The University of Edinburgh
College of Humanities and Social Science
Undergraduate Studies Committee
18 February 2010
HSS UGSC 09/10 3N
Quota on degree transfers to Honours Politics/IR
The Committee is invited to note the arrangements set out in the attached paper.
PROPOSAL FOR QUOTA ON TRANSFERS
to HONOURS POLITICS/IR
21 January 2010
Edinburgh Politics & International Relations (PIR) is a high-pressure subject area,
particularly at honours level. The point is illustrated by dramatic disparities between
subject areas in our School (SSPS) in terms of honours student numbers. The figures
from academic year 2009-10 are:
Subject area Full-time staff Honours courses (no.) Total
Politics/IR 26 25 1132
Sociology 18 19 381
Social Anthropology 13.5 15 546
Social Policy 11.5 6 114
Social Work 10 7 193
As a consequence of student numbers, the administration of teaching and examining
– as well as DOS/pastoral support – is far more onerous in PIR than in other SSPS
Figures available from Registry on total transfers are – to say the least – raw,
ambiguous and require careful interpretation. For example, they suggest that there are
more transfers out of PIR than in over the past 5 years. But this calculation –
perversely – includes students transferring, say, from Economics and Politics to
Politics single honours. Moreover, these figures do not indicate when such transfers
take place. Nor do they take account of transfers out of PIR because of a failure to
achieve the marks needed for entry to honours (the majority of these students retain
Politics as their main subject within the BA), or entry to Politics from overseas
students who come to Edinburgh for ‘freshman year abroad’ and then transfer to PIR
at 2nd year.
What is clear is that UG entry into PIR is less than meritocratic. In particular,
students who would fail to enter PIR as 1st year admissions are able to enter the
University registered in other, less high demand subjects (such as Sociology or Social
Policy) and then transfer to PIR after achieving a minimum grade standard (of 50,
which is not overly demanding) at pre-honours. Meanwhile, we know from
colleagues in Admissions that many very talented students are turned away from PIR
at the admissions stage. This is particularly the case with MA International Relations,
which is now the most difficult of all the University’s degrees to get into. We are
concerned that we turn away students at 1st year who are more deserving than those
who transfer into PIR from other subjects after pre-honours.
Because we lack control over student numbers, we are unable to plan and match
resources to student numbers.
We propose to agree and publicise a quota for entry to honours, and hold a
competitive annual application for places. We would apply these rules for 2010-11 to
give incoming or current 1st year students time to familiarise themselves with the
We would propose – based on transfers into PIR over the past 5 years – that the quota
would be 35 transfers per year.
The following rules/procedures would govern the annual application process:
The application process would be fully in line with the College’s Guidance on
Direction of Studies.
The quota would not be ‘split’ into pre-designated totals for Politics/IR. We would
simply admit the 35 best candidates for whatever degree they applied for.
A transfer into a joint degree (such as Law and Politics from Law single honours)
would be counted as ‘half’ a transfer.
Responsibility for reviewing and deciding on applications for transfer would rest
with the PIR Director of Undergraduate Teaching and the School’s Depute Director
of Undergraduate Teaching, in consultation (if necessary) with the Head of PIR.
Applicants would be asked to submit a personal statement of no more than 100
words. PIR will design a personal statement form that includes guidance on what
applicants should include.
Applications will be considered at a fixed point in the academic year.
Students would be notified as to whether their application has been successful
within a period of 2 months (maximum) after the application deadline.
We would make efforts to publicise the new arrangements widely and frequently to
pre-honours students. The guidance listed below will be communicated to students
the PIR and SSPS web sites (on pages both for prospective and current students);
PIR pre-honours courses course hand-outs and WebCT pages (the relevant courses
are Introduction to Politics & IR, Democracy in Comparative Perspective, Scotland:
Society and Politics, International Cooperation in Europe and Beyond);
the Politics and IR handbooks;
an open meeting held in April and convened by the PIR Director of UG Teaching.
Edinburgh Politics and International Relations (PIR) operates on the basis of a quota
for transfers into PIR from other subject areas. It considers applications for transfers
on a competitive basis from 2nd year students only who qualify under SSPS rules for
entry to honours. Transfers are considered at a fixed point in each academic year:
applications must be received by date TBD
The quota is strictly enforced at 35 transfers per academic year. There is no pre-
designated total for transfers into either MA International Relations or MA Politics.
Applications for transfers into a joint degree with either IR or Politics are considered
as one half of a transfer under the quota.
Decisions on transfer applications are the responsibility of the PIR Director of
Undergraduate Teaching and the SSPS Depute Director of Undergraduate Teaching,
in consultation (if necessary) with the Head of PIR. Decisions will be communicated
to applicants within two months of the application deadline. All decisions on
transfers will be considered final.
In considering transfer requests, we will take into account academic achievement at
University and prior to entry, relevant special circumstances, fit with intended
curricula, and a personal statement of no more than 100 words. For students who
apply to transfer into honours Politics – single or joint honours - we will take into
account whether or not the course ‘Scotland: Society and Politics’ (which is highly
recommended for those who seek to transfer) was taken during 2nd year and how the
applicant performed in the course (except for degree programmes for which the
prescribed 2nd year courses allow no flexibility to take this course).
John Peterson, Head of PIR Wilfried Swenden, PIR Director of