Understanding Global Challenges: Theoretical Foundations

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

What are global challenges and how do we understand them from a political science perspective? Understanding global challenges: theoretical foundations is a graduate research course that explores the nature and role of the transnational governance regime for understanding and tackling global challenges. The course provides the conceptual and theoretical tools for understanding policy complexity as well as an increasingly complex and interwoven decision-making structure for global challenges, including global, national and local as well as public and private actors and organizations.

The course will proceed in two parts. Firstly, students will develop an understanding of global challenges and critically investigate how they are addressed at different levels and by different actors. Secondly, students will examine and discuss central theoretical approaches to understanding global challenges:

  • The role of complexity in addressing global challenges such as climate change, migration, pandemics and inequality
  • Interactions and interdependence between different norms, actors and policy levels involved in tackling key global challenges 
  • Mobilization for framing complex problems, creating agency and securing accountability for responsible action
  • Trade-offs between legitimacy, effectiveness, efficiency in governance

In addition to formal lectures, students will approach these themes through project-based learning: student-driven investigation of selected real-world problems through different theoretical lenses. 

Learning Outcomes


The student

  • has conceptual knowledge to identify global challenges and the related policy and organizational complexities
  • has in-depth knowledge of key political science approaches to explaining the politics and governance of global challenges in different settings
  • demonstrates extensive knowledge of the global governance regime and selected national and local approaches to addressing some selected global challenges


The student can

  • align abstract theories and concepts, empirical knowledge about policy responses to global challenges, and the political science analysis of different governance approaches


  • recognize the potential and limitations of specific theories and approaches for opening (or closing) specific routes of inquiry on the politics and governance of global challenges
  • identify key dilemmas and trade-offs in the politics and governance of global challenges, expose normative choices, and discuss the power dynamics shaping policy


  • provide practical applications of theory through written and oral presentations and in discussions with relevant actors in public policy and administration

General competences

The student can:

  • work in groups - both physically and in digital formats - to address complex challenges
  • make independent and professional assessments of policies, relevant organizations and institutional arrangements
  • assess the importance of local context (economy, power relations, culture, history) and local activism (e.g., litigation, social movements) for political action and transformation

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Required Previous Knowledge
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
Access to the Course

The course is open to students who have been accepted to the Master's programme in Politics and Governance of Global Challenges.

Exchange students at master level may be accepted upon application. Applications may be rejected due to capacity.

Teaching and learning methods
12-14 sessions and a final student conference.
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
  • four reflection notes (3-4 pages each) delivered throughout the course (weekly)
  • one group presentation during the final student conference (all group members must be equally involved in the group work)
  • The compulsory assignments must be approved in order to take the exam. Approved compulsory requirements are valid in the current and the following exam semester. Students receive teacher feedback and suggestions for improvement on each reflection note.

    Forms of Assessment

    Portfolio with:

    • four revised reflection notes (see above) and
    • A synthesis note (3-4 pages) drawing out key advantages and drawbacks of key theoretical perspectives when explaining the politics and governance of global challenges, as well as complementarities and/or tensions between these theories.

    The exam will be given in the language in which the course is taught.
    The exam answer can be submitted in English.

    Grading Scale
    Graded A-F
    Assessment Semester

    Assessment in teaching semester.

    A retake exam is arranged for students with valid absence according to § 5-5 in the UiB regulations.

    If there is a retake exam, this will be available for students with the follow results/absences:

    • Medical certificate/valid absence
    • Interruption during the exam
    • Fail/failed

    If you have the right to take a retake exam and a retake exam is arranged for students with valid absences, you can sign up yourself in Studentweb after 15. January

    Reading List
    The reading list will be ready before 1 July for the autumn semester and 1 December for the spring semester.
    Course Evaluation
    All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education.
    Programme Committee
    The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses. 
    Course Administrator
    Department of Government at the Faculty of Social Sciences has the administrative responsibility for the course and the study programme.