School of Social and Political Science

MSc International Relations

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Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines for this programme. See 'important points to note when applying for this programme' below for the application deadlines.

Passionate about the pressing problems humanity faces in the international realm

This programme studies international relations and the pressing problems humanity faces in the international realm.

By joining this fascinating programme, you’ll become part of a community that is passionate about international relations.

We explore topics such as war, terrorism, power, diplomacy, climate change, trade, poverty, migration and international cooperation; not just their study, but also ways to meet the associated challenges.

Our MSc International Relations programme offers intensive training in the theory and practice of international relations, and preparation for a diverse range of international careers or further research.


Our approach combines innovative research with creative and inspirational teaching, provided by staff who combine intricate knowledge of the major international institutions with a deep appreciation of historical change and the most important ideas in international thought.

You’ll be inspired to explore a world of possibilities, from evolutionary psychology and the sociology of the financial crisis to state survival in the Middle East and the social construction of security.

By the end of the programme you will:

  • know and understand core explanatory theories, concepts, institutions and issues in the study of international relations
  • have specialist in-depth knowledge of specific areas and issues in international relations
  • know key contemporary debates in existing academic literatures in journals and books on international relations
  • be able to analyse and evaluate competing theoretical paradigms in the explanation and judgment of international relations
  • be able to apply explanatory models to analyse and understand specific developments within international relations
  • be able to draw on a variety of disciplinary paradigms in the understanding of international relations

The MSc Programme is taken over twelve months of full-time study (part-time candidates normally fulfill the requirements of the degree in 24 months). The programme will be delivered through lectures, seminars, group work and guided independent study.

You will complete two compulsory courses and four option courses, followed by work towards an independently researched dissertation.

With the agreement of the Programme Director, you may select option courses from elsewhere within the University.


The dissertation is an extended piece of scholarship of a maximum 15,000 words in which students have the opportunity to pursue a topic largely of their choosing. Academically it is the most advanced element of the degree. It is also the point where students progress from structured study in courses to independent study.

All students are assigned a supervisor for their dissertation. Students are expected to demonstrate the ability to engage critically and analytically with the literature, building upon relevant concepts and theory covered in the taught element of the degree. The dissertation is normally made up of a balance of empirical and theoretical work. However, students are not required to conduct primary field research.

Past dissertation topics

Examples of dissertation topics in previous years in related programmes include:

  • International Security
  • Comparative Regionalism
  • Modern Peacekeeping
  • Middle Eastern Politics
  • African Foreign Policy
  • EU Environmental Politics
  • Humanitarian Intervention
  • International Terrorism
  • Gender Politics
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • International Trade
  • European Security and Defence Policy
  • Enlargement of the European Union
  • Turkish membership of the EU
Career opportunities

This qualification could lead to a career in a wide range of institutions and roles, such as:

  • regional, national and international government institutions
  • party political support
  • development organisations
  • educational, research and think-tank organisations
  • banking
  • media
  • lobbying
  • commercial organisations

Graduates of the programme can also choose to study further, using the MSc degree as a stepping stone towards a PhD in International Relations or related fields such as Political Science, International Political Economy, Security Studies, etc.

The programme also helps students to develop transferable skills, including the ability to: conduct independent research; synthesise and critically analyse complex material; and communicate via oral and written channels at an enhanced level.

Important points to note when applying for this programme

Personal Statement

In your personal statement, you should explain what attracts you to this particular programme of study at the University of Edinburgh. This might include references to the overall programme structure, particular courses you would like to take, people you would like to be taught by, and so on. In short, what exactly is it about this programme which motivates you to apply?

You should also indicate why you consider the programme to be suited to your future plans, and how you consider yourself prepared for the rigours of this masters degree in International Relations. Where relevant, it would also be a good idea to explain how you might overcome potential challenges during the programme (e.g. language barriers, transitioning from a different academic background, etc.)

When outlining your relevant training/knowledge, you should try to explain how your particular educational, professional, or other qualifications and experiences prepare you for this degree. This can be as free-flowing text or with the use of bullet points.

Finally, please note that applicants who receive an offer will not be allowed to defer their admission to a following year.

Application deadlines

Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines.

We will make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis, but hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline when we will offer a proportion of the places available to applicants selected through a competitive process.

Please ensure that you have submitted all supporting documentation and paid the application fee before the deadline for the round you wish to be considered in.

Deadlines for applicants applying to study in 2024-2025:

Round Application deadline Places awarded by
1 20th November 2023 1st February 2024
2 5th February 2024 4th April 2024
3 2nd April 2024 6th June 2024
4 3rd June 2024 25th July 2024

Application fee

A non-refundable application fee of £50 must be paid after you submit your application. Your application will not be processed until we have received your application fee.

Please ensure that you have submitted all supporting documentation and paid the application fee before the deadline for the round in which you wish to be considered.

Successful applicants must accept their offer within 28 days of the response date in order to secure their place on the programme. As this programme is highly competitive, any applicants who have not responded within this time will lose their offer, and offers will be made to applicants on the waiting list as places become available.

If you have received an offer but are no longer able to take up your place, please decline your offer via your Applicant Hub portal, or contact so that your place may be offered to another applicant.

Tuition fees

Award Title Duration Study mode  
MSc   1 Year Full-time Tuition fees
MSc   2 Years Part-time Tuition fees
Reading recommendations

If you're looking for some recommend reading to start before you arrive in Edinburgh, we advise the following: 

  • Baylis, J., Smith, S., & Owens, P. (2020). The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Burchill, S., et al. (2013). Theories of International Relations. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Buzan, B., & Hansen, L. (2009). The Evolution of International Security Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Collins, A. (2022). Contemporary security studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • O’Brien, R., & Williams, M. (2020). Global Political Economy: Evolution & Dynamics. London: Macmillan International Higher Education.
  • Ravenhill, J. (2017). Global Political Economy. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Additional information

Edinburgh and the University

Both the city and University of Edinburgh are dynamic, cosmopolitan centres of international political engagement, culture and learning. They combine centuries of political, economic, military and intellectual history, including the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment, with the modern institutions of a forward thinking capital city.

Edinburgh itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the University is currently ranked 16th in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2022.

Our graduates

Students from our programmes in International Relations (IR) and International and European Politics (IEP) have found work in:

International Institutions

  • NATO Crisis Management Policy Division
  • United Nations Development Programme, Disaster Risk Reduction
  • United Nations, Elections Officer
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization
  • United Nations Mine Action Service
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  • United Nations Security Council

 European Union Institutions

  • European Commission (stages in DGs Agriculture, Competition, Enlargement, Trade)
  • European Commission Delegation in Washington
  • European Parliament—stage

Regional Institutions

  • Council of the Baltic Sea States

National Government and Administrative Institutions

  • Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Irish Civil Service
  • Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
  • Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Norwegian Agricultural Authority
  • Scottish Executive
  • Scottish Parliament
  • UK Civil Service
  • UK Foreign Office
  • UK Electoral Commission
  • UK House of Commons
  • UK Ministry of Defence
  • United States House of Representatives
  • American Chamber of Commerce, EU Committee in Brussels

Party Political Support

  • European Parliament—European Free Alliance Group
  • Office of Member of European Parliament
  • Office of Member of Parliament
  • Office of Member of Scottish Parliament
  • Scottish National Party 

Development Organisations

  • Africa Educational Trust
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Just World
  • Refugees International
  • Sudan Volunteer Program

Educational, Research and Think Tank Organisations  

  • European Policy Centre
  • Foreign Policy Centre
  • Institute of European Affairs
  • Mount San Jacinto College
  • Policy Research Institute
  • School of Peace and Culture (Autonoma University of Barcelona)
  • Scottish Council Foundation
  • Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Advocacy and Lobby Organisations

  • Conservation International
  • Environmental Law and Policy Center
  • Global Witness
  • Kurdish Human Rights Project
  • Scottish Civic Forum

Banking and Financial Institutions

  • Bank of America
  • Ernst and Young
  • European Central Bank
  • ING
  • Price Waterhouse Coopers

Media and PR Organisations

  • Bloomberg Media
  • European Agenda (news magazine)
  • Financial Times
  • Hill & Knowlton
  • Media Corporation of Singapore
  • New York Times Website
  • Press Data Bureau

Commercial Organisations

  • Glaxo SmithKline
  • Lukoil
  • Olympic Airways