Social Science and Complexity MSc

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Why Surrey?

Our highly sought-after graduates benefit from a programme that integrates training in identifying, framing and effectively researching social problems with a leading computational approach to social science.

Furthermore, we are home to the Centre for Research in Social Simulation (CRESS) and its world-leading expertise in agent-based modelling.

Programme overview

Interest in simulation has grown rapidly in the social sciences. New methods have been developed to tackle this complexity. This programme will integrate traditional and new methods, to model complexity, evolution and the adaptation of social systems.

These new methods are having an increasing influence on policy research through a growing recognition that many social problems are insufficiently served by traditional policy modelling approaches.

The Masters in Social Science and Complexity will equip you to develop expertise in the methods necessary to tackle complex, policy-relevant, real-world social problems through a combination of traditional and computational social science methods, and with a particular focus on policy relevance.

Programme structure

This programme is studied full-time over one academic year and part-time over two academic years. It consists of eight taught modules and a dissertation.

Example module listing

The following modules are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that not all modules described are compulsory and may be subject to teaching availability and/or student demand.

Educational aims of the programme

The main aims of the programme are to:

  • Provide an appropriate training for students preparing MPhil/PhD theses, or for 
 students going on to employment involving the use of social science and policy research
  • Provide training that fully integrates social science, policy modelling and computational methodologies to a high standard
  • Provide training resulting in students with high quality analytic, methodological, computational and communication skills

Programme learning outcomes

The programme provides opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding, skills, qualities and other attributes in the following areas:

  • Develop skills in tackling real world policy problems with creativity and sound methodological judgment
  • Cover the principles of research design and strategy, including formulating research 
questions or hypotheses and translating these into practicable research designs and models
  • Introduce students to the methodological and epistemological issues surrounding research in the social sciences in general and computational modelling in particular
  • Develop skills in programming in NetLogo for the implementation of agent-based models for the modelling of social phenomena
  • Develop skills in the acquisition and analysis of social science data
  • Make students aware of the range of secondary data available and equip them to evaluate its utility for their research
  • Develop skills in searching for and retrieving information, using library and Internet resources
  • Develop skills in the use of SPSS, and in the main statistical techniques of data analysis, including multivariate analysis
  • Develop skills in the use of CAQDAS software for the analysis of qualitative data
  • Develop skills in writing, in the preparation of a research proposal, in the presentation ofresearch results and in verbal communication
  • Help students to prepare their research results for wider dissemination, in the form of seminar papers, conference presentations, reports and publications, in a form suitable for a range of audiences, including academics, stakeholders, policy makers, professionals, service users and the general public

Knowledge and understanding

  • Show advanced knowledge of qualitative, quantitative and computational methodologies in the social science
  • Show advanced knowledge of modelling methodologies, model construction and analysis
  • Show critical understanding of methodological and epistemological challenges of social science and computer modelling
  • Show critical awareness and understanding of the methodological implications of a range of sociological theories and approaches
  • Show understanding the use and value of a wide range of different research approaches across the quantitative and qualitative spectra
  • Show advanced knowledge in data collection, analysis and data driven modelling
  • Show advanced knowledge of policy relevant social science research and modelling
  • Show advanced understanding of the policy process and the role of social science and modelling therein 
  • Show advanced knowledge of statistical modelling

Intellectual / cognitive skills

  • Systematically formulate researchable problems; analyse and conceptualise issues; critically appreciate alternative approaches to research; report to a range of audiences
  • Conceptual development of Social Science and Complexity models to creatively enhance the understanding of social phenomena
  • Integration of qualitative, quantitative and computational data
  • Judgement of problem-methodology match
  • Analyse qualitative and quantitative data drawn both from ‘real world’ and ‘virtual world’ environments, using basic and more advanced techniques, and draw warranted conclusions
  • Develop original insights, questions, analyses and interpretations in respect of research questions
  • Critically evaluate the range of approaches to research

Professional practical skills

  • Formulate, design, plan, carry out and report on a complete research project
  • Use the range of traditional and computational techniques employed in sociological research
  • Ability to produce well founded, data driven and validated computational models
  • Generate both quantitative and qualitative data through an array of techniques, and select techniques of data generation on appropriate methodological bases
  • Employ a quantitative (SPSS) and qualitative software package to manage and analyse data
  • Plan, manage and execute research as part of a team and as a sole researcher
  • Ability to communicate research findings models in social science and policy relevant ways
  • Ability to manage independent research

Key / transferable skills

  • Communicate complex ideas, principles and theories by oral, written and visual means
  • Apply computational modelling methodology to complex social issues in appropriate ways
  • Creativity in approaching complex problems and a the ability of communicating and justifying problem solutions
  • Apply computing skills for computational modelling, research instrument design, data analysis, and report writing and presentation
  • Work to deadlines and within work schedules
  • Work independently or as part of a team
  • Demonstrate experience of a work environment

Thomas Asdell Bursary

Thanks to the generosity of the family of former student Thomas Asdell the department can offer a bursary of £1000 to one new MSC student for 2017/18- please email the course director for details.

Underneath this add:

Thomas Asdell Prize

Each year thanks to the family of Thomas Asdell, the department awards a prize of £200 pounds at graduation to the year’s best MSC student.

Past winners include:

12/13- Hannah Jane Roscoe

13/14- Claire Janet Fraser

14/15-Luke Brian Hubbard

15/16- Joanne Paula Smith


On the MSc Social Science and Complexity, we offer the opportunity to take a research placement during the Easter vacation. This will provide you with first-hand experience of real-life policy research in action.

Organisations in which placements might be possible are a number of consultancies (e.g. Sandtable), government departments (e.g. Defra) and academic research centres (e.g. Centre for Policy Modelling at Manchester).

Residential conference and day conference 

The MSc Social Science and Complexity includes a residential conference, usually in November. The conference provides an opportunity for discussion in an informal atmosphere, around current research issues and debates, technologies and methods at the forefront of social research; it includes lectures from eminent guest speakers and members of staff, seminars and small group discussions. 

The Department also organises a day conference for MSc students at the University, with student presentations and guest speakers. 

Career opportunities 

Computational methods and especially computer-based simulations, are becoming increasingly important in academic social science and policy making.

Graduates might find career opportunities in government departments, consultancies, government departments, consultancies, NGOs and academia.

Global opportunities

We often give our students the opportunity to acquire international experience during their degrees by taking advantage of our exchange agreements with overseas universities.

In addition to the hugely enjoyable and satisfying experience, time spent abroad adds a distinctive element to your CV.

Learn more about opportunities that might be available for this particular programme by using our student exchanges search tool.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Overseas fees
Full-time Sep 2017 £7,500 £17,500
Part-time Sep 2017 £3,800 £8,800

Please note these fees are for the academic year 2017/2018 only. Annual fees will rise by four per cent (rounded up to the nearest £100) for each year of study.

A complete list of all fees for our Masters Programmes

Related programmes

Postgraduate (Taught)

Related departments/schools

Related research areas

Programme leader

Dr Corinna Elsenbroich

Find out more

General enquiries:

+44 (0)1483 681 681

Admissions enquiries:


Programme facts

Type of programme:


Programme length:

  • Full-time: 12 months
  • Part-time: 24 months

Start date:

Sep 2017

Entry Requirements

Usually a First or Upper Second class honours degree or equivalent in a social science, natural science, mathematics, computer science or related subject, or relevant professional experience. We also require evidence of basic numeracy (a GCSE pass at grade C or above or equivalent in maths).

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall, 6.0 in each component (or equivalent)

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.


Loans, scholarships and financial support

There are many streams of funding for postgraduate students including awards, scholarships and loans. Learn more.


For more details

Discounts for Surrey graduates

Thinking of continuing your education at Surrey? As an alumnus of Surrey you may be eligible for a ten per cent discount on our taught Masters programme fees.

For more details

Admissions Information

Our Admissions Policy provides the basis for admissions practice across the University and gives a framework for how we encourage, consider applications and admit students.

Further information for applicants

Postgraduate Study Advice

Steps to Postgraduate Study is an official, independent guide for anyone considering a taught postgraduate course. The guide is produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland.

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Modules listed are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that modules may be subject to teaching availability and/or student demand.

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