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The first course in the world for studying international relations was set up in the wake of World War l. In 1919, the Department of International Politics was founded at Aberystwyth University in Wales to try and help students make sense of the world that had been through such turmoil and to ensure that no such thing could happen again. The subject of international relations is just as relevant, and just as vital in today's world as it was then.

International Relations (IR) is the study of states, international alliances, NGOs and multinational companies in an increasingly globalized world. Professor Michael Foley, acting head of department of international politics at Aberystwyth says international politics moves at such a speed and with such an intensity that its analysis requires an ever more responsive outlook to changing times.

This poses a challenge not just to us but arguably to everyone in residence on the planet, he says. We are all part of an era of great issues, urgent debates and complex developments. Whether you see international politics as a source of hope or tragedy, whether you see it as an arena of reflection or action, one thing can be guaranteed - the study of international politics becomes progressively more important as time passes.

Issues that IR covers include sovereignty, environmentalism, development and human rights in the context of global affairs. It is also a study of the way the policies of individual states impact on the affairs on other states - an increasingly important area as some small states have an increasingly large impact on the rest of the world.

Professor Kim Hutchings, program director of the MSc in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), sums up the wide breadth of what is learnt when studying IR at graduate level.

In depth, theoretically informed knowledge and understanding of contemporary world politics and foreign policy, including the chance to specialize in knowledge of particular regions, for example Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Russia; issues such as war, conflict resolution, humanitarian intervention, human rights, terrorism; and organizations like the UN, EU, NATO, WTO, she says.

More and more universities are offering graduate degrees in IR as the demand continues to rise from around the world. Professor Hutchings has seen a growth in applicants from China and India at LSE, as well as countries which have acceded to the EU recently, such as Bulgaria and Romania.

Professor Hutchings states that the skills learnt on an IR course at LSE are very wide-ranging. In addition to substantive knowledge of particular areas and issues, the Masters in international relations provides a range of skills in research, analysis, communication (written and oral) and team-working, all of which are being looked for by employers. International finance, management, law, policy research, journalism and academia are all areas which graduates succeed in, according to Professor Hutchings.

When applying for an IR master's degree, Professor Hutchings sums up what students need to demonstrate.

As well as showing that you have the appropriate qualifications, you need to prove your interest by demonstrating suitable background knowledge in the social sciences, strong analytic and communication skills and a deep interest in international politics.

Further reading > Colin Donald's has got an MPhil in International Relations from Cambridge. Today he is a journalist at the Sunday Herald, Scotland. Read what he thinks about his graduate studies.