Master's in Social Work (MSW)

Best Schools: TISS, DSSW, JMI, MSSW, Nirmala Niketan and ISSW, among others
Eligibility: Graduation (40% to 55%, depending on schools; see our Ready Reckoner on page 110)
Admission Requirements: Entrance Test, Group Discussion and Interviews
Academic Year: July to March
Special Features: Concurrent Practice (normally two days a week)
Fees: Vary from Rs 700 (Osmania University) to Rs 36,940 per annum (TISS); some private institutions may charge even more
Specialisations: Some offer, others don’t
Batch Size: Varies
Professional Council: Still not in place

IT is impossible to keep pace with Professor Sanjai Bhatt.  As the Head of the Department of Social Work at Delhi University effortlessly moves across the history, geography, and the anatomy of social work education in India, I realise even Master's in Social Work (MSW) – the course I am reviewing – has a lot of catching up to do.  The course, says the professor, “is still not fully professionalised in the country. It is undergoing birth pangs. In some sense, the fragmentation that characterises the sector also seeps into the education.”

MSW was first launched in India as far back as 1936, at the Dorabji Tata School of Social Work — now Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Over the decades, MSW has evolved into various avatars, just like its school of origin. The ‘soft MBA’, as Reverend Prasant, HoD of Rajagiri School of Social Work refers to it in jest, is currently taught in 300-odd colleges and universities in India. Some of these institutes call the degree MSW, in others the nomenclature is MA (Social Work). Some schools like TISS offer a range of specialisations. Others, like the venerable Delhi School of Social Work (DSSW), still swear by a single integrated course, after which students specialise on the job, rather than through a learning stage. But DSSW remains the best bet, as its student Vinod  Koshti  suggests, “for anybody wanting to work in the social sector”. 

What is MSW?
Social work is a professional discipline, where the teaching is informed by practice. As Dr Christopher, director of the NGO, Centre for Human Development and Alternatives, says, “The degree offers the student an understanding of problems in diverse social sectors, and equips him or her with the techniques to address them as well.” Adds Rev Prasant, “It is a mellowed down MBA. The programme trains one to deliver social services professionally.” “It basically uses concepts of modern management and social science to solve and ameliorate social problems,” concludes Dr Anila, an independent researcher.
MSW: What is in a name?
The degree is widely known as MSW, but leading schools in the country have moved beyond that nomenclature. Both TISS and DSSW, the premier institutions, offer an MA (Social Work), as do a host of other universities. At the last count, the course was being offered under either name by 300-odd institutions and universities. As Rev Prasant says, “The offerings differ, depending on the nature of the institution, level of autonomy, and vision that informs the programme.”

For instance, a Deemed University like TISS has a tremendous independence in framing the curriculum. So, in response to changing demands of the profession, TISS has reframed the MA (Social Work) curriculum, and offers a good selection of specialisations. Vinod Koshti, a researcher at DSSW agrees. “In my opinion, TISS is one university which is moving ahead from the development  to human  rights paradigm,” he says. Autonomous institutions like Indore School of Social Work (ISSW) also have some leeway. As Dr Jacob Thudipara, acting Principal, ISSW, Indore says, “We review the curriculum at least once in two years, and if necessary, once a year.”

It is the departments and colleges affiliated to universities that suffer. Dr Prasant,an alumnus of TISS, rues that the syllabus in state universities do not change fast enough to keep pace with evolving realities. Amit Pokkiriyal, a former student of Agra University, says, ”At least, initially, our exposure levels were lower, than the metro guys.”  These schools suffer from untrained faculty, lack of resources, outdated syllabus, and a shortage of learning material.

Another perennial debate is about specialisations. John Samuel, an MSW,currently working with an NGO, Jan Adesh, kills the debate. “When I was a student, I felt we are losing out by not having a specialisation. But, you see, there are just a few policy and advocacy jobs requiring specialisation. Most NGOs, where jobs are aplenty need someone with a fire in the belly for the work at hand. At the ground level, specialisations don’t take you far.”

Best schools: Is there a magic bullet?
Opinion appears to be divided over the best MSW  schools. Faculty members we spoke to  said  that there was not much difference between the schools, in terms of curriculam and faculty. But students and recruiters were much more forthcoming. A caste system exists even in this socially sensitive field. Students from leading institutions like TISS, DSSW and other metro-based institutions do get preferential treatment. Kunjumon, a student from a Tier-II town, seethes in anger. “I was offered Rs 8,000, while an applicant from MSSW was offered Rs 12,000 for the same job.” Such differences  in salaries  is common, says Supriya Chotani, who has worked with quite a few NGOs and other development agencies. What furthers the divide is the level of awareness that  metro-based schools such as  TISS and DSSW offer. So if you can, it does make sense to join a school in a metropolitan city.

The job market
The job market is dynamic and varied. Grassroots level jobs give you a tremendous high at times. It is back-breaking work and pay can be quite low, even after long years of experience. Vargeese  Melaveetil, a veteran with  over  20 years of experience in NGOs says, “Salaries, even   after 10 years, could sometimes be as low as Rs 18,000 per month”. It is the funding and policy agencies that corner the cake. If you work for an IDRC or an Action Aid, salary levels could be decent, and as you go higher, very good. An advisor to Action Aid might take home anything above Rs 1,00,000 per month as salary. But these sought-after jobs are few and  competitive

Should I do the course?
That’s a tough question. As Dr Bhatt, says, “If a cushy job with loads of money is your idea of bliss, then no.” But if you are looking for ways to improve the lot of people around you, if you are comfortable with reasonable pay and growth, if you seek meaningful work, then this is the profession for you. As Joseph, a first year student, sums up, “ I may not be able to change the world, but the possibility that the degree I earn can be of some use to  the members of my community as well is in itself a wonderful payback.” Amen!

Leading and learning on the field is the primary job of an MSW graduate






Faculty of Social Work

Jamia Millia



 Varies across institutions as follows:


  •  Criminology and Justice

  •  Community Health

  •  Mental Health

  •  Urban Development

  •  Psychiatric Social Work

  •  Community Development

  •  Correctional Administration



Deemed University



Tata Institute of Social Sciences

Deemed University




Nirmala Niketan




Delhi School of Social Work

Delhi University




No named specialisations.




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