Social Work Studies

Postgraduate Diploma, MSc

The University of Stirling is ranked joint-1st in the UK for Social Work (The National Student Survey 2017).


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, 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 (23-55) 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. On your practice placements, you will be supported and assessed by Practice Educators or who are qualified or undertaking their Practice Educator training.


Logo for the Scottish Social Services CouncilSuccessful 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.

Key information

EU Applicants
EU students enrolling for a postgraduate taught degree in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic year will be admitted as Scottish/EU fee status students and will be eligible for the same tuition support as Scottish domiciled students.

  • Qualification: Postgraduate Diploma, MSc
  • Study methods: Full-time, Campus based
  • Duration: 22 months for the PG Diploma 24 Months for the MSc
  • Start date:


  • Course Director: Sara Hitchin
Download postgraduate prospectus

Sara Hitchin

Faculty of Social Sciences
Colin Bell Building
University of Stirling

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 disabilities?

What makes us different?

World-class library and teaching facilities

Studying for a degree means learning in different ways; managing your own time; conducting research; mastering new computer skills. We have the facilities and advice on hand to help you do all this - and do it well.

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Life at Stirling

Of the many reasons students come to Stirling, such as academic reputation and research standards, one factor is always cited: the outstanding beauty of the University's Stirling campus. View our online films to get a picture of what it's like to live and study on our beautiful campus.

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Entry requirements

Academic requirements

A minimum of a second class Honours degree (2.1 preferred) or equivalent in a relevant subject. 

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 have one of the following qualifications as evidence of your English language skills:

  • IELTS: 6.5 with 6.0 minimum in each skill
  • Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE): Grade C
  • Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE): Grade B
  • Pearson Test of English (Academic): 60 with 56 in each component
  • IBT TOEFL: 90 with no subtest less than 20

For more information go to English language requirements

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. View our range of pre-sessional courses.

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. View our range of pre-sessional courses.

Flexible Learning

If you are interested in studying a module from this course, the Postgraduate Certificate or the Postgraduate Diploma then please email to discuss your course of study.

Application procedure

Applicants should apply now via UCAS.

Fees and costs

2017/18 Overseas £13,050 (PGDip) for each year of study
2017/18 Home/EU £4,600 (PGDip) for each year of study


2018/19 Overseas £13,650 (PGDip) for each year of study
2018/19 Home/EU £4,700 (PGDip) for each year of study


Please note that entrants from Spring 2016 onwards will be charged a £500 fee should they wish to continue onto the MSc. This will be charged at the point of continuation from the PG Diploma.

Fees for all new applicants to postgraduate taught courses are held at the level set upon entry.

Please note there is an additional charge should you choose to attend a graduation ceremony. View more information

Cost of Living

Find out about the cost of living for students at Stirling

Payment options

Find information on paying fees by instalments

Scholarships & funding

SAAS Postgraduate Loans

The Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) is now offering a generous loan scheme to assist eligible Scottish and EU-domiciled students pursuing a Masters at the University of Stirling during 2018/19. Find out more about SAAS Postgraduate Loans

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.

Scholarship finder

Structure and teaching

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:

  • Human Development and Family Contexts (SWKPDE): Development across the life cycle. Dominant themes and challenges associated with developmental stages; complexity of family life
  • Theory and Practice of Social Work (SWKPPT): 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
  • Research Methods (SWKPOR): This online module introduces students to the role of research in social work practice and equips them with the key knowledge and skills to undertake their own research.
  • Students will also undertake directed study into Social Work Law and Policy: Introduction to legal systems and processes, law regarding children, adults and families, community care and criminal justice

During Semester 2 you will undertake a placement in full-time supervised practice (75 days) in a statutory or independent agency: Practice Learning 1 (SWKPP1).

Year 2

You will study four modules during Semester 3 on:

  • Critical Approaches to Theory & Practice – Children, Families and Society (SWKPCF): 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
  • Theory & Practice – Crime, Welfare and Justice (SWKPCJ): 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 – Health, Illness and Disability (SWKPHD): 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

The second supervised practice placement runs through the summer period and during semester four (95 days) Practice Learning 2 (SWKPP2). You then take one module: Dissertation (SWKPDD). The award of Postgraduate Diploma is made at this point, following satisfactory completion of all assessed work.

The dissertation period, during which empirical research is undertaken and written up, is three months (full time) or six months (part time). There is an additional fee for the dissertation component of the programme. This covers supervision, support and assessment. At present, this fee is £500.

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 Faculty of Social Sciences, 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, filmed 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.



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

Recommended reading

Suggested reading list:

Banks, S (2006) Ethics and Values in Social Work, third edition, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

Crawford. K. and Walker, J. (2010) Social Work and Human Development, third edition, Exeter: Learning Matters

Guthrie, T. (2011) Social Work Law in Scotland, third edition. Haywards Heath: Bloomsbury Professional. 

McLaughlin, H (2012) Understanding Social Work Research, second edition, London: Sage

Trevithick, P. (2012) Social Work Skills: A Practice Handbook, third 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: Pearson Education.

Modes of study

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

Study method

Full Time

Why Stirling?


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.

In the Social Work and Social Policy unit of assessment for the 2014 Research Excellence Framework:

  • 24% of our research was assessed as world leading
  • 75% of our research assessed as internationally excellent or world leading
  • 99% of research assessed as internationally recognised, excellent or world leading
  • 100% of research environment factors assessed as internationally excellent or world leading
  • 40% of our research impact was assessed as world leading – Read an impact case study
  • The work of more than 90% of our researchers was assessed
  • We ranked 17th in the UK and 3rd in Scotland for our research


Joint-1st in the UK for Social Work Studies (The National Student Survey 2017)

International Students

The University of Stirling welcomes students from around the world. Find out what studying here could be like for you .


University of Stirling 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, have contributed 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 the Scottish Inter-University Social Work Service Users and Carers’ Network. Further information about Unity can be found on their web page:

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 Masters 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 students 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.

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.

Stuart Eno, Senior Learning & Development Officer for Perth and Kinross Council.

It has been my experience and that of my practice teaching colleagues that social work students coming from Stirling are of exceptional calibre and bring with them a high level of knowledge and skills which they appear to easily transfer to practice. This of course has been enabled by the quality of teaching that they receive from both tutors and practitioners who are involved in various aspects of the course prior to students undertaking a practice learning opportunity.

Vivian Fitzsimmons, Practice Teacher/Coordinator, Falkirk Council.


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 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

The placements have really challenged me and I feel that I have learnt so much about myself, my skills and what I find difficult. I feel more confident and have been surprised by how much I have learnt and remembered. 

Natalie Bloomer, final year student, 2014

I have thoroughly enjoyed the course and the link between classroom knowledge and practical skills on placements has given me the confidence and experience to apply and work as a newly qualified social worker. All the staff and tutors have supported me along this journey and the ability to share it with a great group of fellow students was the icing on the cake.

Matthew James, final year student, 2015

Our staff

Dr Ruth Emond - Senior Lecturer, Head of subject group

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.

Dr 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. 

Ms Jane McLenachan – Senior Teaching Fellow

Research interests: Social work education: national and international approaches, practice education, service user and carer participation.

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; 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.


Careers and employability

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.



98% of our postgraduate leavers are in employment or further study withing six months of graduating - Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey 2015/16

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.

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