University of Sydney Handbooks - 2021 Archive

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International Relations

About the major

International Relations is the study of the international political and economic system. It explores the historical development of that system and provides students with a comprehensive understanding of actors, institutions, and processes of international politics. The major in International Relations focuses on territorial states that acknowledge no superior authority over issues vital to national interest. You will analyse the nature of this system – the rules and forces governing the behaviour of states, the factors that lead to military conflict or peaceful co-operation, and the current trends towards both a more globalised, integrated, and a more fragmented world.

In your first year, you will be introduced to the core theories, concepts and institutions in international relations, and the history of international system. The second and third year units progressively build upon these foundations, further developing your understanding of central issues, including international security, international organisations, international political economy, and international law. Students will also explore the role that international institutions play in shaping policy decisions at the global level.

Key research and teaching areas include:

  • Politics at the global level: the study of the politics of countries around the world, and the way these nations interact in the international arena (foreign affairs, strategic behaviour and diplomacy);
  • The policy-making process at the international level, and;
  • War and peace, security, terrorism, the international political economy, global cultures, international environmental politics, human rights and security.

Graduates from this major will have the skills desired by public, private and non-profit organisations, domestically and internationally.

Requirements for completion

The International Relations major and minor requirements are listed in the International Relations unit of study table.

Learning outcomes

No. Learning outcome
1 Evaluate, assess, synthesise, and apply in real world contexts, the key concepts, theories and methods across the discipline of international relations.
2 Identify, evaluate, categorise and compare key actors and components of the international political system, including states, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, transnational corporations, global civil society actors and individuals.
3 Critically evaluate important changes and continuities in the historical development of the international political system.
4 Evaluate 'real world' political events and issues in the light of normative and empirical theories of international relations.
5 Demonstrate effective oral and written skills in communicating ideas about international relations to different academic and non-academic audiences using a range of media.
6 Demonstrate, assess, and combine , multiple perspectives from a range of cultural contexts the multidisciplinary nature of international relations by establishing connections with the other disciplines that have shaped and continue to influence international relations including political science, economics, society and history.
7 Demonstrate problem-solving skills and interpersonal communication skills through project work and interdisciplinary skills in a multiperspectival and diverse context.
8 Discuss foundational international relations concepts and theories with others in a constructive, ethical, empathetic and analytical way.

Advanced coursework

The Bachelor of Advanced Studies in SSPS offers students the opportunity to apply their social science skills and knowledge to complex and tangible social, cultural, political and economic problems. Students will have the opportunity to apply and further develop their methodological, analytical and communication skills as they undertake primary research, learn to harness big data for critical social science research and diagnose and propose responses to contemporary and persistent social, cultural, political and economic challenges. Students will also be given the opportunity to further develop their capacity to translate social science research and analysis into effective contributions to public and policy debates.

Requirements and units of study for advanced coursework can be found on the International Relations advanced coursework units of study page.


The Department of Government and International Relations offers systematic and extended study in key areas of politics and international relations. Two advanced coursework units cover national, comparative, and international politics. Students are also required to take a research design unit that prepares them for the research they will complete in the extended dissertation. The content of this research is to be negotiated with a dedicated project supervisor, who will be a member of the academic staff with expertise in the chosen area.

Honours admission requirements

Admission to honours is via the Bachelor of Advanced Studies and requires the completion of a major in International Relations with an average of 70% or above.

Prior to commencing honours, you will need to ensure you have completed all other requirements of the Bachelor of Arts or other bachelor degree, including Open Learning Environment (OLE) units and a second major.

Requirements and units of study for honours can be found on the International Relations honours units of study page.

Contacts and further information

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