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Postgraduate study

Social Research Methods (Social Policy) MSc

This course aims to prepare you for a research career and equip you with the necessary skills for further postgraduate study such as a PhD. The social policy pathway aims to bring together a core training in research methods within the specific disciplinary field of social policy.


Course overview

You will take four social research methods modules which meet the requirements of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). These core modules will be taken by students across different disciplinary pathways. We encourage you to apply your pathway knowledge throughout these modules. You will also study two social policy modules. This will allow you to balance the necessary research methods training requirements with specific disciplinary knowledge. In order to successfully complete the master's programme you will conduct and complete your own research project of your own choice which should have a social policy focus.

This course is suitable for you if you are looking to improve or develop your ability to research and evaluate policy and practice ethically and professionally, and if you are wishing to conduct research in an academic setting or pursue a career as a social researcher. The programme draws heavily on learning strategies which encourage and promote independent learning and critical thinking. Taught sessions will be delivered as workshop-style classes which place emphasis on group and individual activities. The programme is designed to continually address the connections between theory and research practice. Therefore, experiential learning is a core element of programme provision and students will be expected to actively participate in class and preparation activities. This will include making use of practical methods for finding and retrieving information, examining methods of data collection and conducting analysis of data.

Study this course and you may be eligible for a £2,500 Sir Keith Skeoch postgraduate scholarship.

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Course details

Course structure

Core modules

Analysing Data

You gain a thorough grounding in quantitative and qualitative data analysis techniques. You will be introduced to the UK Data Service and explore the range of data available. The module will focus on quantitative analysis using SPSS as a tool to conduct exploratory and inferential statistical analysis. You will learn key assumptions associated with making appropriate analysis decisions, and will also be introduced to key qualitative data analysis techniques and relevant software. This module will also consider visualising and representing data and developing interpretations of findings.

Comparative Social Policy

This module adopts a comparative perspective on the study of social policy, with a particular focus on comparing the different welfare regimes in European countries. It will discuss the validity of the welfare regime division and offer analytical tools to examine the processes of Europeanisation and globalisation affecting the welfare states.  The module will begin with an exploration of comparative social policy, and the various theorisations of welfare regime analysis. In particular, it confronts the theories of welfare retrenchment with those supporting the idea of a path-dependency and continuity in the provisions of welfare states. The next section will focus on welfare systems in specific parts of Europe: social policy in Nordic Countries; Continental Countries and Southern European countries; Liberal countries; and the so-called ‘second world’ (Eastern Europe). This part will offer you the chance to deepen your understanding of welfare states outside the UK. The last part will be concerned with discussion the emerging supranational processes (the influence of the EU and the effects of globalisation) and will include examples from outside Europe, in particular from developing and emerging countries in Asia. This part aims to discuss the existence of a European Social Model and the challenges posed by globalisation. The final part will cover critical theories and methodologies in comparative research. It will examine welfare regimes divisions based on gender and ethnic differences and discuss the tools adopted in comparative research.

Foundations of Social Research

This module will introduce you to the relationship between philosophy, theory and social research.You will examine major debates in epistemology and consider how this relates to decisions research design and analysis. You will also learn how to conceptualise and design social research, paying particular attention to the rationale for using research methodologies. You will learn how to define and formulate research problems and questions. Issues such as decisions around sampling strategy, sampling error and implications for research findings will also be considered. You will also examine concepts used to evaluate social research and understand competing arguments for how these are defined. Throughout the module, you consider debates in relation to ethics, politics and risk in social research whilst addressing the balance of theory and practice.

Methods of Data Collection

This module aims to give you a thorough grounding in both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection. Embedded in relation to theory, practice and ethics, you will examine core research methods used in social research in addition to new and developing techniques for collecting data. You also examine the advantages and disadvantages of different research methods and consider this in relation to identifying the most suitable method of data collection for different types of research questions.

Social Inequalities

You study complementary blocks of teaching. In the first block, you gain a theoretical overview of sociological context and explanation for myriad issues relating to the topic of social inequality. You explore economic sociology and political economy, with explanatory frameworks for inequality of income. You look at cultural inequalities in gender, sexuality, race and age, focusing on factors of identity. You also cover social relations, looking at the relationship between people in contemporary society, defined by consumerism, ideology, sociality and belonging, community, competition, status and other concepts.
In the second block, you contextualise the theoretical overview of social inequalities and social harms with case studies and guest speakers who outline specific examples of social inequality. Case studies and speakers cover things such as focused discussion on poverty, employment, leisure, politics, crime, debt, identity, social integration and interpersonal relations. You explore the factors relating to inequality and apply theory as explanatory frameworks for each case study. You combine social theory with the problems facing society in the early 21st-century.

Social Research Project

You have the opportunity to demonstrate your research skills through a piece of independent social research. You will identify a research topic, formulate a research question and conduct an appropriate piece of research and then write about it. You submit the written output of this research in the form of a dissertation which will include a distinctive chapter on methodology. You will work with an academic supervisor who will oversee the project and act as a mentor throughout the process. You are responsible for managing all aspects of your project and for meeting necessary requirements - such as receiving research ethics approval before conducting any research.

Studies in Criminology and Social Policy

You examine methodological and empirically innovative or significant research methods and studies in criminology and social policy. You explore a broad range of research design and methods to expand your understanding and awareness of approaches to social research. You contextualise theory and method to research studies in criminology and social policy.


Modules offered may vary.


How you learn

You learn by: attending lectures and seminars; discussing key readings; through group and individual activities and exercises; through debate and discussion with staff and other students; through informal and formal feedback on assignments; and through one-to-one teaching with members of academic staff.

How you are assessed

You are assessed through a wide variety of methods including qualitative and quantitative research and analysis exercises, written reports, essays, CV development and an original piece of research which is written up as an article or report (dissertation).


Entry requirements

Applicants should normally have a good second-class honours degree in a relevant field. However, those who have relevant professional qualifications and/or relevant experience will also be considered

For general information please see our overview of entry requirements

International applicants can find out what qualifications they need by visiting Your Country



Career opportunities

Graduates are equipped to work within local government, education, health, the cultural sector, or anywhere where policies and practices are evaluated and inform future development. Graduates also work in employment arenas where it is important to submit well-crafted and conceptualised bids and proposals for projects. It is an appropriate course for those wanting to progress their current careers by increasing their research skills.

Opportunities also exist in the criminal justice system (including the police, prison, probation and youth offending services). This programme is also ideal if you're interested in working (or already work) in social services and related voluntary agencies. Some of our MSc students continue to doctoral studies and/or work at colleges and universities.


Information for international applicants


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2024/25 entry

Fee for UK applicants
£6,710 a year

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Fee for international applicants
£17,000 a year

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