Social Policy and Welfare States in the 21st Century (Online)


This course offers an introduction to social policy and the comparative study of welfare states. What is the ‘welfare state' and what functions does it serve? Why and how do welfare states vary across countries and over time? What are the biggest challenges that welfare states face in the 21st century?

Listen to Bastian Betthaeuser talking about the course:

This course discusses the origins, development and functions of welfares states in high-income countries. Taking an international comparative approach, the course discusses theories, empirical research and policy challenges in a range of different countries. What is ‘the welfare state' and what purpose does it serve? How can we measure and explain welfare state change? What are the key similarities and differences between welfare states in different countries? How are welfare states affected by changing family structures, labour markets, population ageing, and migration? The course will provide a comprehensive discussion of these and other questions thus enabling students to critically engage with public and scholarly debates in this field.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

Part I The Welfare State
1. The Study of Social Policy and the Welfare State
2. The Development of Welfare States
3. Worlds of Welfare: Typologies of Welfare States
4. Analysing Welfare State Change: From Retrenchment to Recalibration
5. New Social Risks

Part II New Challenges for the Welfare State
6. Globalisation and the Welfare State
7. Changing Family Structures and Family Policy
8. Changing Labour Markets
9. Population Ageing
10. Migration and the Welfare State


This course is accredited and you are expected to take the course for credit. To be awarded credit you must complete written contributions satisfactorily. Successful students will receive credit, awarded by the Board of Studies of Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. The award will take the form of 10 units of transferable credit at FHEQ level 4 of the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS). A transcript detailing the credit will be issued to successful students. Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Description Costs
Home/EU fee £270.00
Non-EU fee £295.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Ms Anne-Marie Jeannet

Course aims

This course aims to:
- provide an introduction to theories, empirical research and debates about the origins, evolution, and functions of welfare states in different countries
- discuss how we can classify and analyse different welfare states in a comparative way, and how we can measure and explain welfare state change
- give an overview of research and policy debates about “new social risks”
- Review and critically discuss how welfare states are related to globalisation, labour markets, family structures, population change and migration
- enable participants to critically discuss key questions concerning the functioning and development of welfare states in different countries thus enabling them to develop their own perspectives and contribute to current public debates about welfare provisioning

Teaching methods

There are several kinds of activity that students will be asked to complete while on this course. Some of these will be ongoing throughout the course, whereas others will relate to the topic of a particular week. Activity types include:

- Readings of book chapters and articles
- Listening/watching podcasts/vodcasts
- Group discussions in unit-specific group forums (e.g. discussing a specific case study / policy)
- Interactive analysis and debate through our ‘InfoMap’ tool which allows students to answer questions or gather information from the perspective of a particular country and share this information with other students via a map interface.
- Participating in online surveys and polls
- Adding terms to glossary wiki
- Adding a resource to the 'resource bank'
- Reading of newspaper clippings / webpages

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.