MSc in Comparative Social Policy
About the course
The MSc in Comparative Social Policy explores welfare systems and policy developments across a range of countries with an OECD focus. The comparative element is a key part of the course, and is one feature that makes the course at Oxford unique.
The central aim of the course is to provide high quality graduate level research training in social policy, taking a comparative perspective, learning especially from the most highly-developed welfare states. More specific aims are to develop your capacity to:
- analyse, interpret and review the major concepts, theoretical approaches and historical and contemporary issues in social policy and welfare state development in a range of OECD countries;
- analyse and compare specific areas of social policy (for example income support, health or labour market) in different countries, drawing on both empirical data and broader theoretical literature; and
- undertake quantitative, qualitative and systematic reviews as part of the research methods paper, to understand the major issues involved in research design and technical analysis in social policy related research.
You will study a core paper in comparative social policy and social policy analysis. This paper covers the theories, principles, history and institutions of social policy, and is taught via a closely-linked package of lectures, seminars, small working groups and individual tutorials. You will also engage in detailed work on social policy analysis through lectures, seminars and presentations.
The research methods skills, covering quantitative methods, qualitative methods, and systematic reviews, are taught in a mix of lectures, classes, workshops and ‘hands-on’ computer lab based weekly training sessions. In addition, there is a course on the principles of comparative research design.
You will also have the opportunity to take at least one (usually two) specialist course from a list of options focusing on a particular social policy. You are examined in one of these option courses. Recent options offered include education policies, family policies, healthcare and health inequality, labour market policies, ageing societies and retirement age policies.
During the first and second terms, the majority of learning is classroom-based, complemented by independent reading, tutorials and formative and summative assessments. The third term involves largely self-directed study for the remaining summative assessments, exam revision, and further development of the MSc thesis; an additional lecture and question/answer sessions is typically offered on an optional basis to support students in preparing for exams and/or assessments and using various methodologies for thesis projects.
The allocation of graduate supervision for the course is the responsibility of the Department of Social Policy and Intervention and it is not always possible to accommodate the precise preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Social Policy and Intervention. Efforts will be made to match the research interests of supervisees and supervisors.
In the case of students who require specific help to adjust to an academic programme or to a new range of skills, the supervisor will work with them to ensure that they have additional support.
Students will have approximately eight to twelve meetings with their supervisor, distributed over three terms.
Your performance will be assessed through formative and summative assignments/papers. Knowledge of the substantive areas of social policy is assessed by a combination of examinations and/or submitted coursework assignments throughout the year. The assessment will cover comparative social policy and social policy analysis in general; the summative assignment will focus on your chosen area of specialism as represented in the option paper in which you choose to be assessed. Research methods will be assessed by a series of assessments throughout the year using a combination of examinations and/or submitted coursework assignments. In addition, you will be required to provide a dissertation.
Many graduates go on to pursue academic careers in world-leading research universities, while others hold influential positions in government, non-governmental and international organisations, such as the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the UN.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Social Policy and Intervention
Oxford 1+1 MBA programme
This course can be studied as a part of the Oxford 1+1 MBA programme. The Oxford 1+1 MBA programme is a unique, two-year graduate experience that combines the depth of a specialised, one-year master’s degree with the breadth of a top-ranking, one-year MBA.
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any discipline.
There is no requirement on subject area and students from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds are considered.
However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, a bachelor’s degree with a minimum overall GPA of 3.5 out of 4.0, or 4.0 out of 5.0 is sought.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
- Publications are not expected.
- Doctoral study: We encourage all applicants to consider whether they would be potentially interested in continuing on to pursue a DPhil; if doctoral study following our masters course is something you are considering, please see the further guidance on particular funding competitions for MSc/MPhil+DPhil study.
To continue to a research degree after the MSc, candidates would normally be expected to gain a mark of at least 65% for both the written exams and the thesis. The department's Graduate Studies Committee will also consider the clarity and viability of the research proposal and the availability of appropriate supervision.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
The department runs several seminar series – one on social policy and one on social intervention – during the year, providing the opportunity to hear external expert speakers. In addition, there is a weekly colloquium at which members of the department present and discuss their research, creating an excellent chance for staff and students to learn more about each others’ ideas or receive input on their own research. DPhil and MPhil students also belong to one of the department's research groups, which provide an opportunity to present their work and explore themed areas in more depth with colleagues with similar interests.
The department has its own IT provision and specialist IT support staff. The department’s IT committee is responsible for the oversight of IT provision. You will have access to the Bodleian Social Science Library, in addition to other University libraries, and the centrally provided electronic resources. Some college libraries, such as the Nuffield College Library, may also be open to graduate research students on request.
The department has a common room open to both staff and students. Barnett House Thursday coffee mornings are held fortnightly and these occasions provide excellent opportunities for talking to academics and research staff, and fellow students.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSc in Comparative Social Policy:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Three overall, all of which must be academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement and motivation for the chosen area of study. Academic references are required.
If you are currently studying on another graduate course, we strongly suggest that one of your references be from your current academic supervisor.
Please contact your referees well in advance of the application deadline to give sufficient time for references to be prepared and submitted.
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 1,000 words
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study and the ability to present a reasoned case in English.
One essay, a maximum of 2,500 words
An academic essay or other writing sample from your most recent qualification, written in English, is required. An extract of the requisite length from longer work is also permissible.
The topic of the work does not need to relate directly to the proposed subject of study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for a comprehensive understanding of the subject area; understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; ability of analytical thinking; powers of analysis and clarity of expression.
Please also note that internal checks are carried out on all submitted writing samples to ensure compliance with length requirements, and over-length submissions can cause errors or delays.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.