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Course overview

We all have to live with the consequences of state actions, for example, whether countries are receptive or hostile to refugees fleeing war and oppression, and whether there is an adequate response to climate change.

International relations form the backdrop to such decisions, and impact our ability as a society to address global problems.

This course analyses the relations between states and through our research-led teaching, builds an understanding of issues including global justice, the causes of war, intelligence and national security, and international human rights.

You will be able to take part in a field trip to institutions that are central to international relations. In the past these have included the Clingandael Institute, Interpol, and the European Parliament.

You'll graduate ready for a range of careers in sectors including public and private sector, the media, politics, government or research.

Why choose this course?

Learn from experts

who are internationally recognised for their research in politics and international relations

Gain real experience

through our placement programme

96%

of our research is of international standard

Course content

This course is made up of a 20-credit core module, 20-credit methodology module and 80 credits of optional modules, plus a 60-credit dissertation.

Modules

Core modules

Dissertation

You will research and write a substantive dissertation within the field of international relations/studies. The dissertation must be between 14,000-16,000 words.

Research Methods in International Relations

This module covers:

  1. Methods and methodology – the logic of qualitative and quantitative research
  2. Theory, metatheory and methodology – how they relate to each other
  3. Quantitative data collection – surveys and polls
  4. Quantitative data analysis – basic statistical analysis
  5. Qualitative data collection – interviews and documents
  6. Qualitative data analysis - process tracing, thematic analysis, discourse analysis
  7. Mixed methodology – pros and cons
  8. Primary and secondary sources – how to use the library
  9. Research questions, design and ethics – practical considerations of research 
  10. Academic skills – how to write a literature review and how to plan a dissertation
Theories and Concepts in International Relations

The War on Iraq and the US and British invasion of the country in 2003 has led to huge tensions in geopolitics. At the same time, the supposed 'threat' of international terrorism and continuing financial turmoil in the world economy have both brought to the fore the global politics of co-operation and confrontation.

Whilst it might be possible to agree on the signifcance of these events, the explanation and/or understanding of them is dependent on prior theoretical choices. The purpose of this module is to make you aware of the diversity of approaches to international theory.

Within international relations theory there exist highly divergent interpretations and applications of key concepts (for example, power, the state, agency, structure, and world order) as well as contested views about the practical purpose underpinning theories of world politics. The overall aim of the module is to provide you with a solid theoretical and conceptual grounding of this diversity. As a result, it will be possible to recognise not only how international theory informs policy-making and practice but also, perhaps, how truly contested the underlying assumptions of world politics are.

Optional modules

Contemporary Warfare

This module aims to explore the dynamics of conflict in the modern world. It will primarily address the increased role that non-state actors play in global security. It will introduce you to empirical analyses of numerous terrorist and insurgent groups, as well as to theoretical understandings of sub-state violence in the post-9/11 world. This module will enable you to engage with the concepts of resistance and rebellion in international relations and widen understanding of the multiple levels of global security.

Covert Action and Unacknowledged Interventions

This module covers:

  • Covert Action
  • Propaganda and Influence Operations
  • Fake News and the Digital Revolution
  • Political Action: Coups, Bribery, and Election Rigging
  • Paramilitary Action: Sponsoring Insurgencies
  • Assassination and Targeted Killing
  • Secrecy in International Relations
  • Covert Signalling and Strategy
  • Political Management of Covert Action
  • Democratic Oversight of Covert Action
  • Measuring Success: Evaluating Secret Policy Impact
EU-China: Trade, Aid and Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century

In this module, you will learn about the state-of-the-art of western engagement with China during the past 35 years (1978-), in particular western trade and development policies towards China and gain insights into the interplay between bilateral and multilateral development agencies and Chinese domestic partner organisations.

You will learn to critique emerging partnerships between international NGOs and domestic civil society organisations and academic institutions. Drawing both on primary and secondary sources you will familiarise yourself with the increasingly lively international debates among Chinese and non-Chinese social and political scientists, educators, media professionals, civil society practitioners, government officials, and lawyers about goals and means of western China engagement.

This module will provide a socially relevant policy curriculum and help you develop necessary skills for a democratic practice of public policy inquiry.

Gender and Political Representation

What does it mean to be represented in politics? This module uses gender as a prism through which to view intersectional debates on political representation. We ask what women’s representation is, what it looks like in political institutions, how gender norms shape access to and participation in political institutions, why women's representation matters for policy outcomes, how it impacts on social movements and voting behaviour, and how it matters in global governance.

Our approach is broadly comparative, focussing on theories and case examples from both high-income countries in the Global North and low- and middle-income countries in the Global South. Our wide selection of countries also allows us to consider what role women’s participation can have in quality of governance and democracy. We recognize that global norm diffusion is key to boosting women’s representation, from gender quotas and gender mainstreaming in the UN's Beijing Platform for Action to the gender equality provisions in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, and our discussions will also be of interest to students of international relations. The module engages with diverse perspectives and methodologies and will enable students to develop transferable skills in analytical literacy that can be applied across the social sciences.

Global Asia

This module examines major themes, debates and issues related to the study of politics and international relations in the specific regional context of Asia.

It will explore key features and themes in Asian politics including political systems, political economy and development, political values and ideas, as well as pan-Asian themes and international relations/global politics including intra-regional, trans-regional and international issues. It combines theoretical perspectives with historical developments and contemporary issues in Asian politics.

Grand Strategy

Grand Strategy examines how states have sought to integrate political, economic, and military goals to preserve their long-term interests. The module analyses a variety of strategies to understand what drives decision making at the highest levels of government in times of war and peace. It draws on scholarship from the fields of international relations, diplomatic history, and strategic studies to provide you with a more nuanced understanding of global politics.

Justice Beyond Borders: Theories of International and Intergenerational Justice

The module introduces and explores the concept of distributive justice on an international and intergenerational basis. Standard accounts of distributive justice typically operate upon the assumption that the relevant principles are framed by, and apply within the borders of the nation-state.

This module examines how justice has traditionally been conceptualised, and challenges the idea of the nation-state as providing limits to the proper operation of principles of justice. Justice between nations, and between generations, as well as between humans and non-humans, forms the focus of this module.

The programme for dealing with these themes includes:

  • international theories of justice, with particular reference to faminie relief and humanitarian intervention
  • intergenerational justice and personal identity
  • 'biocentric' theories of justice
  • animal rights
  • direct political action
Left and Right in Contemporary Politics

The module will focus on the question of the contemporary role of ‘left’ and ‘right’ as structuring principles in a variety of political domains, ranging from party competition, policy formation (domestic as well as foreign policy), public opinion, voting behaviour, media production and consumption, etc.

This question is motivated by two, seemingly contradictory phenomena: on the one hand that many political actors proclaim that left and right are outdated as organising principles, not relevant any more in contemporary politics; and on the other hand the persistent and ubiquitous use of the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ to describe and interpret policies, events, and behaviours.

The module will make use of a variety of theoretical perspectives and empirical materials; the individual or small-group projects may choose to focus on the UK or may be comparative in nature.

Russia and Great Power Politics: From Lenin to Putin

"Russia is a Great Power or it is nothing” – this belief has dominated Russian foreign policy thinking in the past as it does today. The module develops an understanding of Russia’s international politics in historical perspective – from the October Revolution in 1917 until today. Why is being a Great Power so important to Moscow and how successful has the country been in achieving and maintaining this status in the international system? What is Russia’s self-perception as an international actor and how does this contrast with the country’s international image?

Within the framework of relevant theoretical approaches to the study of international relations, the module will focus on a wide range of historical events and developments that will lead to a better understanding of Russia’s role in the world today. Themes to be discussed will include, amongst others:

  • Stalinism and Soviet foreign policy
  • Gorbachev’s ‘New Thinking’
  • Military power and foreign policy
  • Russia and its neighbours
  • The annexation of the Crimea
  • Human rights and international relations
Sex, Celebrity and Alternative Lifestyles
Terrorism and Insurgencies

This module is designed to acquaint you with two of the most important aspects of contemporary international security: terrorism and insurgencies.

Both threats have become more acute in recent years and much intellectual, military and economic capital has been used up in efforts to contain them. In taking this module, you will begin to understand the nature of the threats posed by terrorists and insurgents. You will understand how such threats come about and why individuals are drawn towards exercising the use of force against certain governments, their representatives, and the citizens of those governments. 

You will also understand the nature and scope of counter-insurgency practices. You will discuss what works and what does not and the controversies encountered in implementing certain measures. By the end of the module, you will be conversant with, and have an appreciation of, factors which affect the security of many people in today's world.

The Theory and Practice of Diplomacy

This module focuses on the changing nature of diplomatic practice, together with the range of conceptual tools that seek to explain this international activity. Its focus is contemporary.

It provides a political analysis of new developments such as the public diplomacy, the decline of resident embassies and foreign ministries, and the role of regional/multinational organisations and summitry. It also encourages you to consider future theoretical and practical developments in this field.

The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue for information on available modules. This content was last updated on Monday 09 November 2020.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Workshops

How you will be assessed

  • Coursework
  • Dissertation
  • Examinations
  • Reports

Contact time and study hours

A typical 20-credit module includes 22 hours of contact hours. Outside of this time, you will be expected to conduct independent study such as reading, researching, and writing.

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2021 entry.

Undergraduate degree2:1 (or international equivalent)

Applying

Our step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about applying.

How to apply

Fees

Qualification MA
Home / UK £9,250
International £20,000

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland starting your course in the 2021/22 academic year, you will pay international tuition fees.

This does not apply to Irish students, who will be charged tuition fees at the same rate as UK students. UK nationals living in the EU, EEA and Switzerland will also continue to be eligible for ‘home’ fee status at UK universities until 31 December 2027.

For further guidance, check our Brexit information for future students.

Additional costs

As a student on this course, you should factor some additional costs into your budget, alongside your tuition fees and living expenses.

You should be able to access most of the books you'll need through our libraries, though you may wish to purchase your own copies or more specific titles which could cost up to £120.

Please note that these figures are approximate and subject to change.

Funding

There are many ways to fund your postgraduate course, from scholarships to government loans.

The University also offers masters scholarships for international and EU students. Our step-by-step guide contains everything you need to know about funding postgraduate study.

Postgraduate funding

Careers

We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students.

Expert staff can help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.

More than 1,500 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.

Graduate destinations

This course will prepare you for a career in a wide range of fields, such as national government, international organisations, international trade, and non-governmental organisations.

Many students take an active role in politics throughout their time in the school, and after. Politics is an ideal academic discipline if you are interested in a career in politics or government. Other students go into a range of careers, including management, marketing, teaching and broadcasting.

Recent graduate destinations include Channel 4, the European Union, GCHQ, Reuters and the Thailand National Police Department.

Career progression

90.7% of postgraduates from the School of Politics and International Relations secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation. The average annual salary for these graduates was £26,593.*

* HESA Graduate Outcomes 2020, using methodology set by The Guardian. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

We offer a range of local, national and international placement opportunities, which may be paid or voluntary, part-time alongside your studies or longer placements during University vacations.

Two masters graduates proudly holding their certificates
" Working closely with senior representatives of the Afghan National Security Forces, the Afghan government, senior NATO officers and diplomats gave me first-hand insights into the challenges of international assistance, stabilisation and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. I have drawn upon that practical experience to design and teach my modules, including inviting military officers and diplomats to discuss their experiences with students. "
Edward Burke, Assistant Professor in International Relations

Related courses

The University has been awarded Gold for outstanding teaching and learning (2017/18). Our teaching is of the highest quality found in the UK.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a national grading system, introduced by the government in England. It assesses the quality of teaching at universities and how well they ensure excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study.

This content was last updated on Monday 09 November 2020. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur given the interval between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.