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BA (Honours) International Studies - Learning outcomes

Educational aims

International studies is concerned with analysing and understanding the implication of the fact that our world is made up of many different yet, interacting societies. As an academic discipline its origins are diverse including politics, history and law and its core concerns range from international politics, diplomacy, cooperation, war and security to international economics and development; from cultural and religious interactions between different societies to the spread of technology and environmental problems. International studies is also concerned with questions of the overall character and political make-up of the international system as a whole, and the sources of order and disorder within it, as well as the distinct political, economic and cultural aspects of this. International studies as an academic subject often goes under alternative labels such as International relations or Politics and international relations.

This is a broad-based degree in international studies drawing on a number of other academic disciplines. Your studies will:

  • introduce you to the key concerns and tools of study in contemporary international studies, with a particular emphasis on the ways in which these can be informed by an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing especially on politics and international relations, development studies and economics
  • increase and develop your knowledge and understanding of a wide range of issues, processes and institutions operating in the contemporary international system in such fields as international politics, development, international economics, cultural and moral orders and the field of technology
  • enable you to develop the skills and confidence necessary to make critical, informed evaluations and judgements about questions of international politics and world affairs and to write clearly about them
  • provide you with the materials, support, guidance and opportunities you need to develop as an independent learner
  • equip you with a range of practical, professional and key skills that you can articulate to employers.

Learning outcomes

The International Studies degree provides you with the opportunities to acquire, develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding and a range of skills and abilities.

The degree focuses on achievable outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds, who have chosen an interdisciplinary International Studies degree and who are learning at a distance.

Knowledge and understanding

When you have completed this degree, you will be able to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of:

  • the historical development and contemporary makeup of the international system and in particular the origins and spread of the modern system of nation states
  • the conceptualisation and explanation of order and disorder, and especially of conflict, competition and cooperation, in the international system
  • the range of political, economic, cultural and technological processes and interactions between different states and societies, and among a range of different actors, across the international system
  • the main debates, theories and current research and scholarship in the discipline of International Studies and related debates and theories in the disciplines of politics, development studies and economics.

Cognitive skills

When you have completed this degree, you will be able to:

  • define and use key concepts, abstract models and theories from a range of disciplines in order to study the international system
  • analyse complex situations, synthesise and critically evaluate different kinds of evidence from a variety of sources to develop detailed, reasoned arguments
  • critically compare and evaluate competing ideas and arguments and theories used in international studies.
  • carry out independent personal research using concepts, modules, theories and evidence to address a question or problem.

Practical and/or professional skills

When you have completed this degree you will be able to:

  • reflect on your ability to work without constant direction, in a variety of settings, to assess tasks and make plans across a programme of work and be able to plan and use your time strategically in order to fulfil those tasks
  • work independently and in collaboration with others, demonstrating effective communication and adaptability
  • make informed, reasoned choices and judgements applicable to a wide range of situations based on an understanding of the political, economic and cultural issues addressed by international studies.

Key skills

When you have completed this degree you will be able to demonstrate the following skills:

  • confidently select, summarise and synthesise information from a range of materials and sources and interpret, read and record/note appropriately
  • express and present complex ideas succinctly and clearly in written form in a coherent and organised manner to develop a logical, substantiated and sustained argument, with sources referenced appropriately
  • perform basic numerical operations and interpret and present basic descriptive statistics in tables, graphs and diagrams showing awareness of the range of interpretations they might be used to support
  • independently search for, access, critically evaluate and prepare information from a range of sources, including using a range of ICT applications and tools
  • identify and use sources of support and feedback to reflect upon your learning.

Teaching, learning and assessment methods

Knowledge and understanding are acquired at all levels through distance learning materials, including module-specific text materials, study guides, assignment and project guides; by a range of multimedia materials; through work on information sourced outside study materials (whether electronically or otherwise); and through correspondence tuition.

OU level 1 modules provide an interdisciplinary basis for undergraduate study and are strongly focused on developing study skills and general academic skills as well as exploring a range of social science subjects including politics and international studies. The core knowledge and understanding of International Studies are delivered in the OU levels 2 and 3 compulsory modules, which account for one-half of the total study at these levels. Other modules at OU levels 2 and 3 provide a range of options appropriate for an interdisciplinary International Studies programme.

There is progression through the modules from OU level 1 to 3 in terms of both the extent to which guidance for students is directive and the range and complexity of the material, concepts, models and theories covered. Similarly, the degree of engagement with the core disciplinary elements of International Studies develops from OU level 1 to 3. 

The teaching and learning of cognitive skills is embedded in module content at all levels of study. OU level 1 modules focus on generic cognitive skills appropriate to interdisciplinary undergraduate study; basic skills development is heavily supported through the teaching material, and assessment and feedback is oriented towards skill development. At OU levels 2 and 3, more advanced cognitive skills are progressively developed: skills development takes place both within the compulsory modules, and between levels, with the OU level 3 module building on the skills developed at OU level 2.

Assessment is closely linked to skills development. At OU level 2, cognitive skills are assessed through tutor-marked assignments and exams and at OU level 3 by tutor-marked assignments as well as by means of an end-of-module independent project. In addition, depending on the electives taken, more discipline-specific cognitive skills may be developed, taught and assessed.

Practical and/or professional skills and attributes

When you have completed this degree, you will be able to transfer and use relevant key skills in your workplace and daily life. The knowledge and understanding of the international system you will have gained, and the political, economic and cultural issues it raises, are directly relevant to a wide range of professional, social and public settings. The degree will enable you to make informed, reasoned choices and judgements in matters relating to issues of international public action and beyond.

Practical and/or professional skills as well as key skills are an integral part of all modules at all levels. They are developed as a consequence of module work throughout the programme and are also built into aspects of the assessment process.


The open nature of entry to the OU means that we emphasise reading and writing skills at OU level 1. At higher levels we make assumptions about your basic abilities in these areas, although feedback from your tutor on your writing skills continues to be important. As you work on higher-level modules, you will find that the materials from which you work become increasingly complex and diverse, and you will need more sophisticated skills of interpretation, selection, analysis and synthesis.

Application of number

You are taught these basic skills at OU level 1 in specific parts of the available modules. These skills are further developed at OU level 2. The extent to which you develop these skills will also depend on which modules you take in your options. Modules from economics, for example, enable students to develop these skills further.

Information technology

These skills are introduced and used in a number of modules but form an important part of the OU level 2 and 3 compulsory modules. As such, a basic IT literacy is an outcome and requirement of the degree programme.

Problem solving

These skills are studied and developed in many of the case studies of policy and practice in the compulsory module at OU level 2 and are taught and assessed in relation to the independent work students complete for the end-of-module essay for the compulsory module at OU level 3.

Learning how to learn

There is a strong emphasis on helping you to develop as an independent learner. At OU level 1 this means helping you to develop your basic skills (e.g. time planning, using feedback and support) but also laying the foundation for the increasing emphasis on critical reflection and independent learning at OU levels 2 and 3. At OU level 3 this is built into the compulsory module through the requirement of the end-of-module essay to demonstrate a degree of learning, independent of the module materials.