Six Reasons Why it is a Fascinating Time to Study Politics
May 13, 2019

We are living in fraught political times. All of this uncertainty is accompanied by something else, however: opportunities for innovation and growth. With so much on the line, politics students will be uniquely qualified to understand and develop solutions to the ever-evolving global challenges. Here’s a closer look at six reasons why there has never been a better time to study politics.

1. Brexit

With the UK poised to leave the European Union (EU), a lot hangs in the balance for England and Wales (both of which voted in favor of Brexit), Scotland and Northern Ireland (both of which voted to remain), the unsettled continent, and the world at large.

While the official departure was initially set to occur on March 29, 2019, the withdrawal agreement has been rejected multiple times by UK MPs. EU leaders have agreed to a six-month extension until October 31, but the UK may leave before then if the withdrawal agreement is ratified by both parties. Alternatively, Brexit could be further delayed -- or even stopped. There could also be another referendum or a no-deal Brexit, which would result in a “hard border” between the UK and the EU.

Even if all goes smoothly from here on in, many questions remain regarding how Brexit will redefine global relationships, including whether the UK would be able to rejoin in the future; what will happen to immigration to and from EU countries; how much Brexit has cost to date and will cost by its end; and the impact on everything from the economy to housing to legal matters.

To that end, the European Parliament has commissioned many studies on Brexit across a comprehensive range of policy areas. Brexit experts will continue to be in-demand through the changes ahead.

2. The Trump phenomenon

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that the Trump presidency in the US has changed the world and inspired conversations about everything from social media and politics to “politics as performance.”

And then there’s the potential impact on foreign policy if Trump follows through on his campaign promises. Eliot A. Cohen argues in an opinion piece for Foreign Affairs, “The surface-level calm of the last two years should not distract from a building crisis of U.S. foreign policy, of which Trump is both a symptom and a cause.” At the same time, however, Cohen cautions that the shift was not actually precipitated by Trump. “The crisis of the United States’ post–Cold War foreign policy has been a long time in the making, and it will last beyond Trump,” he asserts.

Whether you’re for or against Trump, there’s no denying that he’s making waves.

3. Global warming

Global warming and politics are hot button issues, and with good reason: according to researchers, evidence that humans are causing global warming and its dangerous effects has now reached a “gold standard” level of certainty which “humanity cannot afford to ignore.” As scientists work toward solutions to reverse the issue, politics will also play a role, both in navigating bipartisan points of view and in devising and pushing through climate change legislature -- domestically and internationally.

4. New media

In his book Understanding New Media, Robert Logan proclaims new media to be “those digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication and involve some form of computing.” It is “very easily processed, stored, transformed, retrieved, hyperlinked and, perhaps most radical of all, easily searched for and accessed.” Comprising social media, blogs, and online news outlets, new media has far-reaching implications for society, including politics.

In her book The Age of Perplexity: Rethinking the World We Knew, Diana Owen writes, “The new media environment is dynamic and continues to develop in novel, sometimes unanticipated, ways that have serious consequences for democratic governance and politics. New media have radically altered the way that government institutions operate, the way that political leaders communicate, the manner in which elections are contested, and citizen engagement.”

5. China

China’s increasing exertion of “sharp power” on the global stage is transforming international relations. While this “imperial turn” started in neighboring East Asia, it has since reached further, expanding to Latin America, Western Europe, and the US.

Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution explains, “We are in a new era in several respects.  First, China is now a genuine superpower in terms of global reach, influence, and ambition, arguably rivaling the United States and even in some places eclipsing it.  Second, it is racing forward technologically to economic and potentially military superiority in many cutting-edge fields, in part because of relentless efforts to misappropriate Western (particularly US) intellectual property. Third, to achieve its global ambitions it is exercising a new form of power -- not the hard power of military force, but not the soft power of transparent persuasion either.  Rather, this is ‘sharp power’ that seeks to penetrate the institutions of democracies in ways that are often what a former Australian prime minister called ‘covert, coercive, or corrupting.’  We need to learn to recognize these forms of influence and strengthen our institutions to resist them.”

6. Africa rising

Africa is undergoing profound growth, promising a rate of return on foreign investment higher than in any other developing region. And while long-term prospects are strong, there are also many threats to it, including natural disasters, wars, and poor government policies.

Indeed, Africa has its work cut out for it, with one group of people playing a vital role in facilitating the continent’s ongoing ascension. “African policymakers should look inward, by focusing on policies to mobilize national resources and finance their economic agendas,” explains Brahima Sangafowa Coulibaly, a senior fellow and director of the African Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He adds that those agendas should include diversifying economies to better cope with future shocks to them, while also increasing the pace of industrialization across the continent, and that governments should strive to generate decent jobs for the 11 million people now joining the continent’s labor force annually. He also says countries should implement policies to cut poverty and make sure prosperity is shared across all sections of society.

With so much uncertainty existing in the fields of politics and international studies, where should you go to discover answers? SOAS University of London.

Europe’s leading higher education institution specializing in the study of Asia, Africa, and the Near and Middle East, SOAS’s Department of Politics and International Studies offers a breadth and depth of degrees, certificates, and summer courses, including master’s of science degrees in African politics; Asian politics; comparative political thought; contemporary China studies; international politics; Middle East politics; politics of China; politics of conflict rights & justice; and state, society and development.

These all imbue students with the knowledge, understanding, skills, and experience they need -- not only to tackle these obstacles, but to transform them into opportunities. The courses are taught by reputed academics involved in work and research which influences government policy across the world, on vital issues including economy, democracy, development, religion, and social change.

What’s more, if you study at SOAS you study in the centre of London, where you’ll be at the heart of the Brexit debate and so much that is important in global politics -- as well as in a thrilling city with many different peoples and cultures. So what are you waiting for?