First term highlights: Reflections from a Social Policy student

EGA matriculation bridge of sighs photo

Elisa (centre) with coursemates Anna, Severin, Grace and Anna

Elisa Gomez Aleman (MSc in Comparative Social Policy) looks back at her first term in Oxford.

As soon as I decided to study social policy at postgraduate level, I knew the University of Oxford would be my first choice. Not only was I attracted to the University’s renowned academic ethos; more fundamentally, I was drawn in by the course in Comparative Social Policy offered by the Department of Social Policy and Intervention. Such a course was ideal for someone like me, who sought to understand the political, ideological and institutional roots of different welfare states, in view of unveiling the concrete obstacles that delimit the scope for social reform. Furthermore, the prospect of being taught by some of the leading specialists in the field of social policy was extremely motivating, and I knew Oxford would offer the kind of ‘personalised’ educational experience that I was looking for.

So far, the course has surpassed my expectations. Not only have I found faculty members to be exceedingly helpful and easy to approach, but I have also found myself surrounded by like-minded students whose different academic backgrounds have proven to be extremely enlightening. Seminars at the Department are of a particularly high quality, which is mostly due to the wide array of disciplines represented in the classroom, as well as the mediating role of seminar leaders. Indeed, throughout my studies so far, I have often found myself inspired to a degree I had not been inspired before. Particularly stimulating moments for me have been the weekly praxis workshops led by actual practitioners in the field of social policy, whereby we have been able to get a glimpse of what it means to work as a policy specialist for institutions such as the Trade Union Congress, or indeed Evidence Aid. Further highlights of my experience so far would be the Honorary Sidney Ball Memorial Lecture, organised on a yearly basis to commemorate the foundation of Barnett House, home to the Department of Social Policy and Intervention. This year, I had the honour to listen to Emeritus Professor Fiona Williams discuss the future of social policy, with a particular emphasis on the need to establish connections between social, cultural and economic forms of marginalisation. It was also during this lecture that I was introduced to the fascinating concept of the ‘social commons’, which I have since explored more in depth.

As for the city more generally, I have found Oxford to be a wonderful place to be as a student. Despite its relatively small size, Oxford offers a wide array of cultural, athletic and entertainment opportunities. Certainly due to the thriving student community, the number of student-led societies is practically endless, and there is definitely a place for everyone to develop their interests and passions. Whether you enjoy singing, practising yoga, playwriting or debating, Oxford is the place for you. I would thus highly encourage any incoming students to make the most out of their stay in Oxford, and to capitalise on the advantages offered by a city that is manageable due to its size, yet so hectic and full of life. Academically, I would advise any incoming comparative social policy students to find the right balance between academics and extra-curricular activities, seeing as the latter are such a big part of the ‘Oxford’ experience. Personally, I have become quite involved in the social life of my college. Indeed, college has provided me with a great support network, which in turn has enabled me to make greater strides in my studies.

All in all, my experience so far as an MSc student based in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention has been extremely enlightening, and it has definitely fostered my interest in areas of social policy that I had not previously been exposed to as an undergraduate student. As a result, I am currently pursuing a thesis on family policy, whereby I will be looking at concrete strategies on behalf of Southern European states to ‘subsidise’ familialism, and the concrete labour-market consequences of such strategies for women.