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The MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights is the longest-running interdisciplinary, practice-orientated human rights master’s degree programme in the UK. It was established in collaboration with Amnesty International to provide scholarly and practical training for future human rights defenders. Located in Bloomsbury, the intellectual heart of London, it offers students easy access to world-class libraries and facilities, including Senate House Library, the British Library and the British Museum. The degree aims to develop students as human rights practitioners and to enable them to engage with the intellectual and philosophical foundations of human rights. 

It was established in 1995 in collaboration with Amnesty International to provide scholarly and practical training for future human rights defenders. Located in Bloomsbury, the intellectual heart of London, it offers students easy access to world-class libraries and facilities, and proximity to a wide range of NGOs working on human rights. The degree aims to develop students as human rights practitioners and to enable them to engage with the intellectual and philosophical foundations of human rights. 

This course is available to study full time, part time over 24 or 36 months and via distance learning from anywhere in the world.

Contact the institute

If you have specific questions about the MA degree, please contact Dr Damien Short or the admissions office.

Degree overview

This programme is: 

  • Intellectually rigorous, engaging with human rights debates at the forefront of scholarly research
  • Career-orientated, aiming to develop the next generation of human rights defenders, advocates and researchers through an emphasis on building practical skills, including campaigning, fundraising, and research—all of which are important for work in human rights advocacy
  • Cutting-edge, widening the frame of human rights debates by looking at emerging issues, such as the impact of environmental destruction on human rights
  • Practice-orientated, exploring human rights issues from a practical, solution-based perspective as well as a scholarly one

The degree brings together insights on human rights from a range of disciplines, including law, international relations and sociology. This unique interdisciplinary approach will provide you with an extensive and diverse range of perspectives with which to understand contemporary human rights challenges. 

Graduates of the MA in Human Rights have gone on to work for an impressive range of organisations, including Anti-Slavery International and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Students who successfully complete the programme receive a University of London Master of Arts degree.  

In addition to providing students with the practical skills essential to pursuing a career as human rights practitioners, this degree addresses essential questions and debates within the field of human rights, such as: 

  • Where do rights come from? 
  • What are the foundations of and justifications for human rights? 
  • Can the discourse of rights secure social justice and equality? 

We provide individually tailored support in finding internships with human rights organisations in and around London that will complement your studies and professional goals. Our long-standing relationships with a variety of NGOs—including Amnesty International and Minority Rights Group International—and our experience with the application and interview process give our students a competitive edge when applying for internships. 

We run an annual one-week study tour to Geneva in the summer term that includes visits to the United Nations as well as meetings with human rights advocates inside and outside the UN framework, enabling you to learn from a wide range of experienced individuals and to build your personal networks. 

You can also benefit from being able to participate in the activities and events of the Human Rights Consortium, either by attending its wide range of conferences and seminars, or by getting involved in the Consortium’s research projects or human rights blog. Many students have found this interaction a unique opportunity that helps them build a career in human rights as they study.

The Human Rights Consortium, in collaboration with the Institute of Latin American Studies, offers a specialist pathway through the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights which enables students to focus their studies on the human rights concerns – past, present and future – of Latin America.

more about the Latin America pathway

Modules and structure

This degree can be taken full time over one year or part time over 24 months or 36 months. Students undertaking the MA part time over 24 months will complete three modules each academic year. Part-time students undertaking the MA over 36 months generally take one module per term; this mode of study is particularly suitable for students undertaking full- or part-time work during their studies. Part-time students may undertake more than one internship (in both years and/or during the summer between their first and second years). 

The degree comprises four compulsory modules, including a dissertation and three optional modules.  

Core modules (three in autumn term, dissertation in summer term)

  • Understanding Human Rights I: Ideas and Contexts [10 ECTS] 
  • Securing Human Rights I: Actors and Mechanisms, Skills and Strategies [10 ECTS] 
  • Translating Human Rights into Law I: The Foundations of International Human Rights Law [10 ECTS] 
  • Dissertation (15,000 words) [30 ECTS] 

Optional modules (three in spring term)

  • Genocide and Reconciliation [10 ECTS]
  • Securing Human Rights II: Securing Human Rights in Development and in Conflict [10 ECTS] 
  • Translating Human Rights into Law II: Topics in International Human Rights Law [10 ECTS] 
  • Researching Human Rights: Social Research Methods [10 ECTS] 
  • Business and Human Rights [10 ECTS] 
  • Indigenous Peoples, Minorities and Human Rights [10 ECTS] 
  • Contemporary Social Movements in Latin America [10 ECTS] 
  • Decolonisation and Human Rights in Latin America [10 ECTS] 
  • The Politics of Human Rights in Latin America [10 ECTS] 

Please note that the list of modules is indicative and may be subject to change.

Assessment

The MA is assessed through essays and examinations and through work similar to that produced by professionals in the human rights field, including legal reports, a media project and a mock funding proposal. Class participation also forms an element of the MA assessment. 

Lecturing and teaching

The MA convenor is Dr Damien Short, Reader in Human Rights. Other core lecturers include Dr Corinne Lennox (Senior Lecturer in Human Rights), Dr David Cantor (Reader in International Human Rights Law), and Dr Sarah Singer (Lecturer in Refugee Law). Their research interests include caste-based discrimination, environmental destruction and human rights, genocide, international human rights law, and the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities. In addition to their scholarly expertise, our academic staff have been and continue to act as human rights advocates, practitioners and consultants, and their teaching draws on their extensive experience. 

Lecturers for the optional modules bring a wealth of experience and interdisciplinary perspectives to the MA. They include Dr Julian Burger, who worked at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for more than 20 years, during which he was the head of the Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Programme, and Dr Lucy McMahon, who teaches modules focused on human rights in Latin America in the spring term.

The programme is enriched by an extensive range of guest lecturers, including academic specialists and human rights practitioners who offer practical perspectives on a number of topics. In previous academic years the course has benefited from the insights of representatives from Amnesty International, Minority Rights Group, Freedom from Torture and the Red Cross, among others. Speakers from NGOs are able to provide practical, policy-oriented perspectives on the impact of human rights norms and policies on the ground, thus providing different insights into the practicalities of human rights work. 

The experience of our staff, plus the insights of human rights practitioners, means that the degree stays current with new developments in the field. 

Mode of study

This course can be studied on-campus in London for 12 months full time or 24 months part time. Part-time students take four modules in the first year of study and two modules and the dissertation in the second year of study.  

The distance learning option can only be studied part time over 24 months. Students take four modules in the first year of study and two modules and the dissertation in the second year of study. 

About the Human Rights Consortium

The Human Rights Consortium (HRC) at the School of Advanced Study brings together multidisciplinary expertise across a range of areas within human rights, including ecocide, the impact of environmental destruction on human rights, indigenous rights, international refugee law and securing rights for LGBTI people worldwide. The HRC acts as a national and international collaborative centre to support, promote and disseminate academic and policy work in human rights and hosts a number of seminars and research-led conferences on different themes in human rights throughout the academic year.

Entry requirements

The normal minimum entrance requirement would be a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree from a recognised university in the UK, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard (for example a grade-point-average of 3.0 or higher).

Applications from candidates who do not meet the formal academic requirements but who offer alternative qualifications and/or relevant experience, could be considered

How to apply

You can apply online via our online applications system.

Apply (on campus)

Apply (distance learning)

For more information on how to apply, click here.

Fees, funding and scholarships

Find out more about tuition fees here.

Two bursaries are available for students on the distance learning course. See more information about the SAS Activist Scholar Bursary here.

The School of Advanced Study has a range of funding opportunities for home, EU and international applicants. Find out more about funding opportunities here. If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline.

Careers

For alumni of the programme, the MA has been a crucial investment in their careers as human rights advocates, with many of them finding work shortly after graduating. In the competitive field of human rights, our MA is recognised by recruiters at NGOs for imparting the necessary practical skills that employees will need. You will benefit from being part of a network in which you will continue to find support after your studies end, through personal connections with staff and through our alumni network. 

Our connections with people from a range of human rights organisations, who often deliver guest lectures, ensure that you will be introduced to key contacts throughout your degree, helping you to understand the opportunities in the field and develop networks essential to working in the humanitarian and non-governmental sectors. 

Alumni career profiles

 

 What our students say...

The network of support has really been invaluable. I still receive emails with job adverts, and it’s so wonderful to have so many former classmates and friends working for such a diverse mix of organisations, here in London and across the world. I can’t recommend the course enough for those who want to learn more about human rights issues and prepare for a career in the third sector.

- Louise Cripps, 2010

 More graduate profiles

 

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Apply online - on-campus 

Apply to study the MA in Understanding and Securing on campus in London - full time, part time over 24 months or part time over 36 months.

Apply online - distance learning

Apply for our innovative distance learning program in partnership with University of London Worldwide - study from anywhere in the world! MA, PGDip and PGCert programmes are available.

 

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