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MA Social and Public Policy (online)

Understand and link practice and theory across public and social policy

Year of entry: 2021 (September)


2 years part-time

Start date

September 2021 (term dates)

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This course is ideal for professionals in organisations that develop or implement social policy and public policy. During your studies you'll develop the skills and knowledge required to influence policy and you'll link public policy theory to concrete examples of social policy.

Interdisciplinary, research-informed and built on the principle of strong and comprehensive support for our students, this course will equip you with the skills and knowledge to further your career in a wide range of public service and non-profit sector organisations, shaping and influencing both policy and the future of public services.

You will deepen your understanding of policy-making and explore policy-making on the local, national and global level. You will assess and analyse how social policy-making interacts with and is shaped by socio-economic structures and conflictual political processes. You’ll also analyse the ways in which globalisation dynamics impact on and are filtered through national social policies. You will use evidence to improve social policy practice and develop a range of transferable skills such as critical thinking and designing and conducting research.

The design of the course and the support provided mean that you will be able to balance the requirements of your studies with your work and other responsibilities.  

I found the programme content to be rich and diverse, with clear and structured topic progression which allowed students to build a thorough understanding of the policy process before moving onto modules focused upon more specific areas of policy. I found all of the modules engaging, well-structured, and very well supported by the materials.
Ali McManus, Student Data and Management Information Manager, UK

World-leading research

The Department of Social Policy and Social Work is ranked equal first in the UK for the impact of its research (Times Higher Education's Ranking of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework).

Course content

This Masters course will explore four themes:

  • The social policy process: how are social policies made within nation states? What is the role of institutions, interests, ideas and evidence in this governance process?
  • Social policy in a globalised world: how do global, international and transnational influences filter through the national policy-making process, and how do they impact on the design and the effectiveness of social policies?
  • Social policy, politics and society: why is social policy making a conflicted process? How do social policies shape society and impact on specific social groups?
  • Social policy and research: how can social policy be analysed? How can research improve the design and implementation of social policies?

In your second year you'll start to prepare for your independent dissertation which will allow you to explore an area of particular interest. You'll have support from a dedicated dissertation supervisor.

You can also study for a shorter period of time and graduate with a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma.


To graduate with a Masters degree you will need to take a total of 180 credits - 120 credits of taught modules and a dissertation as a part of your Independent Study Project, worth 60 credits.

You'll study these modules to a schedule. This will allow you to participate online with academics and fellow students from around the world.

Year one: foundation

In your first year you'll study 70 credits with these modules:

Year two: specialisation and dissertation

In your second year you will explore an area of interest by choosing to study one of these modules:

You'll study this combination of taught modules to help prepare you for your dissertation:

Please note, modules may change to reflect the latest academic thinking and expertise of our staff.


Supported by your dissertation supervisor, you will work on your 18,000 word dissertation from April to mid-September.

Your taught modules will help prepare you for your dissertation. The first year modules and your optional module from the second year will provide a firm theoretical foundation for your dissertation work. Other second year modules introduce a range of methodological approaches, helping you plan and implement your individual research project. With the help of your dissertation supervisor you'll identify an appropriate topic and develop a structure. You'll also select, review and critically examine relevant literature and sources.

The York approach

Every course at York is built on a distinctive set of learning outcomes. These will give you a clear understanding of what you will be able to accomplish at the end of the course and help you explain what you can offer employers. Our academics identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences you'll need upon graduation and then design the course to get you there.

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  • Identify, analyse and critically respond to current challenges in social and public policy, drawing on an in-depth understanding of continuities, change and reform in the public and non-profit sector
  • Analyse and interpret policy options and complex policy processes by effectively applying the tools of policy analysis to real world examples
  • Identify and critically engage with the ways in which globalisation dynamics impact on and are filtered through national social policies
  • Assess and analyse how complex conflictual political processes and socio- economic factors shape social and public policy-making from problem identification to implementation
  • Interpret, assess and explain to lay and academic audiences the complex layers of organisations, stakeholders and agents that form multi-level governance networks, in order to contribute to effective policy-making and public management
  • Independently research, critically analyse and communicate findings from interdisciplinary scholarship relevant to their professional context and interest
  • Collaborate and communicate as practitioners in a digital networked world, drawing on their learning about the dynamics of global and national policy-making

Fees and funding

Annual tuition fees for 2021/22

Study modeUK (home) / International and EU
Part-time, distance learning (2 years)
Higher band fee. Fees for subsequent years are subject to confirmation.
Part-time, distance learning (2 years)
This lower band fee applies to student based in developing countries, employers sponsoring more than one student per cohort, CIMA certified applicants, CIPFA members, City of York Council employees and Ministry of Defence personnel. Fees for subsequent years are subject to confirmation.

For courses which are longer than one year, the tuition fees quoted are for the first year of study. Fees for subsequent years are subject to increase (no more than 2% each year).

All reading materials are available via the course’s Virtual Learning Environment and the university’s extensive online Library.

I liked the experience very much. I felt really supported by both teaching and non-academic staff. I really enjoyed it.

Teaching and assessment

You’ll work with world‐leading academics who’ll challenge you to think independently and excel in all that you do. Our approach to teaching will provide you with the knowledge, opportunities, and support you need to grow and succeed in a global workplace.

Teaching format

You will study online, allowing you to study from wherever you are. You should spend about 15 hours per week on your reading and tasks. You can decide when you work on these weekly tasks; all activities can be completed around your schedule.

The three main kinds of activity you will be asked to do are:

  • reading module texts written by our academic team and selected core articles (journal articles, book chapters, etc)
  • joining online discussions with fellow students and the module tutor
  • working on individual tasks such as written exercises to receive feedback from your tutor or to contribute to group work.

There is also an opportunity in each module to take part in an optional 'live' seminar session with the module tutor and fellow students, to explore the module content or prepare for the assignment.

You'll be supported by:

  • a module tutor who facilitates the online discussions and offers individual support
  • a personal supervisor who will provide ongoing academic and pastoral support; you can approach your supervisor with queries on study skills and your progress
  • a dedicated support team who can help you with administrative or technical enquiries.

Our distinctive approach.

Assessment and feedback

You will take part in exercises and other tasks as you progress through each module. This will allow you to receive feedback on your progress and understanding.

At the end of each 20 credit module you'll complete an assignment. Normally this will be a 3,000 word assessment. For the 10 credit modules you will work on a shorter written piece or journal, or will complete a dissertation plan.

A major benefit of online learning is that you can study flexibly at times which suit you. Day and night, students from all over the world are logging in to study and contributing to forum discussions. The academic support is first rate.

Careers and skills

This course is ideal for people working in the public and not-for-profit sectors as well as people working in for-profit organisations that deliver public services. It will allow you to develop the skills required for management in a large and complex organisation. You'll achieve an understanding of public policy so you can analyse and influence policy-making and implementation.

Career opportunities

Our current students and alumni work in roles in: 

  • Local and national governments and their departments
  • International organisations and non-governmental organisations
  • Other publicly funded organisations such as education and healthcare providers
  • Charities and not-for-profit organisations.

Many of our alumni have progressed in their careers either during or after their studies.

Transferable skills

  • Leadership skills
  • Policy analysis
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and implementing a research project
  • Influencing and managing networks and partnerships
  • Reflective practice for ongoing professional development

Entry requirements

Typical offer
Undergraduate degree 2:1 or equivalent
Other qualifications and experience If you don't have experience of undergraduate study we may consider your application if you have a suitable professional background
Other international qualifications Equivalent qualifications from your country

Additional requirements

You should have professional experience in the public service field. This could be in roles in local or national government, or in non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations, the voluntary and charitable sector, and private sector roles which support or deliver public services.

You will also need to have:

  • A computer in your home with an internet connection (minimum 0.5Mbps)
  • An office software suite compatible with Word and Excel formats.

English language

If English isn't your first language you may need to provide evidence of your English language ability. We accept the following qualifications:

Minimum requirement
IELTS 6.5, minimum 6.0 in each component
PTE Academic 61, minimum 55 in each component
C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency 176, minimum 169 in each component
TOEFL 87, minimum of 21 in each component
Trinity ISE III Merit in all requirements
Duolingo 110, minimum 100 in all other components

For more information see our English language requirements.


You can apply and send all your documentation electronically through our online system. You don’t need to complete your application all at once: you can start it, save it and finish it later.

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Social Policy and Social Work