The Core Paper covers two courses both taught in the first term; they are formally assessed through one three-hour written examination at the end of the third term in late June.
For each of these two courses, students complete a number of pieces of work that are considered formative (that is they are intended as feedback and learning for the student rather than counting towards the final marks). Written work is assessed by the student’s supervisor on the basis of a general template covering knowledge and use of relevant comparative literature and evidence, understanding and application of theories/methods/concepts/issues, critical discussion and analysis and presentation. This follows discussion on a one-to-one basis. These assignments do not count towards the final mark.
The two components of the Core Paper are as follows:
COMPARATIVE SOCIAL POLICY
This is taught through a series of eight lectures with accompanying seminars led by members of the Comparative Social Policy teaching team. Teaching focuses on the theories, principles, ideas, institutions and providers that characterise different types of welfare state and social policy systems. Students will be introduced to key theories and concepts in the field of Comparative Social Policy and will be asked to reflect on how and why policy provisions differ in different contexts across time and space.
SOCIAL POLICY ANALYSIS
This course seeks to equip students with the theoretical and analytic tools necessary to engage in formal policy analysis and to provide experience in applying them to real-world-like problems while receiving constructive feedback. It is taught through a series of eight lectures accompanied by four sessions devoted to presentations by people engaged in the making and evaluation of social policy (politicians, policy makers in government and other sectors). The course also consists of four practical sessions in which students working in groups undertake and present policy analyses of their own.
Through this part of the course, students gain practical skills taught through lectures and hands-on workshops. Students acquire the ability to conduct statistical analyses of quantitative and qualitative data; for example undertaking quantitative analysis, using STATA, on large-scale cross-sectional data-sets to investigate cross-national differences in welfare state attitudes; or undertaking qualitative analysis of policy problems. This hands-on work is closely supervised and monitored and there are some formative assessments of practical work undertaken. Students also apply their critical knowledge of research design by undertaking two ‘critical methods’ essays, which count towards the final examination.
The teaching here is divided into four courses, two in the first term and two in the second:
- A six-week course of lectures in the first term on the comparative method and elements of research design and research organisation. It explores the basic principles and characteristics of comparative method and assesses the philosophical underpinnings and potential use of a range of comparative methodologies and approaches. The course is designed also to prepare students to carry out their own comparative research.
- An eight-week introductory course on statistical methods, also taught in the first term.
- An eight-week course in quantitative methods, comprising eight hands-on workshops which introduce and enable practice in applying basic principles of statistical inference and statistical models for the analysis of quantitative social science data.
- An eight-week qualitative methods course, which comprises a mix of lectures and practice sessions. These introduce students to the main qualitative research methods and to specific techniques and strategies involved in the collection and analysis of qualitative data for policy purposes.
The first two courses listed above are regarded as introductory and do not count towards the final marks – that is, they are not examined or assessed. The second two courses do count and they are assessed typically on the basis of set assignments. In addition to this – as part of their methods training and assessed work – students present two ‘Critical Methods Essays’ of up to 2,500 words each. These are reviews of published work, one using a qualitative methodology and the other a quantitative. Students select a research paper of each type from a circulated list and submit the critical review in April. They receive two lectures in the second term on how to approach this task.
Option Papers offer students the opportunity to develop an in-depth knowledge of a particular policy area, and are built around the specialist research interests of academic staff. As a result, different Option Papers may be offered each year, depending on staff availability and interests. The list of options available is published at the start of each year and finalised at the end of the first term when students are invited to make their choice of which Option Papers they wish to take.
The Option Papers are normally taught during the second term of the programme, and assessed through a three-hour written examination at the end of the third term. Study is through small seminar groups (usually 6-12 students).
MSc students select two Option Papers and are examined in one; MPhil students, over the two years, select three Option Papers and are examined in two.
The current list of Option Papers includes:
- Comparative Education Policy
- Family, Gender and Welfare States
- Health Policy and Health Inequality
- Labour Market Institutions
- Poverty in Comparative Perspective
- Social Cohesion
- The Policy Challenges of Ageing Societies.
For each Option Paper, students will usually complete a number of pieces of work (made up of a combination of essays and presentations). The essays are assessed and marked by the Option Paper leader with the comments fed back to students.
The master’s thesis should employ the comparative method in the study of a social policy topic. Such comparison requires at least two countries (or systems), though it can include the same country at different time periods (e.g. pre- and post-apartheid South Africa), or two or more sub-national jurisdictions within a single country.
MSc students write a 10,000 word thesis. They will normally develop their topic in the first two terms of the programme, and in the second term are expected to present and discuss an outline of their thesis proposal with a panel made up of two staff members other than their supervisor. This may result in suggestions/recommendations to be discussed with the supervisor. MSc students then work more intensively on their thesis during the third term and over the summer vacation, to ready it for submission by the middle of August. Students have an individual supervisor for the thesis whom they usually meet three times a term.
MPhil students write a 30,000 word thesis. They are required to develop their topic area during the second and third terms of their first year. During the third term of the first year, they present and discuss their thesis proposal to a thesis panel of two staff members other than their supervisor. This may result in suggestions/recommendations to be discussed with the supervisor. It is intended that work continues on the thesis over the summer. The second year of the MPhil is primarily thesis-focused, with submission usually in early June of that year.
The Department has a formal research ethics checklist process and separate health and safety checklists to be completed as part of the thesis preparation.