It means that some universities try to attract overseas students because they pay more tuition fees, without actually offering the right environment, academics, etc. Everyuniversity will try to convince you that it is the greatest place for you, because you mean money for them. If you already go abroad, go to a good university, and to once which provides you with a friendly and supportive environment. As mentioned before, reputation is relative, do look at each university and its ranking in the league tables for your subject. Also, if you want to go for a potsgraduate degree, look at the department, the lecturers, possibly contact them individually, in order to find out what they are specialised in. I would not go to a small village or a very unknown university. SOAS is certainly the one with the best reputation from the ones you listed and if you can afford London I would personally go for SOAS.
IMHO it is simply a matter of whom you are trying to impress after your degree (in whatever line of work/academia).
For people in the know, all 3 IR/Pol departments are in the top echelons, but at present, Aberystwyth has the better list of 'top names' and is right at the top of the IR league table (which doesn't exist). Aber is likely to impress those 'in the know' most.
On the other hand, if you are trying to impress a more general audience, then of the 3, SOAS probably has the best known reputation, albeit none of them are really in the general 'top uni league table' (which again, doesn't really exist at post grad level).
Alternatively, if you really know what detailed aspect of IR/Politics you wish to engage in, then all bets are off, because you might find the ideal supervisor at Essex, SOAS, Aber, Bradford, Lancaster, Cambridge, Oxford etc and that should then focus your priorities.
Then finally, as someone suggested, you can overcome all these prejudices about the 'best' university by producing excellent research, well received papers etc and getting good grades that will make you appealling to any academic or commercial employer.
well said, threeportdrift. i completely agree.
These league tables, however, are not entirely true indicators. Adepartment may fall into the category "very good" one year, but 6 years later this is different. In the case of the RAE tables this means the tables are useless at the moment.