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Postgraduate politics & policy: Study options explained

James Davis

Understanding the intersect between economics, government and private sector can lead to momentous decisions that shape society. A postgraduate qualification can grow this understanding.

Political science and public policy allow governments and their consultants to model their decisions and behaviour on ideals a society ought to uphold. It’s often not unanimous what these ideals are, but through the act of discussing and thinking about them, stronger understandings can be reached. Postgraduate study in these fields will often consist of a multi-disciplinary curriculum, informing students of economic principles, the history of various nation-states and their diplomatic relations. In this article, we’ll explore some of the study options available in these fields with reference to specific courses, as well as their admission requirements and how to meet them.

Graduate certificates and diplomas

These allow students to learn more about the inner-workings of governments in a succinct timeframe. They take six months and one year of full time study respectively to complete, or between one and two years part time. Using the University of Queensland’s Graduate Diploma in Governance and Public Policy as an example, students can expect units in topics like:

  • The dynamics of governance
  • Law, policy and governance
  • Dynamics of public policy
  • Comparative public policy
  • Knowledge and evidence in public policy
  • Economic analysis & public policy

This is just a sample of all that’s available. There are a great deal of elective units students can take depending on their interest. They can explore topics like international crisis management, the principles of global law, or international and national conservation policy. This makes them incredibly versatile despite their deceptively short time frame.

Entry is quite easy in most cases, with no more than a 5/7 GPA (about 65%) being required in any undergraduate discipline. In UQ’s case you only need a 4.5. When you go to apply for this course, all you need to do is show that your undergraduate course is worthy of their ‘approval’. Namely, you got it from a trusted institution. This isn’t something you should have to worry about too much, but if they dispute the legitimacy of your qualification there’s nothing stopping you from asking them to call the institution you got your bachelor’s from. If you’re entering from a completely unrelated discipline, it might be worth looking into some rudimentary economics courses or some broad-strokes political theory. Although these do a fairly good job of showing you the ropes, there’s an enormous vernacular to learn, consisting of hundreds of years of terminology, concepts and philosophies that professors are likely to use quite liberally with the assumption you know all that already. So, we recommend drinking in all the knowledge you can before commencing!

Master’s degrees

These are commonly two year full time programs, which can last four years part time. They provide similar content and topic opportunities to graduate certificates and diplomas, with the added benefit of more time to explore them. They also give students the chance to undergo a research paper on a topic of their choice, which serves to improve their argumentative, written and investigative abilities. Institutions like ANU recommend their Master of Political Science to those who aspire to enter careers in research working for NGOs, government organisations or research institutions concerned with political affairs.

A GPA of 5.0/7 (about 65%) is the necessary minimum GPA achieved in prior study to be eligible for these programs. You also need to becoming from a cognate discipline, which can be any number of things. These include, but are not limited to:

  • International relations and diplomacy
  • Public policy and administration
  • Strategic and security studies
  • Political science
  • History
  • Sociology
  • Economics and development
  • Social sciences (anthropology, psychology etc)
  • Law
  • Regional studies

If you’re not confident in your GPA, it’s possible to enter one of these programs through a higher level of study, namely graduate certificate or diploma. In general, we’d recommend you take this path because it gives you a taste of what wider political science/ policy studies will entail (dependent on qualification) whilst counting toward a master’s degree should you choose to take one. Furthermore, it’s a way to circumvent the GPA requirement and shorten completion time. However, like with the graduate certificate or diploma, it’s certainly worth doing some extra study beforehand if you’re coming from a largely different discipline or aren’t familiar with the literary canon of political philosophy and policy. Taking rudimentary macro/ microeconomics courses coupled with a few primers in political thought from the likes of Plato, John Locke, Adam Smith etc can make a world of difference and save you some confusion when you get started.

Doctorates

This is the highest level of study you can undergo, taking three years full time or roughly eight years part. Although political science and associated thought is unusually research-heavy, even in coursework-focussed degree programs, it pales in comparison to the research you’ll undergo throughout a PhD. The sole purpose of these programs is to undergo research in a topic of your choice approved by a supervisor assigned to you. It’s then a requirement to regularly meet with this supervisor and achieve milestones to ensure steady progress. This all eventually culminates in a 70,000 to 100,000 word thesis, but it’s also possible to do a PhD by publication. This method allows you to publish multiple smaller works in journals throughout the duration of your program, which is an excellent way of getting a taste of life in academia and the publication process crucial to any PhD’s success. We’d definitely recommend this approach to bolster your employment prospects.

Entering often requires you to have done substantial research of some kind beforehand. As a student of either political science or policy, you should have no trouble with this given the number of research papers and theses you’ve likely written throughout undergraduate, or failing that, over the course of other postgraduate qualifications.

So long as you can demonstrate that you’ve got the ability to form arguments from extensive research, you should be OK meeting this requirement. If you’ve done an honours degree and achieved either first-class or second-class honours, you can skip the graduate certificate, diploma or master’s entirely and proceed straight in. This is obviously the most time-efficient method, but isn’t always the most accessible, which is why going for a graduate diploma or similar to start with is a great way in. If you’re coming from a very different discipline and aspire to enter a politics PhD, fear not! Time spent in these antecedent programs should get you up to speed.

Hopefully this has given you somewhat more of an idea about your study options. This field is definitely geared toward either research or working directly in government departments, so if these are the things that appeal to you, postgraduate study is worth pursuing. No matter where you decide to take your qualification however, we wish you all the best!