Politics and International Studies

Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at The Open University has an international reputation for research in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Political Theory. POLIS scholars have regional expertise in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America and welcome applications for research supervision across a wide range of topics, including security, foreign policy, development, democratization, identity and political thought. Research within POLIS is organised around two broad research areas: 1) International Relations; and 2) Democratic Politics: Performance and Participation. With more than 400 publications included in the Open University’s Online Repository, POLIS academics are prolific and making a significant contribution to academic thought, publishing cutting edge research in highly ranked journals. They also play a leading part in national and international conversations about politics; regularly giving evidence to parliamentary committees, advising government, linking up with civil society actors and informing major television and radio programmes on political themes.

Key facts

  • POLIS staff work on a wide range of topics, including Iranian, British, German, Russian, Indian and Chinese foreign and security policies, the politics of the Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia, democracy and populism in Europe and Latin America, political history and biography, and contemporary social and political thought.
  • POLIS staff regularly provide expert commentary for national and international media, including the BBC, CNN, France 24, the Guardian, the Financial Times, The Telegraph, and BBC radio.
  • POLIS members have close links with government and the policy community, contributing evidence and expertise to the UK’s 2020 Integrated Review, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select committee, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the Public Administration Select Committee, the International Development Committee, the House of Lords International Affairs and Defence Committee and the Ministry of Defence.
  • POLIS researchers lead on a number of important funded research projects including: “PROTECT”, a project funded by the European Commission's Horizon2020 programme, which studies the operation of refugee policy across Europe and beyond ; “Sectarianism, Proxies & De-sectarianisation” (SEPAD) in the Middle East; an AHRC funded grant, ‘Picturing Climate: Participatory Photography and Narrative Storytelling for Climate Change Education’; a Tate Modern and Counterpoints Arts knowledge exchange programme titled “Who Are We?” (whoareweproject.com) exploring issues of citizenship, democracy, migration, identity and belonging.
  • POLIS PhD students have conducted research on issues including women’s political participation and digital citizenship in Africa; child labour and children’s rights in Latin America; British political institutions; social movements and democracy in Europe; and the politics of migration and asylum.
  • POLIS members are editors or board members of world-leading academic journals and book series, including: the Journal of Global Security Studies, Foreign Policy Analysis, International Studies Perspectives, Asia Maior,  Higher Education Studies, Journal of Education and Training Studies; Journal of Political Science Education an MUP book series on 'Geopolitics and Identities in the Middle East', and Palgrave’s “Developments in British Politics” textbook.
  • POLIS researchers have leading roles in professional associations, including Chairing the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES), serving on the Governing Council of the International Studies Association, and Convening specialist groups in the British International Studies Association (BISA) and the Political Studies Association (PSA).


Most of our research students are based away from our Milton Keynes campus, and can live anywhere in the world; for details of residence requirements for different modes of study see Full-time study and Part-time study.

Career Prospects

Many of our PhD students are already working as teachers, journalists, and diplomats and combine their professional role with part time study; however, we also supervise students looking to pursue academic careers.

Students have the opportunity to gain teaching experience.