The highest rated course based on value for money, quality of teaching, reputation, student satisfaction and compliance with industry professional standards was the International Masters in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies from Charles University in Prague. As a part of the Erasmus programme this course is delivered jointly with the University of Glasgow and Dublin City University. All considered, the programme was thought expensive considering the benefits gained and other market offerings, but it excelled in both teaching quality and compliance with professional standards, achieving the highest ratings possible in those criteria.
At the Institute we try to inform the public by helping them make the best decisions in their intelligence careers, and that often begins with their choice of professional education. There are a lot of options for students and their choice of university can limit or advance professional goals and opportunities. Therefore, the Institute presents its recommendations for professional intelligence education in the following assessment.
This article is designed to assist potential students in judging degrees by meaningful criteria. Not holding a degree on this list does not mean the degree will not be accredited by the Institute. To a large extent, what a student gets out of a degree depends on what they put into it. If professional standards are not met by an institution or a qualification in its own right, a student may pursue certain electives, summer schools, additional training or independent study whilst at university that fills the gaps. How a student pursues their studies can, and has, resulted in degrees that would not normally meet minimum criteria being accredited on a case by case basis. What university a student chooses is not nearly as important as what they do when they are there. For this reason it is strongly advised that potential students seeking professionalisation contact the Institute at the earliest opportunity.
Our methodology for formulating recommendations and rankings is based on value for money, quality, reputation, satisfaction and compliance. Only full-time European postgraduate courses in the English language from universities accepting students from the general public were examined and not all universities were considered. Data is drawn from a number of reliable sources including government databases, Institute records and student feedback.
Value for Money (VfM) compares an estimate of the total expenditure involved in attending the course with the benefit obtained from it in terms of the average income of graduates over the five years following graduation. Expenditure includes accommodation, fees and opportunity costs but not expenses common to all university programmes such as books, materials, internet access, etc. Data is gathered from the universities concerned and other official sources, the ratio of the costs against salary is subsequently multiplied to provide a 1 to 5 rating.
Satisfaction is a numerical representation of how satisfied students were with key aspects of their course and the course overall. Survey questions focused on experiential outcomes such as ‘Were you able to retain and apply information communicated in lectures?’ rather than professional outcomes such as ‘How well did this course prepare you for your future career as an intelligence officer?’ Satisfaction ratings are compiled from independent student satisfaction survey results from a range of students graduating from the relevant degrees. This is subsequently averaged to produce ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 for each course.
Unlike satisfaction, a measure of how much graduates felt that the course delivered on their expectations, quality is a measure of how effective and efficient the course was at delivering professional objectives. This measure drew on entrance examination results of recent intelligence graduates, calculating how well their studies prepared them for professional entry and the alignment of faculty expertise to content delivered. Exam results were collated with the percentage of lecturers research records that pertained to the subjects they taught. The final sum was then averaged to produce ratings on a scale of 1 to 5.
Examining data from industry journals, official publications and university rankings, can produce an effective measure of reputation on the required scale. Unfortunately, reputation is often subjective and a measure largely beyond the control of faculty as its largest influences are driven by the age of the institution and its size. However, appointment decisions within employing organisations are often made on subjective criteria such as the reputation of establishments, warranted or not. Therefore it is only fair to reflect this in an analysis of professional eligibility.
Compliance is the Institute’s estimate of the extent to which the university and its course comply with the minimum standards for intelligence education providers and accredited intelligence degrees. This estimate has not been made in cooperation with the university or at the behest of its students and so does not constitute accreditation. However, it stands to reason that institutions featuring prominently on this list would be highly likely to be successful should an application be made. Data is gathered from open sources and an independent assessment by accredited assessors who would normally make judgements on accreditation in the event of an application.
“…ideals for the university are those of genuine democracy and serious scholarship. These two, indeed, seem to go together.”
Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States
In order to assemble a credible sample size data has been gathered over a number of years, indicating that ratings may not be reflective of current improvements incorporated into intelligence departments or institutions. An equal emphasis is placed on each criteria producing a final rating on a scale of 1 to 5, used to rate the course overall.
The highest rated course with a rating of 4.2 was the latest offering in the field from Charles University in Prague under the Department of Security Studies within the Institute of Political Studies. The International Masters in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies is an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree (EMJMD) developed and delivered jointly with the University of Glasgow in Scotland and Dublin City University in Ireland. Although the course scored highest, it lost points on value for money, but excelled in teaching quality and compliance with professional standards, achieving the highest rating possible in those criteria.
Ranked in the upper 1.5 percent of universities worldwide and top in the Czech Republic, Charles has achieved incredible success since its establishment in 1348. The University of Glasgow, established in 1451 typically holds positions in the top 20 nationally and holds higher positions than Charles in the global rankings. Dublin City University is the newest and the smallest of the three, only achieving university status in 1989. However, Dublin City has been ranked 4th nationally but fails to attain high positions in global rankings, mainly due to its size.
The University of Glasgow would have tied for joint second place with a 4-star rating had its programme not been a collaboration with two others. Glasgow achieved its highest ratings in student satisfaction and value for money, while its lowest scores were in teaching quality and reputation. Dublin City achieved a 3.6 rating but mainly suffered due to reputation as it was more recently established as a university.
The joint Master’s focuses on developing trained intelligence and security strategists with an understanding of best practices who can bridge the gap between international organisations and expert communities in academia, government and the private sector. Theoretical and applied knowledge is combined to develop intelligence skill sets in co-operation with the programme’s partners across Europe, delivering a unique perspective on European intelligence.
As an interdisciplinary programme it combines traditional seminars, lectures, tutorials and assessments with vocational training in several security areas. Governmental and non-governmental perspectives are adopted throughout the 24 month programme to counter contemporary threats such as terrorism, civil war and conflict, mass migration, energy supply security, cyber security, emerging technological threats and transnational organised crime.
The course is structured to build core intelligence and academic skills in the first year before narrowing study to specialise in a concentrated theme in the second year. Finally, a flexible study period incorporates independent study (a dissertation) and the work-based placement in government, the private sector or academia. An optional training school is also provided by OTH Regensburg in Germany developing skills in strategic intelligence methodology and analytic tradecraft.
Graduating students typically enter intelligence posts in government, risk analysis in the private sector or continue their studies to the doctoral level.
In joint second place with a 4-star rating came three 12-month courses from two UK universities. Kings College offered the Master of Arts in Intelligence and International Security, scoring highly in quality of teaching and value for money but falling short in professional standards compliance and student satisfaction. The University of Buckingham achieved the same rating with two of their courses; the Master of Arts in Law Enforcement Security and Intelligence and the Master of Arts in Security and Intelligence Studies. Both Buckingham’s courses scored highly in student satisfaction and professional standards but fell short on value for money and reputation. Although, it should be re-itterated that reputation is a subjective measure and their placement in reviews and league tables is in no way reflective considering the high quality of their programmes.
Kings College London was established as a university in 1829 and typically achieves rankings in the top 50 both nationally and globally. The University of Buckingham gained university status in 1983 and typically attains a rating in the top 25% nationally but generally does not appear in global league tables due to its non-profit status.
“I can only say that I view [education] as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
The programme at Kings concentrates on pure scholarship and has a broad focus on the context of intelligence and security, developing an awareness of intelligence issues and decision-making through case study, traditional lectures, vivas and examinations. The department openly admits that the course has no vocational focus. However, beyond the wider geo-strategic influences on intelligence, the programme does develop an understanding of contemporary intelligence processes, practices and common problems associated with collection and assessment.
The Master of Arts in Intelligence and International Security has three sections, beginning by introducing intelligence as a concept, then building on that foundation with a variety of optional modules and finally ending with a period of independent study. Students work with leading academics, serving and former intelligence officers and researchers. Graduates typically enter roles within the intelligence community in government or risk management and open-source intelligence in the private sector.
Buckingham’s Master of Arts in Law Enforcement Security and Intelligence aims to develop a strategic awareness of core issues in the field of intelligence amongst existing and aspiring intelligence professionals. Students learn from academics and practitioners alike studying practical modules on law enforcement intelligence and tradecraft and historical case studies on intelligence, international security and contemporary security threats and challenges within the law enforcement sector.
The Master of Arts in Security and Intelligence Studies from Buckingham aims to develop the same deep understanding of security and intelligence in western democracies with a strong focus on the UK. The course develops a solid understanding of security and intelligence operations, the operating environment and intelligence production. Benefiting from practitioner experience, students analyse case studies on contemporary threats to international security and intelligence history. They also undertake practical modules on terrorism, counter-terrorism and intelligence tradecraft and organisation. The course incorporates both the latest academic developments in the field and best practice guidance from government, professionalising intelligence by building skills in critical thinking, collaboration, analysis, evaluation, assessment and problem-solving.
Both Buckingham’s Master of Arts in Law Enforcement Security and Intelligence, and Master of Arts in Security and Intelligence Studies end with an analytical simulation exercise and a period of independent study. Contrary to the offering from King’s, Buckingham’s course is highly vocational and graduates typically continue or enter careers in intelligence organisations.
Finally, in third place, with a joint rating of 3.8 came Brunel University and another course from the University of Buckingham. Brunel University excelled in student satisfaction but achieved its lowest ratings in reputation. As with Buckingham it is important to mention that this rating is not reflected in the otherwise high quality of their programmes.
Brunel University London gained university status in 1966 and has appeared in the top third of national rankings and has entered the top 400 globally. Brunel’s Master of Arts in Intelligence and Security Studies is oriented towards intelligence professionals and aims to develop staff in government, international agencies and the private sector with a strong grasp of intelligence and security issues who who excel in research and assessment. The course is taught over an academic year consisting of compulsory modules introducing intelligence concepts and methodology, studying intelligence history and analytic methodology in the first two terms. Students can also elect for optional modules intelligence analysis or counterintelligence. The course ends with a simulation exercise and a period of independent study in the final term.
Students learn from academics and practitioners alike and develop practical skills in the sphere of intelligence analysis and exploit opportunities for relevant work-based learning, professional support and volunteering. Graduates often secure positions in the intelligence community, police, armed forces and analytical positions throughout the private sector. Faculty specialise in analysis, covert action, military doctrine, imagery intelligence, cryptography, computer networking, economics and law but draw on a wider pool of expertise, including their close relationship with Her Majesty’s Government.
Buckingham’s Master of Arts in Security, Intelligence and Diplomacy failed to meet the same grade as other courses from the same institution as the the content failed to meet the same professional standards objectives due to the coverage of the material. The course is not primarily oriented at preparing students for intelligence positions. However, students do learn about the post-war development of intelligence, how intelligence, counterintelligence and tradecraft are used today together with foreign policy and diplomatic subjects.
"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
Over the course of the year; law, foreign policy and intelligence history is covered in the autumn, diplomacy, intelligence and tradecraft is covered in the winter term, contemporary intelligence and security issues in the spring, and finally the dissertation in the summer. Graduates develop a deep geopolitical understanding and often find themselves in foreign office or intelligence posts.
The theme that emerged throughout this analysis was that there were in fact two driving factors behind four of the five criteria that influenced a university’s position in the rankings. These two factors were course content and the selection of faculty to deliver that content. Universities choosing content with a vocational orientation that delivered on professional standards and choosing faculty with matching research interests to deliver that content invariable performed higher in all other criteria than those who did not. The courses were of higher quality, delivered more value for money, students were more satisfied and they were more compliant with professional standards. The only factor that was not dependant on these two was reputation, a subjective measure largely linked to the size and age of the institution, and largely out of the control of faculty leaders.
Upon examination of these top intelligence schools, the effects of these criteria became clear. Although it cannot be said that the Erasmus Master’s achieved these effects by design, the sheer volume of material in a Master’s twice the size of any other ensured hitting on required subject matter and securing access to scholars who were specialists in them. The only issue an extended programme presented was that unless Erasmus funding was secured, the programme became prohibitively expensive. Intelligence has never been a particularly highly paid profession and any intelligence officer seeking to independently fund themselves through this course would have to save up for the best part of a decade. No matter how good the programme is, and it is exceptional, this has to call into question the value for money a new or serving officer would obtain. However, in all other areas the Erasmus programme was a clear leader.
Buckingham’s presence in second place was achieved specifically because of its vocational orientation and a selection of faculty whose backgrounds and research interests were consistent with that. This enabled Buckingham to create a programme that could compete evenly with larger and more established universities like Kings. Favouring pure scholarship over vocational relevance ignores the obligation education has to the professions it claims to support. If a university is to deliver any degree regarding a profession, professional standards must feature prominently in that. It is no more appropriate for a graduate in Intelligence to have no skill or knowledge in tradecraft than a graduate in medicine to have never held a syringe.
Finally, although Brunel University’s offering suffered due to the age and size of the institution (as with Buckingham), Brunel also cost itself a position in second place due to its concentration on analysis. Covering the core content required of a professional education and specialising in a single field in the same qualification is always going to be difficult. Within 12 months it is impossible without sacrificing core content in favour of the speciality, and this seems exactly the trap Brunel and other Institutions lower down the rankings fell into to varying degrees.
Brunel produced a course that developed superior analytic expertise, perhaps more than any other institution. As with Kings, who developed a programme that specialised in the geopolitics of intelligence, essential professional skills were clearly sacrificed in the pursuit of deeper knowledge elsewhere. However, it should be noted that although there were professional gaps in the curriculum, ample opportunity for students to fill these gaps through extra-curricular activities were linked to the course. And, from our research, most students seem to have exploited these to great effect.
Other programmes appeared in the list. However, all those had curriculum gaps significantly larger than Brunel and Kings and seemed to deliver little additional specialisation or extra-curricular means of filling those gaps by means of compensation. Beyond the top three the quality and coverage of programmes deteriorated rapidly. Some towards the bottom of the list had deteriorated to such an extent that they clearly delivered on subject matter so departed from intelligence, that a potential student would have to question whether they were Intelligence degrees at all.
However, one thing is certain. An intelligence education, in whatever form it takes, no matter how good or bad, is better than no education at all. The student makes the degree, not the institution, the course or the faculty. A diligent student determined to become a professional will do so, regardless of their circumstances. However, the road may be harder and longer depending on the education choices they make. In this respect, the value of the Institute lies in making that road shorter and easier, whenever possible. Helping professionals at whatever point in their career or education they may find themselves to make the best choices for themselves.