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Social Policy - Research


The School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences (ASPS) is a substantial multi-disciplinary, cross campus centre of research with members working on a wide range of cutting edge methodological, theoretical, empirical and policy related issues. It is distinguished by its applied, interdisciplinary research that draws on national and international comparative methods, to develop innovative and significant impact-centred work which pushes the disciplinary boundaries and promotes important changes within society.

ASPS has developed an international reputation for:

Pioneering theoretical ideas that change the way in which policy, governance, criminology and social work are conceptualised.

Developing cutting-edge research methodologies which produce unique, internationally significant data-sets.

Designing a range of innovative analytical tools that help reform and guide social practice.

Disseminating research outputs to a range of stakeholder groups in order to strengthen, and critically reflect upon, policy and practice. ASPS welcomes applicants interested in researching social policy, criminology and justice, politics, policing, prisons, public policy, social work, poverty, language policy, disadvantage, migration and welfare.


The strength and rigour of ASPS' research has been registered in successive research assessment exercises. In the most recent research assessment exercise, 'REF 2014', seventy percent of ASPS' research has been graded world-leading or internationally excellent, with a 160% increase in world-leading research since the 2008 assessment exercise. ASPS ranks 12th in the UK for outstanding research impact (4*) and 20th for world-leading research (4*).

ASPS distinguishes itself through a long-standing commitment to researching and shaping governance, policy, and practice in divided societies dealing with the legacies of violence and conflict. This focus is being expanded and enriched through strategic diversification into new applied research streams that inquire into, and confront, challenges presented by racism, inequality, economic marginalisation, institutional reform and the crimes of the powerful. Furthermore, the school aims to address blind-spots and lacunas in governance, policy and service delivery which conflict and transition can create, in areas such as gender, disability, ageing, health, criminal justice, and ethnic minorities. These streams are enhanced through transnational research that draws on growing international linkages to better understand how regional and global distributions of power, wealth, infrastructure, resources, and knowledge, impact on governance, policy, and practice on a variety of scales.

The school's research priorities are supported by a vibrant, aspirational culture that supports scholars to develop and pioneer innovative methodologies, analytical tools, and theoretical concepts that can sensitively and rigorously build evidence based, conceptually rich understandings of the complex processes that shape reform, accountability and service delivery. We embrace interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research that harnesses diverse tools and approaches to enhance our response to field-specific challenges.

The school aims to formulate and execute our research collaboratively, and share our findings through innovative mechanisms that cater to the precise needs of diverse user-group. ASPS has also demonstrated a preparedness, when needed, to confront injustice and significant failures in policy and governance in a robust manner, often with significant effect. This distinctive research agenda is operationalised through five research groups:

Social Policy
Criminology and Justice
Public Policy and Government
Social Work
Youth and Community studies


Within this research cluster there is a focus on achieving a better understanding of some of the most difficult social problems we face and contributing to new knowledge in a range of areas including social theory, poverty and disadvantage, health and social care, disability, race and migration and the governance and delivery of welfare. The causes and policy response to social welfare issues is often contested and is linked to contrasting perspectives on the relationship between the state, families and individuals, and voluntary action. Work in this research cluster focuses on issues central to these debates. We also aim to make our research influential in bringing about change, and therefore to communicate findings effectively to a range of audiences and engage actively with policy makers and practitioners.

Research themes include:
Policies for addressing poverty and disadvantage

Analysis of social policy making under devolution in the UK

The development of adult social care policy in Northern Ireland –including the social care workforce

The role of civil society actors in social policy and the policymaking process.

Victorian social theory

The relationship between the vulnerable in society and the state

Disability, work and poverty

Health and social care structures and impact on delivery of care

Migration, race and social policy

Abortion policy and the legal reform of abortion in Northern Ireland

Populism and social policy

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study. We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master's Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

Additional information for International applicants may be found

English language requirements

In order to be admitted to research study at Ulster, you will need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application.

Careers or further progression

Careers and opportunities

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.

Further enquiries

Contact supervisor
Professor Ann-Marie Gray
+44 28 9036 6689


Application date


We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies. Full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application, is available at the link below.

Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system.

Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.

Enrolment and start dates

Year of entry: 2020/21

Postgraduate Information Session 26 March 2020
Register at:

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