Since its establishment in 2004, bringing together the Department of Politics and social science elements of the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) has established itself as one of the most dynamic and distinctive academic units in the UK. Bringing together a long tradition of teaching and research in international relations with leading regional specialist scholars, the School offers a unique opportunity to study and understand specific parts of the world in disciplinary context. Thus SGIA is home to the largest group of specialists in the politics, political economy and security of the Persian Gulf in the UK; we are probably the leading centre for research in Islamic political economy and finance in Western Europe and our group of East Asian specialists include the core leadership group of Durham University's Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies. Our European research is also highly distinguished, with SGIA staff convening the German Politics specialist group of the UK Political Studies Association.
Beyond regional specialisation, the School staff are also at the forefront of research agendas recognised as key strengths in the 2007 UK Research Council sponsored international benchmarking exercise looking at the health of politics and international relations in the UK in global perspective. For example, SGIA staff are prominent figures in research looking at the interaction of international relations theory with political theory. Durham University's reputation as a centre for political theory, represented by the Centre for the History of Political Thought, is extremely well established.
Our research is greatly enhanced by the presence of one of the biggest research student groups in Durham University, with nearly one hundred students pursuing research degrees, representing nearly fifty different nationalities, emphasising the international reputation of research in the School.
The teaching of international relations at Durham University goes back to the founding of a politics department in 1964. High quality, research-led teaching is a central feature of what we do and has been commended in University reviews of the School's teaching in both 2006 and 2008. Durham University is recognised by the UK Quality Assurance Agency as having amongst the most rigorous and demanding international quality assurance and enhancement procedures of any British university. Alongside this, the existing politics degree in SGIA scores highly in the National Student Survey, sitting alongside the best in the UK, and we were placed eighth in the UK for Politics in the 2007 Guardian league tables.
SGIA is housed in two buildings, about one hundred metres apart on Elvet Hill Road, close to many of the University's colleges and about a fifteen minute walk, across beautiful Prebends Bridge and past the Cathedral, to the centre of town, and both are about ten minutes walk to the central library. The Al-Qasimi building was opened in 2003 and endowed by His Royal Highness Sultan bin Mohammed al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah. South End House was once a coaching house and is reputed to be haunted! Staff and teaching are split roughly evenly between the two buildings, with some teaching, especially large lectures, taking place in centrally provided University rooms.