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International Relations MA

Course Description

This MA programme is especially designed for those with an interdisciplinary background who wish to more fully comprehend core issues and approaches within International Relations post 9/11.

At the dawn of a third millennium, the pace of integration among the world’s regions and populations is breathtaking. Powerful forces – the emergence of transnational economies, the lightning speed of global communications, and the movement of peoples, cultures and ideas into new settings – are reshaping notions of citizenship, society and community.

At the same time, however, older religious hatreds, sectarian violence and new fundamentalisms are recasting existing states and disintegrating individual, national and international notions of security. Such dynamics demand that we rethink why we are and where we are today, but also reconsider historical interpretations of past change within and among the world’s regions. To understand the global condition requires a thorough and sensitive understanding of diverse interests, ethnicities and cultures. The purpose of this new postgraduate award in International Relations (IR) is to foster within students a global perspective and encourage a multicultural awareness of contemporary problems.

Why study with us?

IR is a vital and dynamic field of intellectual inquiry that offers an interdisciplinary exploration of human interaction. It is not so much a single discipline; rather it is a study of a particular type of behaviour whose comprehension requires the insight and methods of a number of disciplines. Although your MA is set within a strong political and sociological framework, the course is enhanced through the support of Law, History, and American Studies.

IR provides an opportunity to engage with and adapt to changing international, national and regional realities post 9/11. The security implications of the events of 9/11, and the impact of global developments on everyday lives, are present in the public mind as never before. The Palestinian question, western intervention and civil war in Iraq, nuclear proliferation, international crime and terrorism are just some of the recurrent themes that have taken on a new urgency and demand our attention.

IR develops critical awareness, conceptual understanding, sound research methods, and originality in the application of knowledge. Your MA will provide you with an appropriate set of intellectual skills to enable more informed and effective participation in an ‘ever-changing’ global context. Current social, political and economic globalisation demonstrates the inexorable importance of the ‘international’ and the increased relevance of this knowledge dimension at both academic and practice levels.

Course content

International Relations is a vital and dynamic field of intellectual inquiry that offers an interdisciplinary exploration of human interaction. Students undertaking the course will come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and it is not assumed that all students will have similar abilities or skills. It is not our aim to encourage further specialisation along the line of a student’s first degree but rather to complement existing knowledge and build upon transferable capabilities. Overall this is a unique opportunity for graduates both with and without International Relations training to study at a very high level for a postgraduate degree with global relevance.

Our aim is to foster a set of intellectual skills to enable more informed and effective participation in an ‘ever-shrinking’ global society. This goal is to provide a rigorous and intellectually challenging foundation in approaches to the study and practice of international relations while developing an understanding and sensitivity to key issues in diverse areas of the modern world. The MA offers an exciting opportunity for graduates to develop their understanding of international affairs both theoretically and through their own or others’ experience.

Course modules (16/17)

-International Relations Theory: Great Debates, New Directions
-Major Organisations in the International Order
-Methodology and Research Design in International Relations
-The Peoples’ Republic of China: Foreign Policy Dilemmas
-European Integration
-America after 9/11
-The Politics of Latin American Development
-The International Politics of the Post-Soviet Space
-The Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa
-Politics of International Communications
-The International Relations of the Pacific Rim
-The Political Economy of East African Development
-Comparative Transnational Criminology
-European and International Human Rights
-National Security, Terrorism and The Rule of Law
-Political Economies of International Development
-The Politics of Aid

Methods of Learning

The Master’s award in International Relations is designed to provide a rounded education and broadly based qualification for UK graduates and equivalently qualified foreign students, particularly those who lack an international dimension through their previous study. It is awarded after completion of a mixture of taught courses and a programme of research. The MA lasts at least one year (if taken full time, two years part time), and is to be taken by persons with honours degrees (or equivalent achievement). Also on offer (and commensurate with this standard of education) are advanced short courses leading to Postgraduate Certificates and Postgraduate Diplomas in IR.

In common with all universities, certain elements of the course are compulsory and other elements chosen. To be awarded the MA in International Relations each student must achieve 180 credits at Master’s level (here called CATS (Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme)). This includes 40 CATS of compulsory modules in International Theory, 20 CATS of compulsory methodology and research training, and a 60 CATS compulsory dissertation of between 15,000 and 20,000 words. Compulsory modules define the intellectual basis of IR as a multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary subject while providing a firm foundation in theoretical issues and debates. They also develop the cognitive skills for specialist study and the practical skills for research. You gain the remaining 60 CATS through a wide choice of designated modules. All modules build upon the research and teaching expertise of individual tutors, and cover a wide range of themes in diverse areas of the globe – not just North America and Western Europe but the Middle East, Latin America, China and the Pacific Rim among others. A key aim is to develop a sensitivity and awareness of varied geo-political settings while comprehending the impact of change upon states, societies and individuals. Students are taught to discuss international problems to a high standard while applying the ways of analysis adopted by IR scholars to a range of issues.

We hope all candidates might be encouraged and enthused to achieve the MA. Yet we also recognise that some students may prefer to study in ‘stages’ – funds or time permitting. This is why we provide a named Postgraduate Certificate and a named Postgraduate Diploma. A Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations is available if students successfully complete 120 CATS points but do not complete the 60 CATS dissertation. Alternatively, there is the opportunity to achieve a Postgraduate Certificate in International Relations by successfully gaining 60 CATS points including 40 CATS of IR theory but excluding 20 CATS of methodology/research and of course the 60 CATS dissertation module.

All of this gives you, the student, the added flexibility of opting in or out of awards as personal or financial circumstance change. It gives the added incentive of an identifiable and quantifiable award at each stage of study while consistently encouraging and widening your participation in postgraduate enterprise. This strategy also enables an individual to complete their study within a timescale suitable to their own specific needs. Multiple points of entry (February and September) over a one or two year cycle further facilitate this.


At Master’s level study, we aim to encourage student-led debates and exchange of ideas. Modules will typically alternate fortnightly between classes on campus and online learning activities. Each module incorporates a variety of teaching methods in class, including workshops, student presentations and discussions of primary and secondary materials (such as film, images, documentary sources and online resources). Online learning activities include online seminars, discussion boards, podcasts and blogs.

Full-time students get six hours of timetabled contact per week, part-time students have three hours. This does not include individual tutorials or dissertation supervision.

Independent study and assessment time equate to approximately 18 hours per week full time or nine hours part time.


Your MA in International Relations is assessed through a variety of types of coursework and the dissertation. Assessment items include essays, literature reviews, presentations and research reports. There are no examinations. All coursework reflects the high level of intellectual demands associated with a taught MA and has the aim of developing a range of oral and written skills. You need to be prepared to commit yourself to substantial reading and thought for successful completion of an MA. This time includes preparation for assignments, seminars and the dissertation element.

Although teaching strategies vary according to individual modules, considerable emphasis is placed upon student-based learning in order to foster effective critical participation and discussion as overall course objectives. This means lectures and tutor-led teaching provide overviews of major theories and themes but the seminar or workshop is where learning is consolidated, exemplified and used in more student-centred contexts.

Modules typically make use of current case study material, video teaching media as well as practical exercises and the more traditional lecture and seminar activities. Tutorials are very important in facilitating and directing the learning of cognitive skills on a personal basis – by working within the context of your individual needs, appropriate goals can be set, for example, in relation to essay preparation and feedback.

At each stage you are encouraged to plan and organise your own learning. This allows greater time to be spent on critical evaluation – so reinforcing and extending your learning experience. Mixed methods of teaching and learning are utilised in seminars to achieve aims and outcomes, including tutor input, structural discussions, small group work, presentations, guided reading of designated course material, and wider reading appropriate to Master’s level. Student-led presentations and small group work develop your transferable skills and enhance your capacity for critical reflection. The academic essay has a central function in every module in allowing you to engage with and reflect upon the key skills required to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in IR. Coursework for all modules, but particularly in methods modules, allows students to acquire skills that they will then use in the dissertation.

Facilities and Special Features

-Strong staff expertise.
-Enthusiastic teaching team providing a supportive atmosphere for research.
-The core modules consider classic texts and the very latest thinking on international theory.
-Focus on the study of distinct global regions not just Europe, North America or the West.
-All students are assigned a personal tutor and will be encouraged to form study groups with colleagues.
-Guest speakers are a feature of this MA.
-Students will find the course team warm and approachable.


Previous students have used our MA in a variety of ways. It can be a bridge to further study – with several former students having gone on to do a PhD. As a prestigious qualification, it can enhance career opportunities in a wide range of occupations, for example, teachers have used the course to gain curriculum knowledge and career progression. Many students take the course purely because they have enjoyed History as a degree or as a personal interest and wish to pursue the subject further.

Progression to a taught postgraduate course is a path chosen by those wishing to further their careers, those intending to pursue further research and those who seek principally to satisfy their own intellectual interests. Successful completion will lead to the award of MA. This will complement a candidate’s existing qualifications. Additionally, it is envisaged that the programme’s breadth and depth will provide you with a suitable background for careers in public and private sectors where there is a need for international expertise.

The award of MA demonstrates an intellectual flexibility and high level of analytical, written and verbal skills. Increasingly, employers are looking for graduates with skills and knowledge which are not found (or perceived by employers to be found) among many recent graduates. This MA will give you, the graduate, a distinctive product in a highly competitive and expanding graduate employment market. Employers report that a person with a background in International Relations is more likely to find a career in the rapidly changing international environment than a person with another form of postgraduate qualification.

The MA IR thus aims to provide you with a suitable foundation for careers in both private and public sectors where there is a need for international sensitivity. Students wishing to engage in later doctoral research (where we have capacity) or in careers within voluntary organisations, civil and diplomatic service, international organisations, research posts or journalism will particularly benefit from it. We now have excellent links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Members of European Parliament and representatives from the United Nations, as well as a number of pressure groups.

In sum, our core purpose is to nurture not only a robust intellectual flexibility but also the high levels of analytical, written and verbal skills attractive to employers from globally focused agencies and business. Our aim is to provide you with an excellent background and competitive edge for further study or a wide variety of careers in an ever-expanding job market.

Visit the International Relations MA page on the University of Northampton website for more details!

Entry Requirements

Applicants should possess a first or second class honours degree preferably in a social sciences subject from a British university or its equivalent overseas. Students are encouraged to discuss the course with tutors prior to application. Applicants whose native language is not English must provide evidence of their English language capabilities at an approved level (TOEFL; IELTS; Cambridge Proficiency Certificate and so on). Applicants who fail to reach this standard may be required to complete an agreed English Language tuition programme prior to the commencement of the MA.

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