MA in Policy and Social Research

Why choose this course?

  • Learn to analyse, evaluate and manage public policy in the context of social change
  • Develop strong quantitative and qualitative research skills and apply these to ‘real life’ public policy problems and issues
  • Gain the knowledge and skills required to pursue your research interests further through doctoral-level research, or to work in a variety of sectors.

Duration: Full time 1 year. Part time 2 years.
Start date(s): October 

Distance learning available: No

Intake: Approximately 10 per year

Entry requirements:
2.1 Degree in any discipline (or equivalent). An overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of Band 7 in Writing and Band 6 in Speaking, Reading and Listening; or TOEFL 105 (with 25 minimum in Writing and Speaking and 23 minimum in Reading and Listening); or Pearson Academic results of minimum 68 in Writing and Speaking and minimum 61 in Listening.

Fees for 2014/2015*: 
UK/ EU: £4,700 
Non-EU: £13,000 

*These figures have not been confirmed, but they are expected to be approximately as stated. Part-time students pay a pro-rata version of full-time fees.

Application: We recommend that overseas students apply before the end of June due to visa requirements as these can take a few weeks to process.

Apply for this course online

We are witnessing a period of considerable policy reform in the wake of the financial crisis, and the need for public policy research has never been greater. This MA programme equips students with the tools and knowledge to understand how and why public policy problems occur, and how these are affected by the social, cultural and political context, both in the UK and internationally. It offers students a sound training in research methods and equips them with the cutting-edge in theoretical and methodological approaches. The MA is suitable both for those wishing to hone their skills and knowledge to pursue further academic research opportunities, and for those seeking a relevant and rigorous course which will prepare them for employment in the private, public or not-for-profit sectors.
Sample module options: The following module descriptions are indications only - the modules on offer and the content of the modules is subject to change.

Core modules:

This module considers the nature of explanation and justification in the social sciences; ethical considerations in social science research design; qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection; qualitative and quantitative methods of data analysis; and efficient and effective presentation of research results in a variety of communicative formats. By the end of the module, students will be able to apply appropriate selected methods to their own research.

Assessment method: One essay (3,000 words) (60%). Completion of a 3 task-focussed continuous assessment (40%)

Key reading:

  • Bryman, Alan. 2008. Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Field, Andy. 2000. Discovering Statistics. London:Sage

  • May, Tim. 2001. Social Research. Buckingham: Open University Press.

This module examines core concepts, key themes and broad developments in government, policy making and public management, drawing on the UK experience but also considering other countries where relevant. The module covers core approaches to understanding public policy (governance, the policy cycle and policy instruments approaches), and key issues in public policy (the ‘new public management’, cross-boundary issues, policy learning and the role of experts in policy-making).

Assessment method: 4,000 word essay (100%), due in at the end of term.

Key readings:

  • Hill, M., 2009, The Public Policy Process, London: Pearson

  • Spicker, P., 2006, Policy Analysis for Practice, Bristol: Policy Press

  • Wagenaar, H., 2011, Meaning in Action.  Interpretation and Dialogue in Policy Analysis, New York and London: M.E. Sharpe.

The aim of this module is for students to have demonstrated their capacity to carry out a research project; taken on board constructive criticism; reflected upon their experience and practice; and presented their findings in a dissertation at the appropriate level of expertise to complete a Master’s degree in sociology. Students are supported throughout by their dissertation supervisor.

Assessment method: 15,000 word dissertation (100%) which builds on already completed critical literature review (5,000 words), due in at the end of the programme.

Key readings:

  • Rudestam, K.E. and Newton, R.R. (2007) Surviving your dissertation : a comprehensive guide to content and process London: SAGE

  • Miller, A. (2009) Finish your dissertation once and for all! : how to overcome psychological barriers, get results, and move on with your life Washington, DC : American Psychological Association

  • Roberts, C. (2004) The dissertation journey: a practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing, and defending your dissertation. Thousand Oaks, CA / London : Sage

Elective modules:

This module examines approaches such as Positivism, Post-Positivism, Social Constructivism, Realism, and Actor-Network Theory. It also examines institutional and ethical aspects of the research process, analyzing the changing nature of knowledge production and application and the repercussions this has on research activity. Social Science practitioners will provide different perspectives from their field of expertise.

Assessment method: 4,000 word essay (100%), due in at the end of term.

Key reading:

  • Fuller, S. (2005) Kuhn vs. Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science. Columbia University Press. (available through Ebrary http://site.ebrary.com/lib/aston

  • Stehr, Nico (ed.) (2004) The Governance of Knowledge. New Brunswick, N.J., London, Transaction

  • Feyerabend, P (1975) Against Method. London: New Left Books.

This module considers a variety of debates in social theory and related areas and examines the approach taken by those attempting to comprehend the most intense of human experiences, including love, friendship, injustice, evil and death. The module considers the role of social analysis in relation to such topics and examine the consequences of applying a sociological eye to these questions.

Assessment method: 1,500 word essay due early on in the term, and a 5,000 word essay due at the end of the term.

Key readings:

  • Spencer, Liz; Pahl, Ray (2006) Rethinking Friendship: Hidden Solidarities Today, New Jersey, Princeton University Press

  • Wagner, Peter (2001) Theorizing Modernity: Inescapability and Attainability in Social Theory, Sage

  • Woodiwiss, Anthony (2005) Scoping the Social, McGraw-Hill Education


This course explores theoretical approaches to understanding, analysing and making social change. The concept is deceptively simple; the problems, complex. How and why do societies change, and why do they not? When and where does social change happen? How can social theory help us understand the nature, causes and consequences of social change, and can it help to inform political praxis? We will explore these and other questions throughout the course by studying a range of theoretical approaches to social change.

Assessment method: 1,500-word discussion paper (20%), staggered submission throughout the module. 4,000 word essay (80%), due in at the end of the module

Key reading:

  • Rothenberg, M. (2009) The Excessive Subject: A New Theory of Social Change, Cambridge: Polity. See especially Ch. 1, ‘What does the “social” in social change mean?’

  • Sewell, W.  H. (2005) Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Jagger, G. (2008) Judith Butler: Sexual Politics, Social Change and the Power of the Performative, London and NY: Routledge.

In this module we examine a variety of theoretical, historical and comparative debates on globalization. These debates are complemented with a range of case studies drawn from across the world. The module draws from a range of sources and students are encouraged to identify specific sources in their fields of interest to be used in later presentations.

Assessment method: 4000 word coursework essay due at the end of term (100%)

Key readings:

  • Arestis, P. 2008. Issues in Economic Development and Globalization. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

  • Hayden, P. 2009. Globalization and Utopia. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

  • Saad-Filho, A. and Johnston, D. 2005. Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press.
This module aims to give students an opportunity to examine the development of social policy both historically and across a range of sectors including unemployment support, pensions, health and unemployment. As well as describing broad cross-national trends, it enables students to ‘drill down’ into specific examples of welfare state change.

Assessment method: 4,000 word essay (100%), due in at the end of term.

Key readings:

  • Alcock, P. and Craig, G., eds., 2009, International social policy: welfare regimes in the developed world, second edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

  • Arts, W.A. and Gelissen, J., 2002, Three worlds of welfare capitalism or more? A state-of-the-art report, Journal of European Social Policy, 12, 137-158

  • Hacker, J., 2004, Dismantling the health care state? Political institutions, public policies and the comparative politics of health reform, British Journal of Political Science, 34:4, pp.693-724

This module aims to give students an opportunity to examine the development of policy and its impact on the work, practice and management of public sector or voluntary sector organisations.  Students will organise their own work, including time management, according to the requirements of the placement and under the supervision of their line managers. They will be guided during the assessment project by an allocated supervisor.

Students will submit a 3,000 word essay four weeks after the end of the placement. 

Students will be free to choose their own topic (subject to discussion with the placement supervisor) within the broad heading of ‘Policy in Practice’. 

Reading lists will vary from policy area to policy area and students are required to agree a suitable reading plan with their supervisors.

You will take part in interactive small seminars, presentations and group work. There are also opportunities for individual research and guided study. You will be allocated a personal tutor to whom you can turn for help and advice. Assessment occurs through essays and reports (for example, on the practical application of research methods), and a dissertation.
Chrissie Rogers

Dr Chrissie Rogers, Senior Lecturer in Sociology

BA (Hons), MA, PhD (ESRC), Essex; PG Cert (Teaching and Learning), Keele

''The small size of this Masters programme means that we can be flexible and respond to the interests of our students. Learning in this Masters occurs in small groups, facilitating a high degree of contact between students and staff. We cover a range of essential topics within the fields of public policy and social change, and bring students right up-to-date with contemporary developments, in Britain and abroad.’'

This new MA programme opens the way vocationally to both research at doctoral level and to work in the private, voluntary and public sectors.

You will have access to:

  • Our Virtual Learning Environment – Blackboard – to support your studies, including Blackboard discussion groups
  • The University Library, including over 25,000 books and a wide range of electronic journals.  The library has special provision in place to help part time and distance learning students access their resources: www.aston.ac.uk/lis/studentinfo/parttime
  • University wide facilities such as the Careers Service, Students’ Advice Centre, Students’ Jobshop, Counselling Service, Sports Facilities, and Chaplaincy.

Student Profile

Student Profile

Sophia Todd

MA Public Policy and Social Change

The quality of teaching has been brilliant. All of my tutors are passionate and highly supportive.The course has given me an excellent grounding in the major sociological theories, as well as in basic public policy issues. I also had the opportunity to take a 3 week work placement with the WM Labour Party.


Scholarships and bursaries

Scholarships and bursaries


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