Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

The Cambridge courses in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies - formerly 'Oriental Studies' - offer an intensive grounding in the major cultures of East Asia and the Middle East (as listed below). All courses are built on the achievement of a high level of competence in one or two of the language(s), and this requires a strong commitment and regular attendance from the student. The courses also cover history and literature, and may also include specialisation in anthropology, politics, economics, archaeology, etc. depending on the specific course of study.

Cambridge's traditions in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies go back to the 16th century, and there are extensive library and museum holdings. The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies itself, where there is a pleasant working library and where all lectures are held, is on the Sidgwick Site of the University, close to the Faculties of Classics and Modern and Medieval Languages, and to the University Library. Formal lectures are the responsibility of the relevant department, not the College, but the organisation of small-group teaching ("supervisions") and general academic guidance is in the hands of the College's Director of Studies in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Being a small subject, students in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies will visit teachers in a number of colleges in order to gain specialist supervision.

Course structures

Subjects offered by the Faculty:

East Asia

   Classical and Modern Chinese

   Classical and Modern Japanese

The Islamic World



Hebrew Studies

   Biblical and Medieval Hebrew

   Modern Hebrew


It is possible to take some of these as half-subjects in recognised combinations. It is also possible to study East Asian and Middle Eastern languages combined with a modern European language from the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, for example Hebrew and Russian, or Arabic and French. (N.B. The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies is the lead Faculty for administrative purposes with these combined courses.)

The Asian and Middle Eastern Studies course (or Tripos) is divided into three parts, known as Part IA, Part IB and Part II. Examinations in Part IA are taken at the end of the first year, Part IB at the end of the second. Part II normally lasts for two years, with the third year spent abroad in an appropriate country. Students who have chosen to combine Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with a modern language (e.g. French) will follow a course which is divided fairly equally between the two. The Tripos System can offer the student great flexibility: some students come to the Faculty to take Parts IA and IB after having already completed Part I of another Tripos (e.g. Classics, Economics, etc), and some complete Part I of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and then transfer to another Faculty; both lead to a normal Honours degree.


The standard A Level offer for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies is A*AA.  The standard IB offer is 40-42 points with 776 at Higher Level.  Since East Asian and Middle Eastern languages are rarely taught in schools, the first year teaching assumes no prior knowledge of the subject. Although most applicants have taken a language at A-level, those with a maths or science background can be equally successful. However, some formal language training (in any language) would be beneficial, as the language classes at the Faculty are very intensive. For applicants wishing to study a modern language as part of the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies degree, an A Level in the chosen modern language is required.

Please note that all applicants to the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies will be interviewed at both the College and the Faculty.

Applicants are required to submit two pieces of recent written work as part of their application.

Applicants are also required to sit the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies admissions written assessment prior to being called to interview. More information can be found on the University website.

Life after Cambridge

Career patterns for graduates in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies are so varied that it is impossible to generalize. Some have joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or international welfare agencies. Others have become journalists and their reports on current events in the People's Republic of China, in Japan and in the Middle Eastern countries are widely read. Others have joined the staffs of major museums and libraries, and of course, some have continued their studies and research beyond the BA Degree to M.Phil or PhD level.  However there are also quite a number who have taken up careers in fields which have no direct relevance to their degree. Some have entered large business concerns based in the City and others have chosen to study law. Whichever direction they have chosen, their experience in studying an unusual language and a non-western civilization have been perceived by employers as evidence of imagination, originality and curiosity.

Director of Studies

Dr James Aitken

More information

University Undergraduate Prospectus

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies homepage

Cambridge University Students' Union (CUSU) Alternative Prospectus

Fitzwilliam College Undergraduate Alternative Prospectus