Social Work Studies

Study Social Work Studies and graduate with a university degree

Postgraduate Diploma, MSc

Application Procedure
  • Please check the Entry section on this page to find the correct procedure for making an application to this programme.
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Social Work Studies
  • Type Full-time, Campus based
  • Duration 22 months
  • Start date JanuarySee

Lorna Gentles Room 3S21, Colin Bell Building, University of Stirling
+44 (0) 1786 467710

2nd in Scotland for Social Work in The Times Good University Guide and The Complete University Guide 2014

Do you want a career that is stimulating, rewarding and makes a positive contribution to society? If so a postgraduate diploma/MSc in social work could be for you.

At Stirling University social work education is committed to progressive social change through teaching, research and an active involvement with practice. We believe in a social work profession defined not only by its function but also by its values and integrity.

We promote an understanding of social work which is informed by social justice and human rights, a profession that acknowledges the links between 'public issues' and 'private troubles' and seeks to address both. We value social work practice that has prevention at its heart and recognises the importance of collective approaches, actively engaging with and learning from user movements.

On the Postgraduate Diploma/MSc Social Work course at the University of Stirling you will be taught by a team of qualified social workers including world leaders in their research field and academics who continue to work in practice alongside their University role. You will enjoy the benefits of smaller class sizes (50-60) with creative approaches to teaching and assessment as well as detailed feedback on your progress. You will experience contributions to teaching by people who have used social work services and carers and on your practice placements, will be supported and assessed by accredited Practice Teachers and Educators. We will help you qualify as a social worker who is knowledgeable, skilled, analytical and ethical in your approach to working with individuals, families, groups and communities.


Successful completion of this course will mean students are then eligible to be registered, by the Scottish Social Services Council, as a qualified social worker.

The MSc is awarded on satisfactory completion of a dissertation undertaken at the end of the Diploma course. Both degrees are recognised throughout the UK.

Course objectives

This course provides you with an integrated academic and professional course which develops the intellectual and practice skills necessary for professional practice as a social worker.

Recent dissertation titles are: End of life assistance from a social work perspective; The use of communication tools when working with people with dementia: a practitioner perspective; Foster carers' experiences of support; Does employment have an impact upon the social inclusion of people with learning disabilites?

Entrance requirements

A minimum of a second class Honours degree (2.1 preferred) or equivalent in a relevant subject.  Applicants without these formal qualifications but with significant appropriate/relevant work/life experience are encouraged to apply.

Practical experience in a social care setting is essential. Registration with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) is a requirement for commencing and remaining on the programme (further information on how to apply will be provided to successful applicants who accept a place on the course). Enrolled students must also be a member of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups Scheme.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence of your proficiency such as a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 (6.0 in all bands).

If you don’t meet the required score you may be able to register for one of our pre-sessional English courses. To register you must hold a conditional offer for your course and have an IELTS score 0.5 or 1.0 below the required standard.

Our range of pre-sessional courses.

Modes of study

Full-time: over two years by day-time study only

Course start date

See semester dates

Application procedure

Applicants should apply now via UCAS for January 2016 entry.

Structure and content

The taught course consists of nine modules which include two periods of assessed practice. All students have a personal tutor during the course.

Year 1

You will study three modules during Semester 1 on:

  • Social Work Law and Policy: Introduction to legal systems and processes, law regarding children, adults and families, community care and criminal justice
  • Human Development and Family Contexts: Development across the life cycle. Dominant themes and challenges associated with developmental stages; complexity of family life
  • Theory and Practice of Social Work: Introduction to core knowledge, skills and values for social work practice; professional identity, communicating, listening, interviewing, assessing, planning, intervening, reviewing and evaluating, reflective practice, anti-discriminatory practice

During Semester 2 you will undertake a placement in full-time supervised practice (70 days) in a statutory or independent agency.

Year 2

You will study four modules during Semester 3 on:

  • Theory & Practice – Health, Illness and Disability: the impact of illness and disability on the social and emotional functioning of individuals, families and specific service user groups, for example, people with mental health problems, people with drug/alcohol problems. Social and medical models of illness, disability and learning difficulties. The meaning of risk – risk taking and risk minimisation approaches. The influence of social and structural factors. Social work skills and methods in promoting the health of people who use social work services
  • Theory & Practice – Crime, Welfare and Justice: What is crime and who defines crime? Responses to offending behaviour. Theoretical explanations of offending behaviour ‘causes’ of crime. Assessing and ‘managing’ the risk of crime, its extent and nature. Exploration of different areas of practice. Effective social work practice and what it means.
  • Theory & Practice – Children, Families and Society: social work assessment and intervention in relation to children and families. Exploration of different areas of practice. Creative responses to the assessment and management of risk

The second supervised practice placement runs through the summer period and during semester four (95 days). You then take one module: Research Methods. The award of Postgraduate Diploma is made at this point, following satisfactory completion of all assessed work.

Year 3

Students proceeding to the MSc complete Year 3.

The dissertation period, during which empirical research is undertaken and written up, is three months (full-time) or six months (part-time).


Delivery and assessment

The course is delivered through lectures incorporating small group discussion, student-led project work, micro-skills teaching workshops.

Practice Placements are in a wide range of statutory and voluntary agencies across a sixty-mile radius and provide the opportunity for classroom-based teaching to be applied in practice. Every student has a qualified practice teacher to supervise and assess their practice.

The course is run in partnership with statutory and non-statutory agencies in Stirling, Falkirk, Clackmannanshire, Fife, Perth and Kinross, Edinburgh City, Midlothian, West Lothian, East Lothian and the Scottish Borders.

Your learning is greatly assisted by the contribution (to teaching and practice learning) of staff from local voluntary and statutory agencies. You will also benefit from contributions by service users and carers and from the range of research and teaching interests within the School of Applied Social Science, in which Social Work is located. Particular strengths include community care, criminal justice, children and families, skills teaching, values and comparative approaches.

A wide range of assessment methods is used: essays, analytical accounts of practice, DVD recorded assessment of practice skills, class presentations, an oral examination on social work practice and assessment of the two practice learning opportunities.

Staff are all qualified social workers with a strong commitment to the profession in terms of teaching and research. This is demonstrated by membership of a range of international and national social work organisations within the staff group. Additionally, we have partnerships with local agencies in terms of exchange of knowledge between academia and practice. As a result we have strong representation of practitioners and other agency staff on our assessment boards and in teaching.

Recommended reading

Suggested reading list:

  • Banks, S (2012) Ethics and Values in Social Work, fourth edition, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Crawford K and Walker J (2010) Social Work and Human Development, third edition, Exeter: Learning Matters
  • Davis R and Gordon J (eds) (2011) Social Work and the Law in Scotland, second edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Lishman J (ed) (2007) Handbook for Practice Learning in Social Work and Social Care: Knowledge and Theory, second edition, London: Jessica Kingsley
  • Milner J and O'Byrne P (2009) Assessment in Social Work third edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Trevithick P (2005) Social Work Skills: A Practice Handbook, second edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press
  • Wilson K, Ruch G, Lymbery M and Cooper A (2011) Social Work: An introduction to contemporary practice, second edition, Harlow: Person Education

Module titles

  • Social Work Law & Policy (SWKPLP)
  • Human Development and Family Contexts (SWKPDE)
  • Theory and Practice of Social Work (SWKPTP)
  • Practice Learning 1 (SWKPP1)
  • Theory and Practice : Crime, Welfare and Justice(SWKPCJ)
  • Theory and Practice : Children, Families and Society(SWKPCF)
  • Theory and Practice : Health, Illness & Disability(SWKPHD)
  • Practice Learning 2 (SWKPP2)- begins late May and runs over summer
  • Research Methods
  • Dissertation (SWKPDD)

Study abroad opportunities

It is not possible to study abroad during this course.

Course Director

Ms Judy Kerr


In REF2014 Stirling was placed 6th in Scotland and 45th in the UK with almost three quarters of research activity rated either world-leading or internationally excellent.

More information

RAE rating

In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE):

  • we were ranked 2nd in Scotland for Social Work

  • 95 percent of the research in Applied Social Science at Stirling was ‘Internationally Excellent’ with the top 10 percent of that judged to be ‘World-leading’


Involvement of People Who Have used Social Work Services and Carers

Stirling University Social Work Service Users and Carers’ Group; “UNITY”,  was established in 2005 in recognition of the important contribution that people who use services have to make to social work education. UNITY members are involved in many aspects of the Social Work programme including direct teaching and selection processes They have produced a DVD for teaching purposes, contribute to University wide awareness raising events for World Mental Health Day and made a significant contribution to a successful Inter- University conference on Service User and Carer involvement in professional education which was hosted by the University of Stirling in June 2013. You can read the summary conference report here The group is also a founder member of theScottish Inter-University Social Work Service Users and Carers’ Network.

The involvement of people who have used services and carers in direct teaching is consistently well received by students. Here is some of their feedback:

I enjoyed getting the service users’ perspective of service providers and hearing some personal accounts. I also enjoyed the teamwork today and getting a sense of the values and opinions of the group as a whole.

Really enjoyed meeting some of the service users and listening to their stories and experiences. Felt really privileged that they shared their experiences with me – some that must have been quite difficult to do so. Admire their resilience!

I learned some of the things people want in a social worker and what values they want to see. Definitely made me think more about my practice.

A fantastic insight into the views of service users on social workers.

I learned that service users put a lot of emphasis on practical things such as good time management that perhaps we take for granted and sometimes may not consider the impact it may have.

Some people have had bad experiences with social workers, but have regained faith when allocated a new social worker. I will make sure that first impressions will count on a positive note.

Comments from service users regarding their involvement in teaching and wider group activities include:

I have had positive experiences of working with social workers and I want to give something back so that students can learn from my experiences.

It brought me out of a very dark period of my life. Through my various activities I developed some skills but most importantly I regained my self-confidence, which allowed me to enrol in a Master's degree course…. I would like to thank everyone for their support and for being so welcoming and friendly. I hope that you can continue to help people as much as you have helped me.

It is really good to have people finally listening to my side of the story and it was good to get the chance to speak on the DVD.

One of the things I enjoy is coming to Stirling University and speaking to social work  students. Hopefully they can get a better understanding of mental illness and it builds up my self-esteem.

Agency Partners

Through our annual programme committees, selection partnerships and other involvement with the course, employers from local authorities and voluntary organisations tell us that Stirling students coming to them on practice placements and as newly qualified social workers are well prepared for the demands of the agencies. For example:

Practice teachers (who supervise students on placements) comment favourably on the preparedness of the students and also on the quality of the work they undertake. The support the University gives is also valued. The member of staff who attended the presentations of research (conducted by student for their MSc/BA (Hons)) was really impressed by the work the students had undertaken and found the range of subjects interesting. We hope this is going to be a regular feature of the academic year at Stirling.

Shelagh Low, Workforce Development Officer for Fife Council.

Similarly Stuart Eno, Senior Learning & Development Officer, Perth and Kinross Council writes:

People welcome opportunities offered by the University, such as occasional seminars, the recent Food for Thought launch event and access to resources such as the Iris Murdoch Centre. Non-practice learning staff have also enjoyed contributing to the course through taking part in the oral exam, and admission panels. With regard to the students themselves, there continues to be positive feedback about the calibre of the students, and their commitment to the placements – often entailing considerable travel to and from their home base. There have been some very good examples of creative approaches, contributing to developments within the team(s) and service(s). An interest and awareness of policy and political dimensions has also been noted. Several students have been seen as people we would want to apply should vacancies arise, and we do have recent graduates now in post with Perth and Kinross.

Academic strength

All lecturers on this course engage in research and writing relevant to social work and wider social issues. The importance of research to the future development of the profession is underlined by the requirement that students undertake a piece of empirical research as part of their MSc dissertation. There are partnerships with local agencies in terms of exchange of knowledge between academia and practice. As a result we have strong representation of practitioners and other agency staff on our assessment boards and in teaching. 

Our students

Here are some quotes from our students:

The Postgraduate Social Work course was the most challenging yet rewarding experience I have embarked on. I found the support from lecturers and classmates to be a very valuable and the placements offered a vast amount of learning and new opportunities.

Lucy Harris, final year student, 2013

The process of becoming a social work practitioner shouldn’t be underestimated. The course is hugely challenging, both intellectually and emotionally. However, the staff at Stirling have helped support me through this process in a caring, compassionate and inspiring way. I feel ready to enter in to the field of work and I would highly recommend this course to anyone that is passionate about becoming a qualified practitioner.

Kris Miller, final year student, 2013 

Having service user involvement throughout my training and working practice has been crucial to my development as a practitioner. The service user involvement throughout my training helped shaped the kind of worker I wanted to aspire to be from a very early stage. 

I have found when working in a very busy environment with high work load demands, workers can get caught up in politics and the complexities of the system. As a result, we forget that our first priority should be the individuals we work with and ensuring that they have the necessary supports in place to achieve positive life outcomes. Service user input has helped ground my practice and ensured my core values and principles are kept at the heart of my practice (respecting choice, dignity and privacy and listening to other’s views).  

Laura Carse, Social Worker with City of Edinburgh Council, who graduated from Stirling in 2011

Our staff

Professor Brigid Daniel - Head of Subject Group/Deputy Head of School
Research Interests: Child development, children's resilience, adult and child protection

Dr Ruth Emond - Senior Lecturer
Research Interests: Vulnerable children and their everyday experiences. UK and International research with children in care and their use of food and peer groups. Involved in research on social inclusion and young people in rural communities.

Ms Sara Hitchin - Teaching Fellow
Research Interests: Issues relating to practice learning and continuous professional development. Involvement of people who have used services in both social work education and practice.

Ms Judy Kerr - Senior Teaching Fellow
Research Interests: Social work education and developing inter-professional approaches to teaching, learning and assessment. 

Ms Siân Lucas - Lecturer

Research interests: Social work in a globalized world, and social work with minority groups, the sociology of childhood, particularly child language brokering.

Ms Kathryn Mackay - Lecturer
Research interests: Scottish legal framework for adults at risk of harm and practice ensuing from this. Adult support protection and mental health law. 

Mr David Morran - Lecturer
Research interests: Exploring the life histories of men who have formerly been violent and abusive and in the development of services offering support/counselling in the area of young men and adult men's emotional well-being.

Dr Paul Rigby - Lecturer
Research interests: Adolescent child protection; neglect; child trafficking; social work with migrant children; child sexual exploitation; listening to children in the child protection system; child protection - youth justice interface and working with young people at the youth/criminal justice transition.

Dr Fiona Sherwood-Johnson - Lecturer
Research Interests: Adult support and protection policy and practice. Research that involves service users and carers.

Additionally, a range of staff associates act as personal tutors to students during the course.

Career opportunities

Successful completion of the Postgraduate Diploma or the MSc provides the ‘licence to practise’ as a qualified social worker registered with the regulatory council of the country in which they work. The qualification is recognised throughout the UK and for work in community-based teams, hospitals, day and residential centres and voluntary agency projects. In Scotland and Northern Ireland it is also the qualification for social work in prisons and criminal justice teams.

The nature of the work is extremely varied and there is the capacity to move between different work settings throughout your career. Currently, over 80 percent of students find social work jobs within six months of graduating.


The MSc/PG Dip in Social Work Studies is a professional course which requires students to undertake along with their academic modules, two practice placements. It is in these placements that our students gain experience in direct work with service users and learn essential transferrable skills for their future employment within the social work profession. During the course they also gain experience of presentation skills, research methodology, as well as being taught specific and relevant skills to prepare them for employment in a variety of social work settings. 

Industry connections

We are fortunate to have strong connections with our partner agencies within a 60-mile radius of the University, who contribute to the teaching on the course and who also provide a range of placements across both statutory and voluntary social work services. Examples of these are: the local authorities in Forth Valley, Fife, and Perth & Kinross, and voluntary agencies such as Barnardos and Multi Cultural Family Base. 


2016/17 Overseas £12,450
2016/17 Home/EU £4,500
2015/16 Overseas £11,900
2015/16 Home/EU £4,500

You should expect to pay fees for every year you are in attendance and be aware fees are subject to revision and may increase annually. Students on programmes of study of more than one year should take this into account when applying.


Information on possible sources of funding Currently, bursaries are available from the SSSC for Postgraduate Social Work students; applicants who are offered and accept a place will be given information about applying for a bursary. Please note that the University is not responsible for allocating these. Further information about this funding can be found here Please note that the current bursary covers most of the fee for the course, however there is a shortfall for which you will be responsible.