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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Policy

Undergraduate Course: Understanding Public Policy (SCPL08012)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Year 2 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10

The course will be of interest to those with an interest in how public policies, which affect our everyday lives, are made by politicians, government officials, campaigners, experts, and various other actors. Students of economics, law, politics, sociology, and many other disciplines, that are interested in the applied study of government will find much to interest them. The overall aim of this course is to introduce students to a range of theories and concepts used in the academic study of public policy. The course will explore issues that cross the remits of different levels of government (local, regional, national, international/supranational). The course will be presented in a way that facilitates a comparative analysis of political systems in different places and at multiple levels. The course will bring together academic expertise and practical experience, by inviting policy practitioners to present case studies.
Course description Public policy affects us all in countless ways every day. But how is public policy made? Which voices matter? How do they come to matter? Why do certain problems grab public attention, whilst others fail to? Why is it so hard to change long-established policy? How do different actors deploy different forms of power to shape policy development? What is the best way to measure the success or failure of a policy? These are just some of the questions with which the academic study of public policy is concerned. This course will provide students with a firm grounding in public policy.

The course will be: organised thematically; will focus on comparative analysis; will challenge conventional wisdoms; will engage with policy developments here in Scotland but also beyond and internationally; will be historically informed; and will bridge the gap between academic theory and the practice of public policy.

The course is organised thematically. After a few weeks during which key concepts such as ┐the policy cycle┐ and ┐power┐ will be introduced, the course proceeds ┐ on a weekly basis ┐ to combine academic study of a specific theory or set of concepts in the public policy literature with a distinct case study. For example, a case study of lowering the vote age to 16 is paired with public policy literature on framing and policy narratives. A case study of British parliamentary debates on whether to use force in Syria is paired with public literature literature on the role of historical thinking and analogical reasoning in policy decisions. A case study of post-16 educational policies in various European countries is paired with academic literature on the role of institutions in shaping policy.

The course is designed to facilitate the comparative analysis of public policy, both across different states and also across different levels of government. The course content draws liberally on policy examples from across Europe and North America, and also on historical examples as well as contemporary policy issues and challenges.

The course will be historically informed, breaking away from the temptation to study public policy in a technical, ahistorical way that sees policies developing in something of a vacuum. Understanding public policy as a process of ongoing debate and change, rooted in particular historical circumstances and contexts enriches the study of policy considerably.

The course is explicitly designed to draw comparisons between academic theory and the practice of public policy. The course will therefore employ a number of case studies to give life to the theories and concepts explored and will feature lectures by professional policymakers and academics who have experience of advising governments, parliaments, independent commissions, etc.

The reading materials for the course will include a mixture of academic literature from leading journals and briefs and reports from policy organisations, both governmental and non-governmental.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  105
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 9, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 167 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 90 %, Practical Exam 10 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 10% - Tutorial participation
30% - Mid-term essay of 1,500-words
60% - Policy analysis of 2,000-words

Feedback Ongoing feedback will be provided to students on their active tutorial participation, comprising 10% of the total grade for the course. Students will submit a 1,500-word mid-term essay in week 6, for which they should receive feedback during week 9. Students will submit their final policy analysis, based on a policy issue that they have followed throughout the semester, before the exam diet.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the basic terminology used by public policy scholars and practitioners.
  2. Understand the differences in some of the key theoretical and conceptual approaches to the study of public policy.
  3. Examine how policy decisions are made, their implications, and how they can be evaluated and measured.
  4. Understand the interconnected and multi-level nature of much contemporary public policy.
  5. Show an awareness the challenges faced by public policy practitioners and how they relate to the academic literature.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills The course will allow students to develop a range of attributes and skills including: the ability to evaluate evidence in the context of active public policy debates; the ability to present arguments orally in interactive tutorial settings; the ability to develop arguments through written formats; and the ability to produce work to deadlines.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Daniel Kenealy
Tel: (0131 6)50 4080
Course secretaryMr Ethan Alexander
Tel: (0131) 6 509 975
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