Leading politics programs for Asian students
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Leading politics programs for Asian students

Introduction by Umair Javed, Governance specialist at the Pakistan office for The Asia Foundation and respected political columnist and blogger

IS IT possible to locate a defined historical juncture when the study of politics, or political science as it’s commonly known, became a field of intellectual engagement? Well, within contemporary forms of the discipline, which essentially originate from western universities and colleges, this is traced back to the Greek enlightenment era, when questions regarding social organization, forms and modes of government, and ‘the right way’ to distribute resources were first discussed. Works of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, and historians like Thucydides, provide a convenient point of departure, and have been formally acknowledged as ‘classics’ within their field.

In parallel and complementary developments, the study of politics arose from various specific contexts and contingencies. Other regions like the sub-continent, and East Asia, developed different engagements with similar questions and had their own premises, debates, and theoretical understandings.


Pic: Murdoch University

Eventually, trade-led interaction between regions in the last millennium, globalization in the 16th and 17th century, and the colonization of Asia and Africa, led to a spread of academic ideas. Colleges and universities instituted by the British, for example in the Indian subcontinent, started to impart formal education in the social sciences. The spread of these ideas and methods took place gradually, and through the last century, there has been a general consensus on what is acknowledged as the broad parameters of formal social science education. Beyond that, the study of Asian politics in the West had already become a popular sub-discipline during the ‘60s and the ‘70s, and continues to be one even today.

These days, contemporary political science has moved beyond its confines in the West and is taught across Asia. It is rightfully considered to be a major part of liberal arts education, and where initially, the Western academy was setting the agenda in terms of methods, research, and theory, the field has matured enough to allow for regional specificity and scholarly input from other parts of the world.

Perhaps the fundamental difference between studying politics in Asia and in the West is the importance given to local context. Most programs in universities across Asia focus heavily on the country where they’re being taught. Beyond domestic politics, regional relations and local political economy courses are also a major part of political science curricula. On the other hand, programs in the US and the UK offer a more diverse array of regional options, reflecting the relative heterogeneity of their universities. This particular difference can be either a pro or a con. Students in Asia, who wish to work, academically or otherwise, within their own countries or region, stand to gain greater insight into regional issues by going for local programs. On the other hand, this also narrows the amount of choice they have on offer, which they would otherwise have in European or American universities.

Another difference is that programs in developing countries, such as those in Asia, have a greater policy and development focus in their curriculum. This stems from the demands placed by the process of economic and social development in these countries, which requires better administrators and growth managers. This in itself has to be recognized as a major improvement from the past, where ‘hard’ sciences, such as engineering and medicine, were considered to be more ‘vital’ in the race to catch up with the West. The relative preference given to these ‘hard’ sciences is probably one of the reasons why political science education and research took some time to develop in Asia. Attitudinal shifts, both in terms of government policy and societal demand, are now working to address the major gap in research and study resources available to students in the West and their counterparts in Asia.


Pic: King's College London

Having said that, programs in the West have the luxury of historical longevity, decades, if not centuries, of academic evolution, and the best professors and researchers in the world. Institutionalized universities, funded by endowments, maintain relative autonomy from government interference, hence ensuring that academic discourse is largely objective, relevant, and accessible. Students studying in the US, the UK, Canada or in certain parts of Europe also have access to primary sources, archives, and the option to go on exchange programs.

Students in Asia, though, can take comfort in the fact that the globalization of social science knowledge means that students in any part of the world now have access to largely the same books and scholarly resources. Most instructors at top tier universities in Asia, such as the National University of Singapore, or Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, have studied in the US or the UK, and maintain research and academic collaborations with their contemporaries across the globe. Also, Asian universities have stepped up efforts to work with each other in cross-country research, exchange programs, and knowledge sharing.

While differences in quality of teaching and research exist between programs in these two parts of the world, there is a significant chance that this gap will be bridged as institutes of higher learning in Asia continue to evolve and mature in the long run.

Here is our list of 25 of the top political science educators in the world:

In the few short decades since it received its Royal Charter in 1966, City University London has become one of the finest higher education institutions in England’s capital city. The university offers a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees across a number of disciplines and prides itself on producing graduates who have the knowledge and practical skills to secure a place in the workforce. City University London offers a number of highly regarded politics programs for the politicians, policy makers and diplomats of tomorrow. And with strong links with Asian universities such as Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Seoul National University, this is an ideal place for Asian students to get their grounding in political studies. Read the full profile…


Pic: City University London


In the ever-changing world of higher education, it is often the universities that can innovate and adapt quickly that stand out from the crowd.  One such institution is Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, which prides itself on providing a flexible and supportive learning environment for its domestic and international students. Murdoch offers a number of options in the political sciences at undergraduate, postgraduate and research level. Its pedigree as a top destination for Asian students is undoubted. Around 20 percent of Murdoch’s 18,000 students are international students, representing more than 100 different countries. It partners with KDU University College in Malaysia and has opened an offshore Campus in Singapore to further strengthen its links with Asia. Read the full profile…


With its Ivy League image and its reputation for graduating world leaders, Columbia is a regular shortlist candidate for students in Asia. Beyond its main campus in New York City’s Manhattan, the university operates satellites in Beijing, Mumbai and Amman.  Columbia routinely ranks in the top ten US universities overall. Internationally, it is a top-20 contender according to Times Higher Education, QS and ARWU. Furthermore, US News & World Report ranked the School of International and Public Affairs 14th in the US.  The School of International and Public Affairs is one of the world’s most prestigious schools of public policy. It was founded after WWII and offers seven graduate-level degree programs. Columbia students turn out several political publications, including The Current, the Journal of International Affairs, AdHoc and the Columbia Political Review. This gives students with a serious passion for politics the chance to develop and communicate their ideas outside of the classroom.


One leading UK university that tends to slip under the radar is the University of Southampton on the south coast of England. Over the past two decades, it has emerged as one of the country’s leading research-focused institutions, adding to its already impressive choice of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. The University of Southampton is consistently ranked among the top 100 universities in the world and is one of the top 15 research universities in the UK. This is a diverse and vibrant university where new international students find the right mix of the new and familiar, and emerge with qualifications that really turn heads in the employment market. Read the full profile…


Harvard is synonymous with political leadership. Internationally, more than 36 heads of state and government have graduated from Harvard. This includes eight US presidents. Expand this list to include lawmakers, justices, governors and other government officials, and you’ll quickly lose count. Harvard Kennedy School exists to train enlightened leaders who can tackle public service issues. The school is one of the most prestigious research institutes for social sciences. More than 27,000 Kennedy School alumni are stationed around the world, forming an elite and high-powered network. Included in their ranks are Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang. On the whole, Harvard enjoys some of the best rankings in the world. US News & World Report, ARWU National, USNWR and Times Higher Education regularly rank Harvard first in the world. For those with the ambition to aim as high as possible, there is no better platform from which to launch an international career in politics.


Australia’s ANU was established by an act of parliament in 1946 and has since shot to international recognition for its high standards of education and research, along with innovative teaching methods. It is consistently ranked as the top university in Australia, and holds its own in all the major world rankings. ANU is also a member of prestigious university alliances such as the Group of Eight and the International Alliance of Research Universities.  ANU’s School of International, Political & Strategic studies comprises of four departments and offers a range of study options in Political Science, International Relations, and Strategic & Defense Studies, often with a special focus on Asian politics.


Pic: University of Sydney


“LSE was founded in 1895 for the ‘betterment of society’. We hold true to that ideal today. Our research and teaching is both relevant and global,” says LSE Director Professor Judith Rees. Since its foundation, LSE has produced 16 Nobel Prize winners and prides itself on the strength of its international student population and its global reach. LSE wants its politics students to “understand the causes of things”, offering a wide range of degrees at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, as well as research opportunities.  With a range of options in International History, International Relations, and Government, and an enviable location in central London, LSE is an option worth considering for any prospective politics student.


UCLA is without a doubt one of the best universities in the world. It is consistently ranked in the top 20 in all global rankings that matter and has Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize Winners, and MacArthur fellows in its faculty. With teachers like these, it is no surprise that UCLA graduates excel in their chosen careers. The university is home to 40,000 students – 27,000 undergraduates and 13,000 graduates – and is one of the most diverse in the world. Seventeen percent of the student population come from outside the US and even the native student population is ethnically and economically diverse. UCLA is dedicated to educating “global citizens”, and its Department of Political Science offers excellent programs at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Add to this the California lifestyle and it is easy to see why this university continues to be a big hit among Asian students.


The Sunday Times British University of the Year for 2011-2012, King’s College London can hold its own among the top universities in the world. This award can be attributed to an exceptional year for King’s that has marked a 13% rise in undergraduate applications and an incredible 30% rise in postgraduate applications. With a mission to dedicate the College’s existence to the advancement of knowledge, learning and an integral service to society, King’s College London continues to go from strength to strength as a centre of high-quality education. The School of Social Science & Public Policy offers an impressive array of undergraduate, postgraduate and research options that can compete with the very best. Read the full profile…


Montreal’s McGill University has been creating world leaders for more than two centuries. Two Canadian prime ministers graduated from McGill, along with dozens of lawmakers and public leaders. For Asian students pursuing a future in politics, this is an ideal place to launch a career. McGill is widely recognized as the best university in Canada for those seeking doctoral degrees. It also ranks highly among North American universities, with QS World University Rankings placing the school in the number-two position. Students with an interest in politics spend most of their time in McGill University Department of Political Science, which opened more than a century ago. Courses are offered at the undergraduate and postgraduate level, and the department sponsors plenty of important research. Particularly noteworthy programs cover comparative government and politics, international relations and political theory.


The University of Tokyo (Todai) is one of Japan’s most prestigious universities and ranks among Asia’s premier research varsities.  Across disciplines from medicine to commerce, the university provides plenty of opportunities to grow and develop on a personal and professional level. Within this academic environment, students will find high-tech facilities and a team of qualified professors, lecturers and instructors that will promote intellectual development and the acquisition of skills and knowledge relevant at a professional level. Alma mater to no less than 15 Japanese Prime Ministers, Todai is the choice university in Japan for an education in political science. With a range of options in political studies and public policy, the University of Tokyo has the tools to build the leaders of tomorrow.

The University of Sydney was first founded in 1850 and has grown to become one of Australia’s most prestigious educational institutions. With its wide variety of flexible degrees, students are encouraged to take their studies in a direction that suits them best. The strength of the university’s politics programs can be seen in its alumni, such as former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, former Governor-General William Deane, Tim Friedman from the Whitlams, and Nobel Prize winner Sir John Cornforth. The School of Social and Political Sciences is highly regarded and offers a unique breadth of programs and research opportunities. The university is also very internationally focused and welcomes students from all over the globe. International students will find themselves learning at a university rich in history and culture, with the availability of the best facilities possible. Read the full profile…


Originally established in 1876 as University College Bristol, the University of Bristol received its Royal Charter in 1909 and has since become one of the most respected universities in the United Kingdom. As well as its range of undergraduate, postgraduate and research opportunities, the university’s location in the charming and picturesque city of Bristol means that it is one of the most sought-after universities to study in. The University of Bristol has well over 20,000 students and offers excellent opportunities and support for its thousands of international students. Bristol offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate political science programs, as well as excellent research opportunities. These can be combined with Economics, Philosophy or a language to give graduates that extra edge in the jobs market. And if this isn’t enough, the University of Bristol is the most popular multi-faculty university in the UK.


Pic: Murdoch University

Singapore’s NUS is the country’s oldest university and is globally known as one of Asia’s most prestigious academic institutes, drawing students from across the world. The Department of Political Science’s undergraduate Political Science degree offers an excellent grounding for the policymakers of the future. For graduates, NUS is home to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, which “was established with the mission of educating and training the next generation of policymakers and leaders”. The university also works with the School of Social Science & Public Policy at King’s College London for PhD studies for those who want to take their research to the highest level. Singapore offers Asian students the chance to avail of a Western-standard education close to home, as well as offering excellent value for money.

Established in 1789, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., is a world-class educational institution and one of the USA’s finest centres of academics and research. With its location in the USA’s political hub, it is not surprising that Georgetown’s Department of Government is one of the most highly regarded centres of political science education in the country. It offers undergraduate and postgraduate training in political theory, international relations, comparative politics and American government, the perfect grounding for the policymakers of tomorrow. The university is also home to Georgetown Public Policy Institute and Walsh School of Foreign Service. With alumni like former US President Bill Clinton, US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, and former CIA Director George Tenet, it is easy to see that Georgetown is a powerhouse of political education.


Located just minutes from downtown, the University of Chicago is the leading higher education institution in the Windy City. Since it opened its doors in 1892, 85 Nobel Prize winners have been students, faculty or researchers at the university. With over 5,000 undergraduate students and over 10,000 graduate, professional and other students, the focus here is clearly on postgraduate study. For graduates looking to get ahead in the field of politics and public policy, The Harris School of Public Policy Studies offers a wide range of programs, including degrees, courses, executive training, and more. For international students looking for a respected politics degree, The Harris School offers Master’s programs and joint degree programs, as well as PhD programs. Chicago is a cosmopolitan city with a vibrant international population, which is reflected on campus. High-quality teaching, strong international student support and excellent career opportunities makes this a popular choice for international students.

As the second oldest university in Australia, the University of Melbourne has built a reputation as being one of the top universities in the Asia-Pacific region and is placed well inside the top 100 in most global rankings. A member of such prestigious groupings as Universitas 21 and the Group of Eight, the University of Melbourne guarantees domestic and international students a top-class education. As with most Australian universities, this university has a strong international population and an unbending commitment to diversity. Indeed, the city of Melbourne itself is a home away from home for many Asian students with sizable Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian populations. The University of Melbourne has a number of offerings for those interested in a career in politics, public policy or international relations, mainly at postgraduate level.


Much of Princeton University’s strength lies in its small size and intimate atmosphere. Chartered in 1749, it is the USA’s fourth oldest university. In its 250-plus years in existence, Princeton has climbed the ranks to become one of the world’s top educational institutions. Make no mistake, places at this prestigious university are extremely sought after. However, those admitted to this New Jersey university receive unparalleled dividends for their efforts. From 2001 to 2010, the US News & World Report ranked Princeton as either the top or the second best university in the United States. In fact, it is very rarely that Princeton drops out of any global university ranking that counts. Princeton offers its modest student population (about 7,500) a range of undergraduate, postgraduate and research options in political science.


Pic: University of Southampton

Formerly known as the Paris Institute of Political Studies, Sciences Po Paris is one of the leading centres of politics education in Europe. Traditionally attended by France’s political and diplomatic players, this is a definite option for anyone looking for a truly international education experience. Located in one of the world’s most beautiful and vibrant cities, Sciences Po is home to almost 10,000 students, 42% of whom are international students. With a firm focus on humanities and social sciences, the study of politics, public policy and international relations is an integral part of Sciences Po. The range of programs here is impressive, with many now taught in English. There are plenty of options at undergraduate, postgraduate and research level. While the focus is on political and economic sciences, programs broaden into such fields as business, communication, management and journalism. And with almost half the student body made up of international students, Sciences Po is well equipped to help new Asian students settle in with minimum fuss.

Arguably Ireland’s most prestigious university, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has a history of more than 400 years of academic excellence. The institution boasts of its research and teaching techniques, which look towards enhancing the learning experience of each individual and integrating them into an inclusive university life. Trinity College Dublin retains a strong campus atmosphere and the campus itself is one of Dublin’s most significant tourist attractions. In 2010, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings placed TCD in the top 10 in Europe and first in Ireland. The university’s School of Political Science offers a number of programs at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and has a keen focus on research. While TCD may be more famous for producing celebrated writers and artists, many of its alumni have been successful in the political sphere too, including three Irish presidents and former premier of New Zealand, Edward Stafford.

First opened in 1958, Monash University has since become one of Australia’s top educational institutions. It is one of Australia’s Group of Eight (Go8) universities because of its high standards of research, teaching and scholarship. Monash offers a range of undergraduate programs that will give students who want to specialise in politics, diplomacy or international relations an excellent grounding. However, it is really at postgraduate level where Monash comes into its own in this regard. Graduates are offered an impressive range of politics programs that will allow them to hone their knowledge and skills in their preferred political fields. There are plenty of research opportunities too, and Asian students at all levels will enjoy the vibrant, multi-cultural atmosphere in Melbourne, one of the world’s most liveable cities.

The University of Hong Kong, or HKU as it is popularly known, is the oldest tertiary institution in Hong Kong. This world-class comprehensive research university was ranked in the top 25 according to both QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education University World Rankings, and held the title of leading institute in the Asian University Rankings of 2010. In light of Hong Kong’s history and recent transitions, it is not surprising that it offers a range of top-class politics programs at undergraduate, postgraduate and research levels. HKU’s Department of Politics and Public Administration leads the charge here. Motivated academics from all corners of the globe come together at HKU to inform students on the latest developments in world politics and lead cutting edge research.

Central European University offers something a little different for the prospective Asian politics student. This graduate-level, English-language university, located in the heart of Budapest, Hungary, was founded two decades ago in the wake of the fall of the Socialist Bloc. While initially focused on the politics of the region, it has now set its sights on issues surrounding democracy and human rights worldwide. This really is a special place for graduates to hone their political knowledge, both in terms of academics and location.  With just 1,500 students, CEU has a student-teacher ratio of 7:1. Not surprising then that Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper ranked its Department of Political Science in Europe’s top five. The university’s intimate student body is comprised of over 100 different nationalities with a strong Asian contingent.


Pic: City University London


Denmark’s oldest and largest university has been on the map since the 15th century, putting it well ahead of many of the world’s most prestigious political science universities. This combined with its crossroads location in Europe makes it a particularly attractive place for international students to build careers in politics. The University of Copenhagen scores particularly well in well-reputed rankings from Asia. It is championed as of the best regarded schools in its region according to Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, which ranks it 1st in Scandinavia, 7th in Europe and 40th in the world. Coursework offered by the Department of Political Science focuses on comparative politics, public administration and international politics. Some 1,550 students are enrolled along with several dozen researchers. Many of the researchers are international students, and they work closely with well-known international organizations, including the World Health Organization.


Founded in the early 1800s, the University of Oslo is Norway’s oldest and biggest university. Every year, Oslo’s Department of Political Science welcomes many Asians who come to pursue degrees related to public policy and administration, international politics and political theory. The university is a regular top-100 contender on world university rankings. An eclectic range of programs are on offer, especially at the master’s level. Among the programs offered in English are Chinese Society and Politics, Development Geography and Peace and Conflict Studies. The Nobel Peace Prize was handed out in the University of Oslo’s atrium each year until 1989, attracting some of the world’s most influential leaders every year. This tradition of honoring peace between nations sets the tone for much of the course discussion at this international venue. And there are just as many ways to get involved in dynamic student-led discussions out of class thanks to the more than 200 clubs and societies on offer.