Leading international relations programs for Asian students
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Leading international relations programs for Asian students

THAT the world’s population is becoming more globalized has been known for some time. No longer is the planet fragmented into isolated countries — economics, politics, creative industries; all are converging on the global stage.

Never has the need for intelligent, thoughtful, and internationally minded leadership been greater; and never has a degree from a quality international relations program been more relevant. International relations students tackle real-world scenarios that include the precarious situation of Israel in the Middle East, the U.S.-led Iraq War, and other conflicts, in addition to humanitarian violations, climate change and other issues of international concern.

The eyes of the world turn increasingly to Asia, not only as an economic leader, but for the international conflicts and concerns there as well. On the political spectrum, there has been backlash against governmental corruption in China, and political unrest that has flared in recent years throughout Asia. Deep concerns about the human trafficking industry, which thrives in Southeast Asia, have drawn human rights activists and NGO workers seeking to end the exploitation of human beings.


A young female recruit of the Kachin Independence Army, one of the Burma's (Myanmar) largest armed ethnic groups. Thousands of international relations graduates are employed by NGOs and other agencies along the Thailand-Burma border. Pic: AP.

Disputed claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines is just one of many disputes that add to tension in the region. The rich economic opportunities stand in contrast with the human rights and social issues frequently referenced by activists, and with the tumultuous political situations in Asia.

This makes Asia a particularly rich place to pursue a career in international relations, where graduates can work hands-on in these fields and effect change.

Coursework in international relations programs at any university will include training in cultural awareness, negotiation, and understanding global financial markets. Faculty are often professionals in their respective fields who can draw on past and current experience when conveying concepts and training students in critical thinking and conflict resolution.

A master’s degree in international relations can be a boon to both recently matriculated undergraduates and seasoned professionals looking to transition to a new career field. Even in highly specialized programs, knowledge of a number of fields is required, so students making a career change can bring their current experience to bear, and use the coursework to enhance their credentials.

Undergraduates who move into a master’s program can focus their more general education on a field of their choosing, making them more marketable candidates for jobs such as work with foreign services or in governmental offices.

Those who choose to pursue a career in global politics, media or other cross-cultural fields and opt to strengthen their understanding of world affairs through an advanced degree program will be required to offer creative solutions to world problems. They will be called upon through coursework and internship experience to respond to present-day crises and issues that arise, giving them an opportunity to make at least some small impact on human affairs.


Pic: Brandeis University - The Heller School.

International affairs programs give graduates a deep understanding of the historical, political and cultural history of various societies, which is essential for those interested in conflict resolution, policy writing and even on-the-ground humanitarian work. Most programs also require proficiency in a foreign language, adding yet another layer to their communication and comprehension skills. Language provides insight into a nation’s or people’s history and mindset, which is vital for those working on the international stage.

Coursework may vary depending on how specialized the degree program. However, all international relations students can expect to study across several academic fields, such as political science, economics and history.

In order to get the most out of an advanced international relations program, candidates would do well to focus on a specific area of interest when selecting a school. For example, those with a bent toward business might choose a program in Hong Kong, where they will have access to excellent resources in one of the most important financial centers in the world.

On the other hand, those seeking a career in diplomacy or policy making might seek a position at schools with a particular program in those fields, or at least that offer hands-on experience working in a conflict zone. This is especially important for students who plan to work in media. Gaining expertise in a certain area of international affairs will help them secure work in increasingly downsizing bureaus around the world, or at least as correspondents.

Graduates from prestigious international relations programs go on to rewarding careers as foreign service officers, intelligence and language specialists, journalists, foreign affairs and market research analysts, governmental officers, NGO workers, and positions with think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations.

Salaries for IR graduates vary dramatically, from about US$34,000 at the low end up to nearly US$118,000. Of course this is largely dependent on where graduates end up post-degree: policy analysts tend to make more than a non-profit coordinator. However, those heading into the human rights sector can also enter fellowship programs that can pay up to US$55,000.

Because of its broad nature, an international relations program affords graduates options, and flexibility in terms of how they apply the skills they have developed through the curriculum.


As the balance shifts from West to East, in terms of population, innovation and economic growth, the need for an in-depth understanding of world events, language and cultures becomes invaluable. Asian students seeking to enter international markets have the option of studying at some of the most prestigious international relations programs in the world, combining their understanding of Eastern thinking and tradition with Western approaches to diplomacy and problem-solving.

Below is a list of 20 of the most diverse and comprehensive international relations programs in the world.

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies is an academic paradise for students seeking careers in international affairs. Set in beautiful Geneva, Switzerland, the Graduate Institute goes beyond standard broad-sweeping course offerings. They conduct highly specific programs that allow degree candidates to delve deep into their interests and passions. Graduate Institute enrollees choose from several intensive programs upon entering the school. These include master’s of art degrees in international affairs and development studies. They also have the option of enrolling in an interdisciplinary master’s program with a focus on anthropology/sociology of development, international economics, international history and politics, international law, and international relations. Read the full profile…

Located in Massachusetts, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University is home to innovative ideas, insights and research in the areas of social policy, health and human services management. Since it was established in 1959, the School has continued to excel in its interdisciplinary approach to teaching that prepares its graduates to succeed in their careers and in research that helps uncover solutions for urgent social problems. The School, through its applied research and active public engagement, is constantly examining policies, and offers some of the most sought-after graduate programs in international affairs. The Heller School itself prides itself on developing and producing research knowledge that aims to benefit the next generation of scholars. Read the full profile…

It makes sense to head to central Europe to earn a degree with an international-relations focus. Geographically, this is a natural nexus of continents – equidistant between Los Angeles and Shanghai. Along those lines, Germany’s Jacobs University is ideally located for international students seeking degrees in international relations. In all, there are just over 1,300 students enrolled at Jacobs University. Small classes make for engaging discussion, and they allow for more personal interaction with instructors. Couple this with the fact more than 100 nationalities are represented on the Bremen campus, and it’s easy to see why Jacobs’ programs in International Politics and History and Integrated Social Sciences are getting so much attention. Read the full profile…

As universities in Asia go, none surpass Hong Kong University, the most prestigious in the region. As one of the most rapidly developing economic and financial centers in the world, Hong Kong has become an attractive destination for professionals and students alike. Opportunities are abundant in the city, where Western living standards complement attractive economic benefits. The University of Hong Kong opened in 1911, making it a fairly young university. Yet in the 100 years since the first classes were held, the school has earned quite the reputation for being academically rich and rigorous. Because of its ideal location, Hong Kong University is in a unique position to provide access to growing professional markets in which international affairs students are interested. The Times Higher Education report named the School of Social Sciences at HKU as the best in Asia, and with good reason. Read the full profile…

Enterprising and progressive students from around the world with an eye to international affairs thrive at Tel Aviv University, the biggest in Israel and the largest Jewish higher learning institute in the world. Of particular relevance to those looking to study conflict resolution, diplomacy and the Middle East peace process, Tel Aviv University offers a Master’s of Political Science in Security and Diplomacy. The one-year program is taught by esteemed faculty members who are experts in their fields. It incorporates theory, practice and engagement with ambassadors and diplomats in the curriculum, and students will find themselves tapped into Israel’s political, artistic and economic industries. Master’s candidates in the Security and Diplomacy program participate in weekly field trips that include visits to Israel’s border and to government offices, where they can meet with current security professionals who are knowledgeable about the Israeli and international peace and security situations. Read the full profile…



Pic: Jindal University.

The Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), a division of the O.P. Jindal Global University in Delhi, stands out as a trailblazing educational institute in India. Jindal’s is the first Global Policy School in the country. The institution claims to have been founded in “response to numerous calls to action for improving the human resources India possesses in its journey of global ascendancy.” A main tenet of the school’s mission is to further integrate the country on the global stage. Already the school is making waves with its Master of Arts in Diplomacy, Law and Business degree program, the first of its kind in the Asian region. The program comes with strong support, boasting experienced professionals as faculty. Instructors hold degrees from the top universities in the world, including Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics. Read the full profile…

City University London was founded in the late 19th century, and it continues to draw praise for its strong research-based programs. It offers a full schedule of degree programs, including a pair of particularly attractive courses in the international affairs sector taught by some of the world’s leading experts on international affairs. Students with their sights set on international careers in finance, politics or policy making will find a good fit at City. Modules take an interdisciplinary approach to learning, inviting external experts to lead workshops, analyze global events and offer behind-the-scenes insight into the work of international organizations and governmental ministries. Read the full profile…

The University of Glasgow’s comprehensive offerings in the political and international relations fields provide students with a range of options for specializing their degrees in international affairs. Glasgow’s School of Social & Political Sciences supports several degree programs and curriculum tracks. The two-year master’s program in Russian, Central and East European Studies is held partly on the Glasgow campus in Scotland, and partly in another country that falls under the area of study, with one year being spent in each location. The SPS school recently introduced a master’s program in Global Security, which emphasizes interaction with real-life security bodies. Read the full profile…

Research opportunities abound at the National Chengchi University. The College of International Affairs supports several degree programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees in East Asian Studies and Russian Studies, a master’s in Japan Studies and the newly instituted international master’s of international studies. The school also maintains a large number of research centers that focus on various global regions, as well as worldwide concerns such as security, world religions and the World Trade Organization. Students whose goal is expertise in mainland China affairs will also find significant resources here, and can pursue a master’s focused on national security and mainland China affairs.

The renowned S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies has been recognized as a standout research institute among global universities. Recently named one of the 50 best think tanks in the world, RSIS prioritizes comprehensive and informed research. Their areas of expertise include Asia Pacific Security, conflict and non-traditional security, international political economy and focused studies on China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia and the United States. RSIS scholars publish their findings widely, in books, academic journals, newsletters and policy papers. The school is also home to a number of specialized centers that focus on various aspects of security, strategy and globalization.Pic: The Graduate Institute.

The master of diplomacy degree at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy is a combined degree program through which students gain a deep understanding of one area of interest set within the context of diplomatic strategy. Twelve such programs are supported through the school, and include specialization in Eastern and Central Asian studies, public administration, and international law, among others. Program length varies from 18 to 24 months. The college also offers doctoral programs, and short courses in which research professionals can present their findings in their fields of expertise. Regular lecture events cover topics that range from the Wikileaks controversy to hunger and the global food crisis.

As South Korea becomes an ever-more significant player on the global, economic, technological and political stages, it also becomes a more attractive place for international study. Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies offers master of arts degrees in international and Korean studies, and Ph.D.s in international commerce and international cooperation. The international studies degree requires students to focus on one of the following four areas: international commerce, international peace and security, international development and cooperation, and regional studies.The Korea University programs may be of particular interest to those eyeing a career in business, as Seoul is rich with practical learning opportunities.

The Department of International Studies at Sydney’s Macquarie University places a high premium on language, and emphasizes the bond between historical and linguistic learning. Macquarie’s bachelor of arts in international relations program also takes a historical perspective on world issues, and offers classes such as China in World History and Modern Chinese History. These put current events and crises in context for students, and gives them a well-rounded understanding of global concerns. The school also encourages students to spend a semester abroad at a country suited to their linguistic and academic areas of interest.

The professionally-oriented postgraduate programs at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna equip students with the analytical and communication skills necessary to address the world’s most pressing concerns. A haven for those looking to put ideas into practice, the Academy invites students to participate in Fulbright programs and partners with the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and the Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the U.S. on a cooperative degree program. Students taking this route will spend one year in Vienna, and one in the States to complete their course requirements, giving them an exciting chance to experience both the American and European approaches to global affairs.

This unique institute represents the collaboration of five Barcelona universities. The schools joined forces to provide students with as many resources as possible in their pursuit of international understanding. The IBEI master’s in international relations was implemented in 2004, and has the distinction of being its flagship degree program. The one-year interdisciplinary course incorporates politics, law and economics into each student’s experience, but candidates can also tailor their experiences to their individual interests. IBEI faculty are all skilled researchers and have been widely published in various fields. They participate in research projects even while teaching at the school, ensuring that they will be tuned in to the latest developments in their areas of interest.


Master's candidates in the Security and Diplomacy program at Tel Aviv University visit the Israeli Foreign Ministry as part of the interactive curriculum. Pic: TVU.

Duke University’s international programs attract students interested in shaping the future of world affairs. The graduate programs at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy are geared toward developing leadership skills for those keen to enter the private or public sectors at an international level. The master’s in international development policy is unique in that it is aimed specifically at mid-career candidates who wish to work on key policies for developing and transitioning countries. The flexible master of public policy program gives students the option of a dual degree program in medicine, law or business, and is typically best-suited to those who have some work experience prior to enrolling.

Harvard University stands as one of the most respected universities in the world, renowned for its excellence in education and rigorous academic standards. Where better for those committed to public service to study than Harvard’s Kennedy School, where their multiple public policy and public administration programs prepare them for careers in government and other public sector work. Following their motto of “Ask what you can do,” inspired by the school’s namesake John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy School encourages students to think about issues ranging from global poverty to nuclear proliferation. Their tradition is one of deep intellect and a call to action.

Master’s candidates seeking careers in the security and intelligence fields need look no further than the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. Degree options here include masters of art in statecraft and national security affairs, statecraft and international affairs and strategic intelligence studies. Course materials include the study of warfare, diplomatic history, and American political philosophy, as well as the application of ethics when developing policy. Not only are students trained in essential academic disciplines, they are also encouraged to pursue their own character development and strong leadership qualities to be applied in their future positions.

The multiple international relations programs at Boston University cover a broad spectrum of academic and intellectual interests. There is an all-encompassing international relations master’s, as well as others that combine the studies of religion environmental policy, and communications as well. Dual degree options are also available, in which students can jointly pursue their MA and MBAs or law degrees. BU supports cross-disciplinary studies, which can only benefit graduates in a world where the career market is constantly changing and those who can perform in a number of different roles, with expertise in more than one field, are highly prized.

The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University is a truly international institute. With students in Washington, D.C., Bologna, Italy, and Nanjing, China, SAIS ensures that all students have access to the best opportunities and resources available during their degree candidacy. SAIS offers a master of arts in international relations, and a master’s in public policy. They also offer prestigious dual-degree programs that allow students to earn business and law degrees from university’s such as Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University Law School. SAIS graduates exit their programs with the distinction of having a world-class education.