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Master of Social Work (MSW)

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The Master of Social Work (MSW) is a post-professional degree for experienced social and community workers. The degree is intended for practitioners who wish to develop their skills and knowledge in the field of Social and Community Work through specialised study, consistent with principles of applied professional training.

The MSW requires at least two years of full-time study or its equivalent in part-time study, consisting of four postgraduate papers (including one compulsory one on research methods), and a 60-point dissertation (20,000 words). The degree enables you to engage with current debates, research, policy and practice in your chosen field.

The Master of Social Work (MSW) is also available through Distance Learning within New Zealand.

Please note: The MSW does not entitle you to registration as a social worker. It is a post-professional degree for people who already have a registration qualification plus two years' experience.

Applying for the MSW

Applicants are assessed at the programme level, based on applicants' transcripts and CV. Sometimes a referee will be contacted in order to confirm 'competent practice'. The applicant's practising certificate, registration number or equivalent needs to be provided.

Applicants do not have to hold an Aotearoa New Zealand social work qualification to be eligible. You can either hold a New Zealand qualification, or a qualification that entitles you to the equivalent of registration in your own country.

Academic requirements

Since this is advanced study, a grade average of B or higher is required in the final year of your undergraduate degree.

If you don't have a B average, you may still be able to enrol in a certificate of proficiency, that is, one or two papers that enable you to increase your grade average. Those papers can then be credited to the Master of Social Work.

Paper availability

Not all listed SOWK Master of Social Work papers are available every year. Papers are offered in line with staff availability and the needs across the two programmes the 500 level papers are offered in – the MSW and the MSCW(applied). There are between 2 and 4 papers offered each year in addition to the HUMS 502 research methods paper, which is offered every year.

Note: Once you apply and are admitted to the programme, you will be able to enrol in the papers offered in that year.

Dissertation topics and supervision

Once you have completed all four papers, you will be ready to enrol in the dissertation (SOWK 590). Up until then, the MSW Co-ordinator will be listed as your supervisor in eVision.

Once you enrol in the paper SOWK 590, however, the MSW Co-ordinator will contact you to arrange a supervisor specific to your topic. You are welcome to contact the MSW Co-ordinator at any time to discuss your topic ideas before enrolling in SOWK 590.


Associate Professor Emily Keddell
Master of Social Work Co-ordinator

Social and Community Work Programme


Regulations for the degree of Master of Social Work (MSW)

Note: The Postgraduate Diploma in Social Welfare may be taken as a stand-alone qualification or may be awarded as an exit qualification to students who have passed the papers component of the Master of Social Work programme but do not complete the thesis component.

  1. Admission to the Programme

    1. Admission to the programme shall be subject to the approval of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Humanities).
    2. Every applicant shall        
      1. possess an approved professional social services qualification that entitles them to registration with the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board, or international equivalent, and
      2. have at least two years' proven competence working in the social welfare field, and
      3. present evidence of ability for advanced level academic study.
    Note: Applicants who are not graduates or who have not achieved grades averaging B or better will normally be expected to enrol for a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Welfare or Diploma for Graduates or for approved papers for Certificate of Proficiency.

  2. Structure of the Programme

    1. The programme shall consist of four papers to a total value of 120 points in the University of Otago and a dissertation. The four papers must comprise of HUMS 502 or equivalent, two papers from SOWK 504-523, one further paper chosen from SOWK 504-523 or any approved paper at 400-level or higher offered by the University of Otago or another New Zealand tertiary education institution; and SOWK 590 Dissertation worth 60 points. Students are encouraged to complete the papers component of the programme before embarking on the dissertation as the programme's second component.
    2. A candidate may not present a dissertation that has been accepted for another degree.
    3. The programme of study, the topic for the dissertation and the supervision of the research shall be approved by the Head of the Social and Community Work Programme.
    4. A candidate who has completed the requirement for the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Welfare or equivalent, shall be exempted from the papers for the degree programme and shall be required to complete only the dissertation.

  3. Duration of the Programme

    A candidate shall normally follow a programme of study for the equivalent of not less than 12 months of full-time study and not more than five years of full-time study. Exceptions shall be permitted only with the approval of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Humanities).

  4. Examination of Research Dissertation

    1. The Head of Programme (or nominee) shall appoint a Convenor of Examiners who shall oversee the examination of each dissertation.
    2. The research dissertation shall be examined by at least two examiners, one of whom may be external to the University.
    3. Where both examiners are internal to the University, the examined dissertation shall be subject to external moderation.
    4. The candidate's supervisor shall not be an examiner.
    5. Each examiner shall supply a written report on the research dissertation and recommend a mark and grade on the basis of the work as submitted.
    6. A candidate shall be permitted to revise and resubmit a thesis for examination once only.
    7. Where the examiners cannot agree on a result, the Head of Programme concerned should so report to the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Humanities) or nominee who shall arrive at a decision after consulting a referee who should normally be external to the University.
  5. Withdrawal from the Programme

    Where a candidate withdraws from the programme after completing the prescribed papers but does not complete the dissertation, the Pro- Vice Chancellor (Humanities) or nomine may recommend the award of the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Welfare, or determine which papers shall be credited towards the Diploma.

    Note: Students enrolled for endorsed options for the degree of Master of Social Welfare (the former name of the degree of Master of Social Work) may complete their programmes under the regulations in force when they commenced study for the degree, provided they do so by the end of 2014.

This information must be read subject to the statement on our Copyright & Disclaimer page.

Regulations on this page are taken from the 2024 Calendar and supplementary material.

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