Get a global outlook with a degree in politics and international studies

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The Independent Online

Courses on politics and international studies at university have traditionally focused on political theories, the government of powerful states, and the electoral process in Western democracies. Theories of sovereignty, the social contract, power, property and democracy are considered central to an understanding of politics, along with a knowledge of ideologies such as liberalism, socialism, Marxism and conservatism.

The study of politics and international studies has become much more international and even global in scope. The curriculum reflects concerns about global warming, the international environment, terrorism and ethnic conflict, and how states and international bodies are trying to manage these crises. There has thus been a mushrooming of courses related to processes of globalisation and regionalisation. These include the politics of international trade, security, ethnic conflict, terrorism, migration, environmental justice, non-governmental organisations, and diplomacy. Changes have also been in response to student demand for courses on the European Union, China, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

Demand for university places to study politics and international studies is high and attracts students from all over the world, which means that good grades at GCSE and A-level are essential. Many have standard offers of AAB/ABB plus an AS-level of C or better. Students taking the International Baccalaureate will need 34/35 points. Courses at university are generally taught through a mixture of lectures, seminars and independent study. In the first year, students will be introduced to the key concepts, theories, institutions and processes of politics and international relations. After that, courses become more specialised and have a greater range of choice.

Modules can be assessed by examinations, long essays, project work and coursework. Normally a certain proportion of assessment has to be by examination. Students may be allowed to do a module by a dissertation of up to 10,000 words.

Some politics and international studies graduates will be interested in pursuing careers in closely related areas such as party politics, local government, local radio, journalism, pressure groups and non-governmental organisations. Those with language skills and high ambitions may pursue jobs with the likes of the Foreign Office, the European Commission, the United Nations. Careers in the Civil Service are popular with many politics students. A large number pursue further study by doing a Masters degree and those who wish to pursue academic careers will need to enrol on a doctoral programme. Many will enrol on postgraduate training courses for teaching, the law, or administration.

Students are able to study politics as part of a joint degree with other subjects such as history, economics, philosophy and sociology. In these cases, different careers may be an option. Economics with politics and international studies is a good basis for a job in the City in London, while politics and a language will provide a good foundation for applications to international organisations.

For those with a passionate interest in politics, a degree in politics and international studies generally proves an excellent route to a satisfying career.

Zig Layton-Henry is professor of politics at the University of Warwick,


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Vanee Permal, 21, is in the final year of a politics degree at the University of Warwick

I studied politics, psychology and English literature at A-level and drama at AS-level.

Politics affects everyone and is forever developing; I wanted to study a subject which would be both exciting and a challenge. Also, being particularly interested in international issues such as immigration and globalisation, I felt a degree in politics would best serve my interests.

The course involves practical work where students organise group presentations and debates. There is also the opportunity to study abroad. In terms of optional modules, there is a lot of choice. Personally, I have studied subjects such as citizenship, ethnic conflict and political violence.

The course is very flexible. Most modules allow students in their second and third years to choose between the option of 100 per cent exam or 50 per cent coursework, 50 per cent exam.

I am applying to do a PGCE in social science next year, and I would love to be a politics and psychology A-level teacher. In the short term, I would like to work with refugees and do some volunteer work while travelling.