Leading-edge Comparative Social Policy Masters Programme Prompts Research on Social Issues and Nurtures Future Social Leaders
Have these questions ever crossed your mind: How can Hong Kong better meet the lack of long-term care places for the elderly? What are the challenges posed by an increasing ubiquity of non-communicable diseases? How can the government deal with mental health issues among young people? What effective measures can be put forward to combat climate change?
These questions, which have been hanging over Hong Kong’s public discourse for the past decade, are to be some of the discussion topics within the curriculum of Lingnan University’s new Master of Social Sciences in Comparative Social Policy (International) (IMCSP) programme.
“The IMCSP programme is geared towards students that graduate from various social sciences disciplines who try to find their own way to make a positive impact in the society,” Professor Stefan Kühner, programme director of the IMCSP programme, says, adding that he anticipates a mix of recent graduates and returning students from various working fields.
Comparable to other social policy programmes in universities in Europe, the one-year full-time – or two-year part-time – Masters programme accentuates the applicability of what students learn within the classrooms, while provoking students to review existing policies. Scrutinising public policies and management concepts alongside insights from Economics and Sociology, the programme helps students arrive at critical and well-informed conclusions on concrete policy issues and how they may be dealt with differently.
An inquisitive learning that sharpens comparative skills in social policies
What gives the IMCSP programme a practical edge among other programmes of the same ilk, however, is its strong element of comparison in social policies between Hong Kong and other societies.
“In the IMCSP programme, we routinely tell our students about the policy value of comparing social policies across historical, territorial or cultural lines,” Professor Kühner says. “It is only through comparison that we fully understand what makes the contemporary policy issues we face, or the policy discourse we engage in, similar or special to other times or locations.”
Against the backdrop of globalisation, it has become increasingly difficult to isolate social problems that interlace between cities across national borders. A successful policy maker would need the vision and skills to take reference from international policy experiences to navigate the world of intricate political landscapes.
In courses such as “Social Policy Analysis: Comparative Perspectives” and “Comparative Social Policy in Greater China and East Asia”, for instance, students learn how to evaluate government projects in contemporary cities through case studies and research presentations, drawing lessons from efficacious practices and adapting them into the context of Hong Kong. The effectiveness of policies often rely heavily on the specific context in which they are implemented, which is why an acute awareness of cultural dispositions, as well as political and historical sentiments, of a place is crucial in the training for future policy makers. Students are expected to address an amalgam of issues from health and social welfare, to ageing, family support, education and urban planning throughout the courses, which start class in August 2019.
“Simplistic calls for Hong Kong housing policies to become more Singaporean, or Hong Kong family policies to be become more Scandinavian, for example, are therefore more often than not doomed to lead into a cul-de-sac” he explains.
All-in-one learning of research, data analytics and circulation
Data analytics and research are both quintessential skills when it comes to the formulation and evaluation of policies. Students will learn how to identify key indicators used to measure social policy and social change, as well as statistical software and analysis techniques to conduct their own quantitative research in a comparative perspective.
The learning does not stop here. In order to maximise the impact of their research findings, students need to devise successful social media strategies for research dissemination targeted at different audiences and media representatives.
“The programme is designed to train students in assembling quantitative evidence not only for academic research, but also for media and public communications with a specific focus on data presentation and data visualisation,” Professor Kühner says.
In one of the courses, “Dialogue with Policy Practitioners: Theory and Practice”, students are given the opportunity to visit government offices, political parties and social organisations to examine and engage in dialogues with practitioners, after which they will conduct their own bespoke group research projects.
Moving with the times and building a strong portfolio before graduation
Five key areas of interest of the programme, namely “social security”, “employment”, “health”, “education” and “housing”, have been carefully selected by the international teaching team of the programme, picking topics that hit close to home for Hong Kong students.
“Typically IMCSP students show a great interest in issues around housing affordability and the specific ways in which governments may facilitate a better university-to-work transition,” Professor Kühner points out.
Questions from the promotion of gender equality in the labour market through social security to the support early education programmes gives to toddlers’ cognitive development are also expected to be popular subject matters that students wish to investigate in their independent study projects, under the guidance of expert supervisors in relevant fields. The training students receive from the early exposure to pressing issues will adequately prepare them for ground-level work as soon as they leave school.
A head start in developing international network and expanding your career map
Looking farther beyond Hong Kong, graduates of the IMCSP programme will find themselves confronted by imminent global issues such as the fear of housing bubbles in global cities such as Toronto and Sydney; the prospect of the UK in light of the Brexit limbo; the chain reaction the US-China trade war sets off in the global stock market; the growing uneven distribution of wealth around the globe, and so on.
Guest lecturers and experts fly in from around the world to give classes, workshops and symposia, and visits to partner institutions in China and East Asia are also woven into the curriculum. Some students will enjoy a chance to spend a term in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York in the UK.
IMCSP graduates are prepared to leverage their profession in governmental social policy research centres, think tanks, NGOs and universities, working across over twenty professional fields. The skills rendered in the programme will also make them the perfect candidates for teaching, journalism, human resources, public relations and property management.