In the divisive era of Brexit, Trump, and the climate crisis, it is university politics departments who are reaping the benefits, with applications to politics courses up 28% since the 2016 Brexit referendum. Professor Lee Marsden, Head the Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication department at UEA, says that, “since 2016, there has been considerable growth in applications to both politics and international relations. I think that’s probably true right across the country, and the reasons are probably not too hard to discover,” Marsden explains. “Increased polarisation, hardening of positions in terms of things like Brexit, and populism as an emerging concept, means that people are discussing politics a lot and are looking to try to make sense of the world we are now in.”
Applications to politics courses went up from 34,275 in 2013 to 47,445 in 2018 according to UCAS, and while Brexit has been a factor, it is one among many. On the global stage, the emergence of China as a significant international player, and a resurgent Russia, have sparked wider interest in global politics and international relations.
Meanwhile the rise of Donald Trump in the United States has, according to Marsden, “added a completely new dimension to politics, and his use of Twitter has been quite incredible. The idea of fake news has made for a very interesting political times.”
Marsden observed that our current political climate has also driven a resurgence of direct political activism, saying that, “there is now far more emphasis on engaging in political debate but also trying to put that into practice. We’ve seen students organising events, participating in Extinction Rebellion, there’s far more activism than used to be the case.
“There’s a movement now where people aren’t prepared just to think about politics, but are also actively participating in political processes.”