Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies


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The Independent Online

What courses? Arabic; Arabic studies; Middle Eastern studies; Middle Eastern languages; Asian and Middle Eastern studies; Islamic studies; Muslim cultures and civilization.

What do you come out with? A BA, most likely, unless you’re combining it with a science subject, in which case you get a BSc. Scottish students graduate with an MA after four years.

Why do it? "Taking Arabic and Middle East studies not only allows students to study a beautiful and intricate language from scratch but also to explore its long literary heritage and the historical and cultural contexts in which it developed and operates today. Whilst requiring application, Arabic fascinates students who love languages. Middle East studies covers a wide range of academic disciplines whose precise character will vary from university to university, extending across history, international relations and the social and political sciences. These all offer ways of thinking about and engaging with the Middle East, all the more compelling given the dramatic reconfigurations presently underway." - Dr Tim Greenwood, chair of mediaeval history and Middle East studies, University of St Andrews

What's it about? If you’re studying Arabic specifically, it’s mainly a language course, but degrees such as Arabic studies and Middle Eastern studies mix a number of different disciplines to give students a general flavour of this historically rich and increasingly important region and its many cultures. Despite this, Middle Eastern studies degrees generally include a minimum of one Middle Eastern language (including Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish or Armenian), and language courses often branch out into cultural studies as well. Topics typically include the history, politics, classical literature and religion of the region in question. Birmingham, UCLAN and Middlesex all have courses geared specifically at exploiting the increasingly important economic role the Middle East plays in the world today, where you study Arabic alongside international business.

Study options: At most universities, a year studying or working in your chosen region is compulsory, although some will offer the course as a three-year BA with a short ‘study trip’ to the Middle East at some point. In Scotland, courses last four years, and therefore you’re likely to be studying for five years if you take a year abroad into account.

What will I need to do it? While many may choose to pursue studies in the Middle East because they have previous experience in the area, universities tend not to require students to have any ability in Arabic or their chosen language. However, evidence of previous study in another foreign language is often encouraged, so universities can gage linguistic capability. When it comes to grades, for the top institutions it’s tough - SOAS and St Andrews both ask for AAB at A-level, while Cambridge requires A*AA and for Oxford it’s AAA. At Westminster, you can get in with BBC, and the Islamic College for Advanced Studies will consider applicants with as few as 140 UCAS points, if they can show a background knowledge of Islam and Arabic language.

What are my job prospects? Good, in terms of options, anyway. Many students are attracted to such a degree because of the demand for graduates caused by the Middle East’s increasing political and economical importance. Students may find themselves going into business, finance and diplomacy, as well as in humanitarian aid, higher education and the media. Graduates with a language qualification under their belt are particularly desirable, and often find positions in Arab companies with subsidiaries in the East and the West. Middle Eastern and African studies came sixth for graduate salaries in The Times' Good University Guide 2012, with pay averaging approximately £25,000 per year. However, according to the same guide, 11 per cent of graduates were unemployed sixth months after finishing, and only 30 per cent were in graduate level jobs.

Where’s best to do it? Oxford came top overall in the Complete University Guide 2012. Cambridge just missed out to St Andrews for the second place spot, although it did come top for student satisfaction. Edinburgh, Durham and SOAS all came out well too.

Related degrees: African studies; history; politics and international studies; classics and classical civilization; theology and religious studies.