academic staff (81%) are accredited fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) - the university sector professional body for teaching and learning. Many academic and technical staff hold other professional body designations related to their subject or scholarly practice.

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    The profiles of many academic staff can be found on the University’s departmental websites and give a detailed insight into the range of staffing and expertise. The precise staffing for a course will depend on the department(s) involved and the availability and management of staff. This is subject to change annually and is confirmed in the timetable issued at the start of the course.

    Occasionally, teaching may be supplemented by suitably qualified part-time staff (usually qualified researchers) and specialist guest lecturers. In these cases, all staff are inducted, mostly through our staff development programme ‘First Steps to Teaching’. In some cases, usually for provision in one of our out-centres, Recognised University Teachers are involved, supported by the University in suitable professional development for teaching.

    Figures correct for academic year 2019-2020.

Jordanstown campus

The largest of Ulster's campuses.

Important notice – campus change Students will complete the next two years on the Jordanstown campus (academic year 2019/20 and 2020/21). Thereafter, from 2021, they may transition campuses. Precise timings will be communicated as we progress through the final stages of the build of the enhanced Belfast campus. Find out more 


Jordanstown is our biggest campus in an idyllic setting surrounded by lush lawns and trees. It's just a few hundred metres from Loughshore Park and promenade, and just seven miles from Belfast city centre.

Find out more - information about accommodation  

Sports Facilities

At our Jordanstown Campus we have world class facilities that are open all year round to our students and members of the public.

Find out more - information about sport  

Student support

At Student Support we provide many services to help students through their time at Ulster University.

Find out more - information about student support  

Jordanstown campus location info

  Find out more about our Jordanstown campus


Ulster University
Shore Road
Co. Antrim
BT37 0QB

T: 028 7012 3456


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.

In this section

Year one

Foundations of Social Science Research

Year: 1

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.

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

MSc Dissertation

Year: 1

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

The Northern Ireland Conflict

Year: 1

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: 1

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: 1

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.

Comparative Public Administration

Year: 1

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.

Developing Collaborative Policy Solutions: Problem based Learning

Year: 1

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: 1

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.

Specialist Research Methods for Social Policy

Year: 1

This module is optional

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

Social Policy in an Uncertain World

Year: 1

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: 1

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: 1

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.

Standard 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.

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.

United States of America flagAdditional information for students from United States of America


Typically we require applicant for taught programmes to hold the equivalent of a UK first degree (usually in a relevant subject area). Please refer to the specific entry requirements for your chosen course of study as outlined in the online prospectus. We consider students who have good grades in the following:

Typically, we require applicants for taught programmes to hold the equivalent of a UK first degree. 

Please refer to the specific entry requirements for your chosen course of study as outlined in the online prospectus.

The comparable US qualifications are as follows:


UK 2:1 Degree - Bachelor degree with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 out of 4

UK 2:2 Degree - Bachelor degree with a cumulative GPA of 2.6 out of 4

Financial Information

In addition to the scholarships and bursaries open to all international students, US students may apply for Federal and Private US loans

English Language

Level 12 English Lang in HSD

View more information for students from United States of America  

Careers & opportunities

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.


Start dates

  • September 2021


  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.
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  3. If the University discontinues any courses, it will use its best endeavours to provide a suitable alternative course. In addition, courses may change during the course of study and in such circumstances the University will normally undertake a consultation process prior to any such changes being introduced and seek to ensure that no student is unreasonably prejudiced as a consequence of any such change.
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