BSc International Relations and Social Policy

Why choose this course?

  • Social Policy at Aston has been ranked 6th in the country in the Times Good University Guide 2013
  • Social Policy at Aston is ranked joint 5th for Graduate prospects (70%) out of 58 universities in the Complete University Guide 2014
  • Politics & International Relations at Aston has been rated between 101-150 institutions globally for 2012-13, in the QS World University Rankings
  • Internationally recognised research, backed by the Aston Centre for Europe (ACE)

3 years full time or 4 years with integrated placement year

UCAS Code:

Typical Offers
: ABB from 3 A-levels. General Studies accepted. 

If your predicted grades are close to those stated in Aston's typical offers and if you are interested in Aston University and the courses we offer we encourage you to apply to us as one of your 5 UCAS choices. In addition to your predicted grades, when making offers we also consider your previous academic performance (eg AS grades, GCSEs), your school/college reference and the commitment and motivation you demonstrate for your chosen course via the personal statement. Applicants and their teachers/advisers are welcome to contact us with individual queries about entry qualifications via lss_ugadmissions@aston.ac.uk.

View our Admissions Policy. 

IB: 33 points in the IB diploma including TOK/Bonus points. Standard level Maths and English 5 required.
Access: Pass Access to HE Diploma with Merit in each module.  Humanities or Social Sciences Access course preferred, but other courses considered on an individual basis.
BTEC: National Extended Diploma DDD.  Mix of Diploma/ Subsidiary Diploma/A-levels acceptable.

We accept a wide range of UK, EU and International qualifications: please contact us for further advice.

Specific subject requirements:
GCSE English Language and Maths Grade C.

Tuition fees 2014/15: £9,000 (£1,000 during placement year) for UK/EU students. More on fees

Applicants receiving offers are invited to an open day.

International Relations and Social Policy examines the major political and social issues faced by governments across the world. You will develop a knowledge and understanding of the nature between states and also of the roles played by international institutions, other intergovernmental organisations, multinational corporations and NGOs. You will also investigate the economic, social and political forces which influence policy and give rise to conflicts between the achievement of economic, environmental and social objectives. 

Important strengths of the programme include its focus on key contemporary issues in international relations and policy, such as the financial crisis and the environment as well as international comparisons of government policies. The professional placement year is an optional feature of the programme and is designed to give our students a distinct advantage on the graduate labour market. 

The programme is strongly geared towards increasing your employability since it is designed to provide you with the knowledge and skills relevant to careers involving partnerships in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Sample module options: The following module descriptions are indications only -  the University reserves the right to change the modules on offer, the module content and the assessment methods.


Click on the module titles to find out more.

Sample modules Year 1:
This module offers an introduction into world politics and international relations. We inhabit a world of rapid change and solid knowledge of the underlying structures, dynamics and processes of international relations will be essential for your future professional (and private) life. During Teaching Period 1, we will focus on the pillars of the state system, introduce some key concepts, the theoretical traditions of realism and liberalism and examine the causes of cooperation and conflict. During Teaching Period 2, our emphasis will be on international law and international organisations such as the UN and the EU. We will also look at the structure of the global political economy, analysing the global financial system, international trade and development. We will also investigate topics such as environmental issues, terrorism and religion in international relations.

Assessment: Two-Hour exam at the end of each Teaching Period (50% each)

This module provides you with a good knowledge of formulating and analyzing research questions and presenting sources in an academically relevant way. Students will be able to learn to research, plan and structure an essay; acquire language specific features of essay writing; identify the research tools in the library; work into a virtual learning environment; and use electronic resources to polish their work.

Assessment: A Take Away Paper at the end of the Teaching Period.

This module provides an analytical and substantive overview of European history from 1789 to the present, with a focus on the post-1945 period. The module is structured thematically. Students will analyse and interrogate certain critical junctures in European history that have determined the shape of both the European continent and the contemporary world. The primary aim of the course is to provide an empirical background for students in the international history of Europe from the 19th to 21st centuries that will allow students to apply, contextualise and better understand the political science and international relations theories that form the focus of the other core modules.

Assessment: two examinations, 1x 2 hour (January), 1x 3 hour (May). 
 This module seeks to provide you with a good understanding of the drivers for change in welfare and public services in recent years and in historical and comparative perspective.  You will gain knowledge of the theoretical and ideological basis of welfare and public services reform.  In the first term we focus on key theoretical concepts and explanations of welfare states and welfare state change.  In the second term we analyse processes of change in key public services.  The programme is delivered through lectures, student presentations and class discussion.  Assessment: two class tests during teaching period 1 (40%); a 2,500 word assignment in teaching period 2.
The module introduces students to public policy and the many forms it can take. It examines in detail the institutions of policy making.  Particular attention is paid to Westminster models of government compared with other models of government and policy – notably European and US models– and the ways in which the Westminster model has come to be challenged, both internally and externally.  Finally, the module examines various models of policy making and analysis, including those which see policy making as an exercise in more or less rational decision-making and those which place much greater emphasis on values, beliefs and meanings.

Assessment method: short essay (5%), exam (45%) in TP1. Essay (50%) TP2.

This module seeks to introduce students to sociological thinking around two key and overlapping areas; ‘social identities’ and ‘social inequalities’. During Teaching Period 1, the emphasis will lie on learning how to develop critical analytical skills and introducing concepts of social class, ‘race’ nation. During Teaching Period 2, the module will focus more on gender and sexuality. The aim with all of these sets of identities is to establish the ways in which they are constructed, and the maps of social inequalities on which they can be located.

Assessment: Class test In Teaching Period 1 (10%); Assessed essay in Teaching Period 2 (40%); 2-hour exam in summer exam period (50 per cent each).

This course offers an introduction to the sociology of culture through the study of ‘popular culture’ (film, television, virtual media, popular music and art, advertising and informal education). The first part outlines sociological definitions of ‘culture’, illustrating how sociologists study culture and the methods we use to analyse cultural practices and products in a critical way. The second part interrogates different theoretical approaches to popular culture – culture as meaning-making in everyday life, culture as an instrument of domination and culture as a form of resistance – using case studies to explore the politics of culture in contemporary society.


Assessment: Portfolio of coursework, due during exam period (100%)

Sample modules Year 2:
This module seeks to provide you with a strong understanding of the institutional configuration of the EU and how these institutions have been shaped by the relations between member states of the European Union. The module introduces you to the theories of European integration, and challenges you to assess competing views on the dynamics of the integration process over time. In the second part of the module, we explore a core set of policies areas of the EU, and students are asked to relate the politics and institutional make-up of the EU to developments in those policy fields. 

Assessment: A 2-hour exam at the beginning of Teaching Period 2.

This module introduces students to key debates in security studies. The course is a mix of theoretical inquiry and empirical application. First, the module introduces students to the development of key theoretical perspectives in security studies., such as the traditional schools of realism and liberalism, through to critical security studies, constructivism and human security amongst others. After this, the module moves on to a range of traditional and non-traditional security challenges, and using the theoretical frameworks introduced, discusses issues including warfare, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking and the defence trade.  

Assessment: exam (50%) and 2,000 – 3,000 word group report (50%)

This course introduces students to a variety of texts in the canon of political philosophy.  It begins with an account of ancient political philosophy taking into account the writings of Greek and Roman philosophers (Plato, Aristotle and Cicero) before delving into significant pre-modern authors; namely, Aquinas and the scholastic movement.  The second half of the course examines enlightened and modern themes of political philosophy through a thematic investigation of the social contract tradition, utilitarianism and modern criticisms of these ideas. 

Students are expected to produce two research papers (one per teaching period) and sit a cumulative final two-hour exam.   
Analysing  dynamics and events in world politics does not happen in a conceptual and theoretical vacuum. Theoretical approaches provide us with the tools to make sense of the complex and colourful reality that is contemporary international relations. In this 20-cr module we will look at the various competing theoretical frameworks of international relations. We will learn how international relations has developed as an academic discipline through the analysis of four theoretical debates that constitute international relations. We will also discuss how political philosophy has influenced the way we view contemporary world politics.

Assessment: Essay in Teaching Period 1 (50%), Exam in Teaching Period 2 (50%)

This module seeks to provide you with a broad understanding of the design and conduct of research into political and social topics. Students learn about the basic concepts related to the design and conduct of research, such as ontology and epistemology. They also learn about the main schools of political and social enquiry and the tools that are utilised in social science research. There is analysis of the main traps and pitfalls in the way that data is collected, manipulated and presented, so that students avoid these traps and are alert to abuses by others.

Assessment: An assignment or assignments to the equivalent of 1,800 words in TP2.

This module introduces you to different variations of English, including: social and regional variation; Englishes around the world and differences between spoken and written modes.
The context for the module will be set by considering how language and work are inter-related on a macro scale. It will look at the impact of global trends on both work and language practices, as increasing numbers of business enterprises trade across national borders, necessitating international – and ‘intercultural’ – communication. The remainder of the module will take a more micro perspective, reviewing the ways in which speakers, writers and readers make use of particular kinds of discourse in work-related communication.
This module aims to introduce you to the ways in which media texts both reflect and construct our social practice and values. It addresses a range of issues, such as what makes something newsworthy, whether there is objectivity in news reporting, whether different social groups are equally represented in mass media texts, and what part visual images and layout play in our media messages; and it introduces you to a variety of methods for describing and critically evaluating media texts in relation to these issues.

This is an introductory course to TESOL. By the end of the module, the students will have become aware of the basic requirements of a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. They will have had the chance to develop some of the skills necessary for the TESOL teacher. The emphasis will be on developing the skills, organisational and pedagogical, which will allow them to teach or tutor their specialism. The areas covered will be course and syllabus design, materials evaluation and preparation, strategies for teaching lexis and grammar, lesson planning, delivery and evaluation.

Assessment method: essay (30%), exam (70%)

The Placement Year is optional for students studying International Relations and Social Policy. If you choose to take a placement year, this will take place during your third year at Aston and is worth 10% of the final degree result. Unlike some other universities, the placement year at Aston is not a ''bolt-on'' year, it is an integral part of your degree for which you are prepared in your second year.

A distinctive feature of our placement year is the flexibility that we offer. You will be able to choose between undertaking a paid work-experience placement with a company or working as a teaching assistant in a school (either in the UK or abroad) - you might even choose to combine two of these options.  

We are extremely proud of the high level of preparation, orientation and support that we provide before and during your year abroad. We have a full-time Placements Team who will give you plenty of individual help and advice, and even come and visit you during your time away.  

Find out more about the Placement Year.

Sample modules Final Year;
The Office of President of the United States is arguably the most powerful political office in the world. Its incumbents not only provide interesting case studies on strong Executive leadership within the constitutional framework of the USA, their actions (and inactions) also tend to have far-reaching consequences far beyond the US borders (“Leader of the Free World”). This 10-credit Final Year Elective module looks at the US Presidency in its constitutional, political and socio-economic context, as well as investigating Presidential action at key periods, drawing on both historical and current examples.

Assessment: 3,000 words essay (100%).  
This module examines theories of leadership, and looks at the evolution of the phenomenon, in Europe and the United States, in Latin America, and beyond. We focus particularly upon the rhetoric and styles of particular leaders, and the ways in which they persuade and generate allegiance. How they ‘perform’ and what are the historical, cultural, and institutional conditions of their performance. We look at a range of leaders, often comparing them – Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, for example, or Churchill and de Gaulle. Some leaders we look at in minute detail: JFK’s press conferences, MLK’s March on Washington speech, X’s The Ballot or the Bullet, etc. We also look at particular issues, such as the changing conditions of leadership style, women in politics, political rhetoric, the role of culture, and the role of the media.

Assessment: 3, 000-word essay

The module offers an introduction to central and east European politics. It begins with an overview of the events that led up to the collapse of communism, before considering the key themes that have dominated politics in this region since 1989. These include economic reform, democratic transition, institutional design, nationalism, security questions, accession to Nato and the EU and so on.

Assessment: 1x 3000-word essay to be submitted at the end of the module.
This course aims to enable students to research in significant depth a topic in Politics, and address and elaborate key concepts used in the analysis of historical, political, social and cultural institutions and processes. This knowledge, and drawing upon previous modules studied in levels 1 and 2 form the conceptual, methodological and analytical bases for research into their topic. Students will produce an independently researched piece of work, supervised by a lecturer from Politics and International Relations.

Assessment 4,000-6,000 word dissertation (100%)

Extended Politics Dissertation (LP3006): 10,000 word dissertation (80%) and oral exam (20%)

This module considers the countries of the Western Balkans (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo) on their path to European integration and efforts in dealing with legacies of conflict and transition.  The module begins by looking at the recent past of the area – the 1991 collapse of Yugoslavia, 1992-1999 conflicts – and how these events have influence the subsequent political development of the successor states.  The module then considers the region’s various challenges including  post-conflict governance, statehood, intervention, ethnic tensions, war crimes, Kosovo independence and EU integration.

Assessment: 3,000 word policy brief (100%)

This module introduces students to the contemporary issues and challenges facing governments in managing public expenditure, with particular reference to a number of policy arenas and experiences in European countries. This includes analysis of the political, historical and social factors influencing government expenditure decisions, international comparisons of government expenditure regimes, and public expenditure and welfare Services. Particular focus is also placed on the contemporary public deficit in many Western countries, including discussion of how such a situation has arisen and the various efforts to reduce deficits.  The assessment is via a two-hour closed book examination. 
This module provides students with a thorough grounding in the most influential approaches to explaining social policy development across nations. It examines traditional approaches to welfare state development and critiques of these approaches. The module also examines theories concerning welfare state retrenchment (those claiming there is a ‘new politics’ of welfare), and examines different core areas within social policy. Each area is chosen both for its overall importance within the mixed economy of welfare provision, and because it highlights differences in social policy-making and implementation between nations, and the challenges of social policy reform. 

Assessment: 10% participation (assessed by module tutor), 90% written exam following end of module

The module has three core functions. First, it introduces students to the concept of ‘governance’, and indicates how this differs from traditional conceptions of ‘government’. It examines how ‘governance’ can be deployed in a variety of different ways, by considering the various governing functions. The module then considers in detail new governing methods such as the use of agencies, markets and networks. Finally, the module examines how governments have attempted to control these various types of governance, through the use of performance management and self-regulation.

Assessment: 10% participation (assessed by module tutor), 90% written exam following end of module

This module introduces students to different types of economic development policy, the environment in which such policies arise, and the interaction between different organisations in the development and delivery of policies. This includes topics such globalisation, city marketing and community economic development. Particular focus is placed on the examination of different types of economic development policy through the exploration of contemporary case studies in a range of countries. Through such an approach it is possible to examine the complexities of creating and delivering policies. The assessment is via a two-hour closed book examination. 

Our graduates are in demand from a wide range of employers who value their understanding of different cultures and societies, their communication skills and motivation for team work. Recent destinations for our International Relations and Social Policy graduates include:   

  • Ministerial Support Officer, Department of Work and Pensions
  • Campaign Assistant, Conservative Party
  • Graduate Trainee, Tesco
  • Research Executive, Info Group / Orc International
  • PR Graduate Trainee, Lidl
  • Project Coordinator, International Bridges to Justice
  • Junior Publicist, Warner Bros Pictures
  • Worcestershire County Council, Project Support Manager
  • Graduate Trainee, BAE Systems
  • Project Assistant, Birmingham City Council
  • Orphan Support Officer, Islamic Relief
  • Trainee Probation Officer, National Probation Service
  • Political Group Assistant, Warwickshire County Council
  • Program Policy Officer, Department of Health 
  • Economic Development Support Officer
  • Customer Logistics Executive, Beiersdorf
  • Graduate Trainee Buyer, Tesco
  • Management Trainee, Bexley Council
  • Events Coordinator, BMW
  • Geographic Buying Analyst, Intel
  • HR Administrator, Warwickshire County Council
  • Graduate Management, NHS
  • Policy and Planning Officer, London Borough of Bexley.

You will be involved in lectures and seminars, small group work projects and independent study. Many of your modules will be in workshop format, alternating theoretical input with practical analysis, and allowing you to test out your understanding in discussion with other students and your tutor. There are also opportunities fro group and collaborative work. Students undertake a major piece of independent research in Final Year. You will be allocated an academic supervisor for this work and a Personal Tutor who can provide you with help and advice throughout your studies.

Assessment is through a combination of exams, project-based course work, essays, presentations and an extended dissertation during your Final Year.

For further information, see the International Relations Joint Honours programme specification and the Social Policy Joint Honours programme specification.

Dr Jelena Obradovic-WochnikLecturer in Politics and International Relations 

Dr Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik

“My research focuses on post-conflict societies and their democratisation and reconciliation, drawing on Serbia and Kosovo as specific cases. Throughout my research, I also collaborate with other scholars, and therefore the issues that I look at can be quite wide ranging. For instance, I’ve recently investigated how Serbia as a society deals with war crimes and legacies of the past, but also how Serbia and Kosovo – previously at war – interact in peacetime. Much of this feeds directly into my teaching. I teach a module called ‘Conflict and Politics in Contemporary Balkans’, where I include insights from my research and trips to the region. On a module called ‘Conflict, Intervention and Reconciliation’, there are sessions dedicated to post-conflict justice and prosecuting of war crimes, so Serbia and Kosovo often feature as examples which we compare to other parts of the world. Most recently, I spent some time at the Centre for European Studies, Harvard, as a visiting scholar, where I worked on a new research project on social movements in Serbia. There is a rich tradition of protest and social movements in the Western Balkans more generally, so this will be the basis of one of the lectures I will teach next semester.”

Dr Karen West - Senior Lecturer in Public Policy 

Karen West

''For the last five or six years I’ve been involved in a number of research projects that deal with older people and the needs of an ageing population. For example, I’m working on three projects at the moment. The first is concerned with the kind of housing arrangements that older people want and need in later life; in particular housing arrangements that are integrated with care and support. The second is about how the organisations of the national health service and local authorities are trying to work better with each other to meet older people’s health and social care needs and how, sometimes, government policies that appear to support this aim can actually prevent it from happening! The third concerns the way in which older and younger people get jobs and stay employed in difficult financial and economic times and, importantly, how they understand and misunderstand each others’ motivations and needs. As I teach courses in social policy and public policy making, I find that these kinds of projects help me to understand better (and teach better) how welfare systems address the needs of older people; how scarce public resources are distributed between the generations; and how ideas in general, like the idea of an ageing population, come to frame and justify different policies and initiatives and with what consequences for society. I also find that I learn a lot about these issues from my students: their life experiences and general impressions.”

The placement year is optional for students studying International Relations and Social Policy. If you choose to take a placement year, this will take place during your third year at Aston and is worth 10% of the final degree result. Unlike some other universities, the placement year at Aston is not a ''bolt-on'' year it is an integral part of your degree for which you are prepared in your second year. 

A distinctive feature of our placement year is the flexibility that we offer. You will be able to choose between undertaking a paid work-experience placement with a company or working as a teaching assistant in a school (either in the UK or abroad) - you might even choose to combine two of these options.  

We are extremely proud of the high level of preparation, orientation and support that we provide before and during your year abroad. We have a full-time Placements Team who will give you plenty of individual help and advice, and even come and visit you during your time away.

Find out more about the placement year.

Contact Details

Tel: 0121 204 3777
Email: lss_ugadmissions@aston.ac.uk

Download the course brochure

Download the course brochure



Fees and funding

Fees and funding

Outstanding graduate career prospects

Find us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Visit our YouTube channel

Employable Graduates; Exploitable Research