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Human resource management in context

In this module you will examine how HR policies and practices operate within multiple tiers and manifestations of economic, political and social context - at macro (societal and international) and micro (organisational) levels. In addition to developing analytical and practical skills in this specific domain, the module breaks new ground by incorporating resourcing and talent management as extended examples of HR practice and to illustrate how an intelligent understanding and reading of context by skilled HR professionals can help contribute to more informed choices.

Vocational relevance

This module is part of a qualification that is intended to provide a route to professional membership of the CIPD if you wish to develop a career in HR management. It will also provide training in research and academic skills if you want to develop an academic career in the field of HR management.

More generally, by studying a postgraduate business qualification you can expect your salary to increase and for it to have a positive impact on your career progression, as well as bringing improvements to their organisation.


B864 is a compulsory module in our:

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

In this second module of the MSc you will have the opportunity to locate HR policies and practices within the economic, political and social contexts within which they operate. In addition, you will also examine HR policies and practices in the organisational context and this includes, for example, how HR specialists are situated within the managerial team. This organisational context may enable HR specialists to exercise considerable influence and autonomy or conversely it may mean that HR as a specialism is highly constrained.

This module will provide you with an understanding of the environmental contexts of contemporary work organisations within which managers, HR professionals and workers interact. It examines how organisation leaders respond to a range of dynamic challenges in arenas as diverse as the competitive market environment, the legal and regulatory framework, the changing social and technological context.

You will be able to explore how organizational leaders, those in the HR function and line managers with HR responsibilities, need to recognise that corporate decisions and HR choices are often shaped by forces beyond their immediate control.

HRM whether at the strategic or operational levels is essentially about choices and choices take place within a constellation of contexts. The choices are myriad: for example, what size and type of workforce to engage? What mix of skills the workforce should have? Whether to construct a workforce profile based around permanent full time employees or some mix of temporary, part time, self-employed, contracted, outsourced, off-shored labour. The answers to these sorts of questions (and these are just a few of many, many, more) usually depends upon an understanding of the business strategy and the organizational mission. These in turn need to be attuned to economic, political and social contexts.

The module explores and clarifies the nature of Human Resource Management Strategy; it then goes on to examine the changing nature of the key environmental (contextual) forces within which such strategizing takes place. The interaction between strategy and context is the focal concern of the module.

In this module you will explore the skills needed for HR specialists to be effective in the complex and multi-layered contexts as outlined above. You will evaluate recent research findings in the field of human resource management and seek to assess their implications for HR practitioners.

You will be able to make constructive comparisons with practice in different sectors and different countries. You will be using a range of cases studies and will be able to draw from these learning about the range of possibilities and the factors which may constrain or allow adoption of these ideas.

You will learn

  • How HR practice and HR professionals are located within contemporary managerial and organisational contexts;
  • How HR strategies are related to business strategies;
  • How HR strategies are situated within different market and quasi-market contexts, how the state and public sector contexts influence HR strategy and practice;
  • The dynamic nature of global competition; 
  • Social and technological trends and their significance for HRM practice;
  • The importance of regulatory, legal and governmental factors for HRM;
  • Local, national and international labour markets;
  • How to construct resourcing and talent management strategies for different segments of the workforce, and an ability to contribute to diversity management and flexible working; 
  • Skills to manage recruitment, selection and induction activities effectively and efficiently while operating within legal frameworks; 
  • How to plan for short and long term talent deployment, for succession planning and to use information on employee turnover as the basis for developing staff retention strategies.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Your tutor will help you with the study material, mark and comment on your assignments and provide advice and guidance. You will contact your tutor by email, telephone or via your tutor group forum on the B864 website.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Course work includes

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Future availability

Human resource management in context starts once a year – in May. This page describes the module that will start in May 2022 when we expect it to start for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    This is the second module in our MSc in Human Resource Management and therefore you must hold a BA/BSc degree awarded by a recognised university, or equivalent. Due to the defined study pattern for this qualification you must study The human resource professional (B863) before taking this module. 

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Outside the UK

    This module has a central focus on how practice is shaped and limited by a range of contextual factors. National context is one such major factor and the module consequently attends closely to international comparisons.


    Start End England fee Register
    07 May 2022 Oct 2022 £1660.00

    Registration closes 14/04/22 (places subject to availability)

    May 2022 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Future availability

    Human resource management in context starts once a year – in May. This page describes the module that will start in May 2022 when we expect it to start for the last time.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    Study materials

    What's included

    An extensive variety of specially written resources presented in different media (print and online) and designed exclusively for this module. Audio-visual material, published articles, case studies and access to The Open University library.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Other alternative formats of the course materials may be available in the future.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.