Monday, January 9, 2012

SAIS: a graduate program with a global perspective

Rankings of academic institutions are almost always controversial. How can one measure the quality of teaching or learning with any degree of certainty? How do you set standards that work across the board? How can you ensure a diverse and comprehensive set of judges?

Still, individuals who are considering applying to graduate schools want benchmarks by which to compare programs. The most thoughtful candidates understand that rankings are by definition imperfect tools -- but tools nonetheless.

The U.S. magazine Foreign Policy periodically issues rankings of graduate programs in international relations. It is one of the most widely regarded benchmarks. It has its critics and yet draws attention every time it publishes rankings.

In its January/February issue, Foreign Policy ranks SAIS as the number two master's program in international relations in the world. You can read the results here.

Some of the comments that readers posted to the web version of the article focused on the fact that U.S. institutions dominated these rankings. Not a surprise given that the classifications were the work of faculty at U.S. universities.

We at SAIS are sensitive to these considerations. If SAIS has campuses on three continents -- in North America, Europe and Asia -- it is because it has long recognized that students want to be exposed to different ways of thinking in different parts of the world.

View SAIS locations in a larger map

This is one reason why we consider the SAIS experience so special. Students who spend their first year at SAIS Bologna and their second at SAIS DC reap the benefits of studying on two continents. As our director, Kenneth Keller, puts it, they participate in a debate displaced in time: students confront contrasting viewpoints as they tackle issues on either side of the Atlantic during their two years of study.

So in a way, SAIS should not be considered a purely U.S. institution in these rankings. It would be more accurate to say it is international -- in geography, outlook and philosophy.

Nelson Graves

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