July 2012 issue

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International Development in the UK

The UK is a leader in international development courses, catering to a growing interest in tackling global issues such as poverty and environmental management, as Matthew Knott discovers.

International Development Studies (IDS) is increasingly popular with students looking to grapple with vital issues. “We currently engage with some of the most important contemporary challenges for international development, including migration and poverty, human rights, corporate social responsibility and environment management,” explains Professor Richard Black, Head of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. IDS is, says Dr Tamsin Bradley at the University of Portsmouth, “an exciting interdisciplinary course that offers a grounding in both regional and theoretical knowledge”.

Providing critically informed debates on contemporary development issues, Nicola Horner advises the University of Leeds “offers two research-based programmes, both led by internationally renowned academics at the forefront of development”. The MA Global Development can be studied as a single subject or with specialist pathways such as Africa, Education and Gender. A new MA programme, The Politics of Insecurity, as well as undergraduate courses, are also available. Highlighting academic crossover and a flexible approach to shaping degrees, Horner says, “Our interdisciplinary Centre for Global Development (CDG) draws on expertise from more than 60 members from across the university.” The school is also linked to the Centre for African Studies.

The University of Sussex offers degrees including BA International Development and joint degrees in fields such as anthropology, economics, and geography. “Our degrees are flexible, providing increased optionality as you progress through the degree, which means students are able to select courses in specific areas of interest,” advises Black. “Sussex has one of the largest international development centres in the world,” he adds. Black highlights the strength of research, noting that “95 per cent of research by faculty contributing to international development degrees was recognised internationally or higher in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise”. Undergraduates are also able to compete for summer positions as Junior Research Associates.

Highlighting the humanitarian aims of IDS, Alexandra Cole at the University of East Anglia (UEA) attests, “The School of International Development at UEA is a leading global centre of excellence in research and teaching. With around 40 academic staff the school is committed to making a difference, contributing to knowledge and providing policy advice and guidance on major global challenges.” The school offers a range of bachelors and more than a dozen postgraduate taught programmes. Cole adds that the school’s research is highly rated domestically and globally. An exciting development is that the school is hoping to deliver a course during UEA’s International Summer School.

At the University of Portsmouth, “The degree is situated in the School of Languages and Area Studies. Students can opt to take IDS as a single degree or combine with Spanish, Mandarin or French,” advises Bradley. She also praises the cultural understanding fostered by studying diverse areas as “students gain a broad understanding of the developing world and an appreciation of the diversity between regions and countries and their relationship”.

“The IDS degree has running through it an employability pathway, which is designed to ensure students have the practical, vocational skills necessary to pursue successful careers within international development,” attests Bradley. Students are encouraged to take work placements available at partner non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worldwide. The course also “offers students the chance to create a social enterprise working with communities in a developing country to generate income which can be used to further social development aims”. Placements are a common theme. To foster global perspectives, Sussex encourages international placements, study abroad and summer projects. At UEA, “The work placement is an integral part of the degree programme and is a credited third year module,” says Cole, adding that the degrees leave students with transferrable and professional skills.

Black enthuses that graduates have moved to leading organisations such as Oxfam, the UN and the British Red Cross, whiles others established their own NGOs. Horner echoes this, also citing “high profile careers in politics, the media, and the civil service”.

Markets and recruitment

As befits an academic discipline that is truly global in outlook, student intake is distinctly multicultural. “The cohorts are mixed and efforts are being made to increase the number of international students, specifically those with direct experience of living and working in developing countries,” informs Dr Tamsin Bradley at the University of Portsmouth. Professor Richard Black at the University of Sussex notes India, Japan, the USA, Canada and Nigeria as key markets, while for the University of East Anglia (UEA) particular recent growth markets have been Japan, Korea and China, advises Alexandra Cole.

“We are represented by professional agents in many countries, who are qualified to counsel students,” attests Black, adding that the university attends numerous events worldwide to meet potential students. Meanwhile, explains Cole, “The International Office frequently attends overseas recruitment fairs and makes visits to agent offices overseas in order to promote all courses at UEA.”

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