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University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

Science, Technology and Democracy

Course Unit Code

UCIL24141 (10 Credits)

UCIL24151 (20 Credits)

The 20 credit version of this unit (UCIL24151) is not available to Year 1 students.

Course Unit Details

  • Level 2
  • Alliance Manchester Business School


Why are the findings of some scientific studies suppressed by companies? Who should make decisions about how to tackle a new infectious disease like Covid-19, or about the safety of a new technology like self-driving cars? Why do nations choose to spend such large sums of money on fundamental science such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN? How should countries deal with security and espionage concerns in a world where no one nation can be self-suffficient in technology?

This unit explores the relationships between science, technology and democracy, and the changing role of the State in science and technology (S&T) in our societies. The Covid-19 crisis and responses to it illustrate how crucial these relationships are. We will explore key science and technology policy issues and look at wider challenges, such as efforts to improve public engagement in decisions about science and technology, initiatives to encourage more responsible research and innovation, and debates about the apparent rise in fraud and misconduct in science and concerns on the part of some scientists that many published scientific findings may be false.

The issues explored in this course unit are critical to citizenship in a modern science and technology based democracy, yet rarely surface in any rigorous way in mainstream undergraduate science or engineering education. At the same time non-scientists or engineers studying social science or humanities subjects are seldom asked to apply insights from their disciplines to the place of science and technology in modern society. On successful completion of this course unit, students from an S&T or humanities background will have demonstrated a raised awareness of the crucial place of science and technology in modern society and of the associated governance challenges. These challenges are fundamental not only to public policy makers but also to private firms and non-profit organisations. This unit provides insights that will be helpful for future careers in research management, public policy, science communication/public engagement, and science diplomacy.


Science and technology have become central to the policies and to the self-image of modern advanced economies such as the UK and USA, while less developed countries seek to mobilise S&T to meet their own needs. This unit explores how and why this has become the case and what the implications are for our society, our polity, our economy and for the - still growing and increasingly globalised - S&T enterprise itself.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit you will be able to:

  • Identify how the State became involved in funding science, and the changing rationales and debates used to justify that funding
  • Analyse the complexities of the 21st Century scientific enterprise, and its globally distributed nature
  • Recognise the specificities of science policy and the key challenges that stem from these features
  • Discuss the wider role played by science in public policy and regulation, and associated political, economic and ethical debates


Topics covered in previous years:

  • Why is S&T so important?
  • Understanding the modern scientific enterprise
  • Understanding technological change and innovation
  • The surprising politics of taxpayer-funded research
  • Is science too commercialised?
  • Experts, advice and regulation are politicians just following the science?
  • Global versus national dimensions of S&T and 'science diplomacy'
  • Science, technology and the public
  • Is science broken? Fraud, replicability, career and diversity issues, scientific publishing, etc.
  • What is the future for S&T? Automation/AI in research, national security concerns and 'technological sovereignty', 'open science', 'slow science', etc.


10 Credits

  1. Weekly end of module assessments (20%)
  2. 1,500 word report (50%)
  3. 600-800 word policy brief or blog post on a current science policy issue (30%)

20 Credits

  1. Weekly end of module assessments (10%)
  2. 1,500 word report (25%)
  3. 600-800 word policy brief or blog post on a current science policy issue (15%)
  4. 1-2 page project proposal (5%)
  5. 5000 word supervised extended essay project on a science-democracy issue (45%)


The 20 credit version of this unit (UCIL24151) is only available to Year 2 and final year students.

UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

Teaching Staff

Kieron Flanagan and Kate Barker with Simone Turchetti (CHSTM) and guest contributors from across The University of Manchester

Teaching and Learning Methods

10 Credits

  • Approximately 22 hours of guided online study
  • Three one-hour drop-in surgeries at different points in the semester

20 Credits

  • Approximately 22 hours of guided online study
  • Three one-hour drop-in surgeries at different points in the semester
  • Two one-to-one or small group supervision meetings for the 20-credit individual research project



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