With increased globalisation, a degree in International Relations is catching the attention of students.

The increasing interconnectedness between countries has led to more crises and conflicts than the world has ever witnessed before. The 21st Century has so far been characterised by terrorist attacks, economic crises, aggressive nuclear states, and revolutions of self-determination. Decades old conflicts such as the ones between Israel and Palestine or India and Pakistan continue to be relevant. This complex issue has forced governments and international bodies to take notice and has triggered an interest among the academic circles.

International Relations (IR) as an academic discipline has grown in popularity over the last few decades. The Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Madras introduced a postgraduate degree in International Relations two years ago. Dr. M. Kennedy Stephensan Vaseekaran, Assistant Professor of the department says, “No other college in the State, other than Stella Maris College, offered the course. The demand for such a course is on the rise as many students show an interest in this course.”

A degree in IR provides students the opportunity to develop an in-depth understanding of global politics. They are exposed to a variety of areas within IR such as Economics, Law, Area Studies, Human Rights, Gender Studies and so on. Students from diverse academic backgrounds take up this course, which results in a vibrant classroom. Each student learns to connect IR with what they already know. These students also acquire analytical skills. They learn to determine causes and consequences of foreign policies, conflicts and peace processes. Students are often moved out of their comfort zone to tackle often-controversial issues and are encouraged to be receptive to new ideas and conflicting views. They are trained to look at an issue from different angles and perspectives.

Research is a mandatory component of all IR programmes. A dissertation topic chosen by the students allows them to explore their interests and work on a topic they choose. Vanessa Peter, who was part of the first batch of the International Studies programme at Stella Maris College, is a social activist and policy researcher. She says the course “helps build a holistic perspective on international humanitarian laws and principles, and provides good exposure to international organisations.” The course enables students to understand local policies from a global perspective.

The scope

Students of IR have a range of options after graduating, but it is not an easy road ahead. Dr. M. Kennedy says students must be dynamic and need to take the initiative. He adds that International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) as a sector is expanding and such groups are looking for candidates who have a suitable profile and knowledge on international issues.

Aarti Santhanam, Head, department of International Studies, Stella Maris College, says, “Students go on to appear for civil services exams, join diplomatic missions, or embassies. Many have also joined the media and MNCs in areas such as risk analysis and business intelligence.” Other career options include teaching, social work, and so on.

IR graduates can also pursue higher studies, either PhD, or M.Phil. Students are also hired by the government or policy-making bodies

Students speak

Berges Malu completed his M.A in Political Science with a focus on IR from University of Hyderabad.

He is now a legislative assistant with an MP of the Rajya Sabha in Mumbai. He says, “There's a lot of scope for students of IR, with India's growing role in international politics. But one has to figure what exactly would be their chosen field in IR.”

Nikhil Ansari studied IR at Madras University and wants to pursue a Ph.D from a foreign university. He believes students who are keen on working for NGOs must be ready to start from the grass root-level.

Another undergraduate IR student in London who is looking at a career in Political Risk Analysis says, the most popular option among her batch mates is to work as a research assistant in a think tank, or in an international development organisation. Building a career with an IR degree, therefore, involves several factors — a passion for the line chosen, wide networking, and the willingness to take risks.

Where to study?

Some of the other institutes in India that offer a postgraduate degree in IR are Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Jadavpur, University of Sikkim, Manipal University, Pondicherry University, and Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala.

Bachelor’s degree in IR is offered only in foreign universities. In the U.K., The London School of Economics offers both a B.Sc and M.Sc in International Relations. St.Andrew’s University in Scotland is another popular destination for IR.

In the U.S., along with the top- ranked Ivy League schools, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University and Syracuse University’s College of Arts & Sciences offer both bachelors and master’s degrees in IR.

Many of these colleges have a foreign exchange programme that allows students to take a semester abroad.

Students can also look at joint programmes. Paris School of International Affairs and NYU offer combined courses in Journalism and IR.

Lauder Institute offers a joint programme in MBA from Wharton and an M.A. in IR from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences.