International Relations MSc

This programme gives you the ability to critically evaluate key contemporary debates in the field of international relations.

Why Surrey?

Mastering key skills in political science will allow you to explore the links between local, national and international structures, particularly in relation to the nature of the international system and processes of global governance.

Programme overview

The programme is composed of three pathways. The International Relations pathway provides a deep understanding of key issues in the contemporary international system. The second pathway, Terrorism and Security, focuses on the key domestic and international security threats facing states in the 21st century. Finally, the innovative International Intervention pathway enables you to understand and evaluate contemporary debates in the study of international intervention. This pathway also includes a placement option, allowing you to spend three months working in the field of international politics.

All students take a common set of compulsory modules (including modules on research methods and Theories of International Relations). Two further compulsory modules are taken for each pathway, allowing you to select three optional modules from a range of European and/or international politics topics.

The programme provides you with the skills necessary to design and complete a dissertation or placement project on a specialist topic, including formulating research questions, conducting a literature review, selecting appropriate methods of data collection, engaging with data analysis to provide answers to the research questions, and presenting research according to scholarly conventions.

Module Overview

Compulsory Modules

Introduction to Research

This module provides an introduction to the design and conduct of social science research. Throughout, examples are drawn from recent research in the areas of politics and policy. However, emphasis is also placed on the applicability of these methods to other subject areas across the social sciences. This module develops students’ understanding of the ways in which social research is designed and conducted. It provides a broad overview of both qualitative and quantitative approaches to research in the social sciences. In addition, it develops students’ capacities to design research questions and select appropriate methods of data collection and analysis to enable them to answer their research questions.

Research in Practice

The module has a strong practical focus and students gain experience of using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, and apply their knowledge on a research area of their choice. Students also gain experience in using SPSS for statistical analysis. As part of the course, students conduct an individual research project, explore the methodological issues which emerge through their work, and engage in group-work to discuss the similarities and differences in their individual approaches and choices.

Theories of International Relations

The module explores a range of theoretical approaches to study of International Relations thus introducing students to different ways current trends in the international system. The module follows a historiographical approach thus starting with the “classical debates in IR theories, then moving on to mainstream debates and concluding with critical approaches. The module allows students to evaluate continuities and change in contemporary theoretical discourses.  Introduce students to the post-structuralist challenge in International Relations. Evaluate the contributions of each theoretical approach to our understanding of contemporary trends in Internal Relations.

Optional Modules

Global Governance

This module provides a general introduction to the contemporary system of global governance. It seeks to provide students with a general overview of key concepts, structures and theoretical debates in this field. It looks at the links between national and international politics and encourages students to think critically about social, political and economic trends.

Politics of International Intervention 1

The module examines, from both a theoretical and a practical perspective, the different kinds of international intervention in response to poverty, humanitarian crisis, abuses of human rights, state failure, and armed conflict. Following a general introduction to the topic students conduct research and present a number of case studies from the post-colonial and post-Cold War periods and the group examines strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. The different forms of intervention studied include development and humanitarian assistance; peace-making, peace-keeping, and peace-building; use of international legal institutions and processes; and coercive military intervention to secure regime change.

Politics of International Intervention 2

This module builds on Politics of International Intervention 1 by requiring students to deliver a critical analysis of the failures and successes of intervention in two respects: first, to critique the theoretical literature on intervention in respect of its explanatory power – students are thus required to explore the relative utility of varying analytical frameworks against the background of that which they seek to explain; second, to critique the practice of intervention– students develop the skills to compare and contrast intervention in different crises. They also learn to evaluate the relative successes and account for them.

International Security and Defence

This module enables students to examine different types of state, non-state and international, regional and sub-regional security and defence providers in the context of new security threats, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states and the new interventionism. Actors include the UN, the EU, NATO, ECOWAS, the US, France, Germany, the UK, Poland, NGOs and private military companies. Students engage with a variety of relevant theoretical approaches which in turn provide them with the tools to analyse how these different security actors have evolved, how they cooperate or conflict with each other and the role each plays in the new international security environment.

Critical Studies on Security and Terrorism

This module offers an introduction to the major theoretical and empirical debates that structure two sub-disciplines: Critical Security Studies and Critical Terrorism Studies.  In the first half, the module is organised around core questions in Critical Security Studies, such as: what is security; security for whom of for what; security from whom or from what; how should security be achieved; and is security possible?  In the second half, the module is organised around similar core questions in Critical Terrorism Studies, including: what is terrorism; how can we understand counter-terrorism; and what is the relationship between terrorism and counter-terrorism?  The module encourages students to compare the sub-disciplines through their key complementary themes, such as a focus on definitions, people, language, culture and identity. 

Key Issues in International Politics

This module provides an opportunity for students to investigate and discuss contemporary developments in international politics. The specific content varies to meet contemporary issues. Typically, the module covers a range of issues, at regional and international levels, such as the environment, globalisation, nationalism, international conflicts and economic developments.

International Political Economy

This module provides an opportunity for students to apply their understanding of key theories and debates in international political economy (IPE) to current developments and case studies. Students will be able to discuss and debate the role of the main IPE institutions with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Current and future challenges to the status quo of IPE are also discussed.

American Foreign Policy

The first half of this module introduces students to the different schools of thought on American foreign policy. This provides students with the vocabulary to then interpret and assess US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. The second half of the module introduces students to key contemporary issues in American foreign policy.

The EU and Its Neighbourhood

This module considers the EU’s perception of threats and opportunities and the methods it employs in order to reduce threat and maximise potential. Identity is a particular focus: what it means to be European and how much of that identity is shaped by the EU versus other actors. Specific policy areas are examined, including the European Neighbourhood Policy, Eastern Partnership, Union for the Mediterranean and Black Sea Synergy. Russia is treated as a particular case that reveals the successes of the EU’s multilateral activities and the complexities engendered by its member states’ bilateral relationships.

Teaching and Assessment

For each pathway, there is a similar pattern of teaching and assessment. In each semester students take four modules. For each of these, there is a weekly two-hour block, which combines lectures and student discussion. Parallel to the taught part of the programme, in semester one students start work on their dissertation, and continue in semester two and over the summer. Students that opt for the three-month placement, start work on their placement project once the taught component of the programme is finished, and throughout the summer, supported by regular supervision from the School.

Teaching Hours

Full-time students typically have eight contact hours of teaching per week and are expected to spend approximately 30 additional hours on independent study.

Our School

The School of Politics was created in 2004, bringing together and reinforcing the various elements of politics teaching and research which have existed at Surrey since the 1970s. Our academics are all research-active, and the teaching that our MSc students receive reflects those interests. This makes our students strongly engaged with cutting edge issues and academic debates. The School has a very active student body which organises many academic and social events outside the formal programme. With students coming from all over the world, this is an excellent opportunity to meet and challenge each other’s ideas and perceptions.

Your Future Career

Our MSc programme in International Relations is a great stepping stone in your career development, whatever your plans. Through its assessed, three-month placement, the International Intervention pathway offers an excellent opportunity to enhance a wide range of transferable skills and build personal networks which will significantly enhance your employment opportunities upon graduation.

Students from the School have gone on to a wide range of employment choices. These include working for international organisations, national and local government, lobby groups and non-governmental organisations, as well as private businesses and media organisations. We also offer doctoral supervision in a wide range of political subjects for talented students who wish to continue their studies.

Related programmes

Postgraduate (Taught)

Related departments/schools

Related research areas

Programme leader

Dr Theofanis Exadaktylos

Find out more

General enquiries:

+44 (0)1483 681 681

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Programme facts

Type of programme:


Programme length:

  • Full-time: 12 months
  • Part-time: 24 months

Start date:

Sep 2016

Entry Requirements

A first or 2.1 undergraduate degree in a relevant social science or humanities discipline (or an equivalent qualification).

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Overseas fees
Full-time Sep 2016 £7,000 £15,000
Part-time Sep 2016 £3,500 £7,500

Please note these fees are for the academic year 2016/2017 only. Annual fees will rise by four per cent (rounded up to the nearest £100) for each year of study.

A complete list of all fees for our Masters Programmes


Discounts for Surrey graduates

Thinking of continuing your education at Surrey? As an alumnus of Surrey you may be eligible for a ten per cent discount on our taught Masters programme fees. Learn more.

For more details

Admissions Information

Our Admissions Policy provides the basis for admissions practice across the University and gives a framework for how we encourage, consider applications and admit students.

Further information for applicants

Postgraduate Study Advice

Steps to Postgraduate Study is an official, independent guide for anyone considering a taught postgraduate course. The guide is produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland.

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Modules listed are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that not all modules described are compulsory and may be subject to teaching availability and/or student demand.