Understanding and Securing Human Rights (MA, PGDip and PGCert)


An online MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights in collaboration with the School of Advanced Study

This intellectually rigorous degree explores human rights from a range of fields of study, including law, international relations, sociology, development and environmental justice. This cutting-edge and interdisciplinary approach widens the frame of debate, providing an extensive range of perspectives through which to understand contemporary human rights issues.

This career-orientated and practice-focused MA aims to develop the next generation of human rights professionals by developing critical thinking alongside practical, solution-based skills, including campaigning, fundraising, legal analysis and research - all of which are important for work in the broad field of human rights.

Programme details

  You study Study period Cost (2017-18)
MA 7 modules (three core, three elective) plus a dissertation 2-5 years £8,100
Postgraduate Diploma 6 modules (three core, three elective) 2-5 years £6,480
Postgraduate Certificate 3 compulsory core modules 1-5 years £3,240


The MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights prepares you to:

  • Develop analytical expertise in human rights standards and mechanisms, key actors in human rights, and the contexts in which human rights are secured.
  • Evaluate and apply this knowledge through different cases and practices.
  • Develop programmes of action and policies as appropriate.
  • Analytically compare human rights practice across different cultures and states, recognising that interpretations and practices vary in different regions of the world.
  • Work effectively with the protection, promotion and implementation of human rights in a changing global context.
  • Take up or progress in careers in human rights work or enhance existing careers in human rights in civil society organisations, governments and the public sector and business.

Benefit from supported online learning

You study this online programme from the comfort of your home computer and access the course content through a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The VLE also gives you access to:

  • Associate Tutors who provide academic guidance throughout your studies;
  • academically rigorous and up-to-date learning materials and resources;
  • online tasks and assessments (‘e-tivities’) for each of the modules;
  • peer-to-peer learning in online discussion forums;
  • access to world-class online library facilities.

Career enhancement

This MA enables you to combine your studies with your ongoing professional and domestic commitments. This programme is designed for those who wish to pursue careers in a range of professional contexts in the human rights or humanitarian fields.

Graduates of the long-standing on-campus MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights have gone on to work for an impressive range of organisations, including major international NGOs like Amnesty International, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Anti-Slavery International, several UN agencies, businesses, academia and in government.

Students will have access to online support in finding internships.  This includes Question and Answer sessions with the Programme Director and videos from alumni and other human rights professionals on how to make the most of internships for career progression.

Your time commitment

All modules run during two 18-week study sessions throughout the year. You register for up to two modules per session of study and should expect to devote between 15-20 nominal hours a week to your studies during these periods.

Summary of key dates

 Understanding and Securing Human Rights
Application deadline 15 January 2018
Registration deadline 29 January 2018
Course starts 5 February 2018
Examinations take place June and January



Structure and Syllabus

MA: 7 modules comprising 3 compulsory core modules, 3 elective modules and 1 compulsory dissertation module. 

PGDip: 6 modules comprising 3 compulsory core modules and 3 elective modules.

PGCert: 3 compulsory core modules.

Each module runs for a 18-week term that starts in either September or February.

Core modules

Understanding Human Rights

This module utilises a broad range of approaches from the social sciences and humanities in order to develop a nuanced understanding of human rights and human rights abuses. It aims to provide an insight into some of the key debates and an overview of important literature in this growing area of scholarship. Students will emerge with a deeper and more complex understanding of what human rights are and why they are important, of both their potential and limitations, and of the increasingly wide range of contexts in which they are being applied, used and abused. The first section is entitled ‘Ideas of Rights’ and is designed to address questions such as what is a right and what are the main critiques of the human rights discourse? Topics covered include an introduction to the history and philosophy of human rights, classical theories, multi-cultural recognition theory, interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches to human rights and universalism versus cultural relativism, environmental rights. In the second half of this module we will look at ‘Rights in Context’. This section primarily draws on disciplinary insights from political economy, sociology and international relations. It looks at the structures and processes which provide a backdrop to many current human rights debates, claims and violations.

Securing Human Rights

This module critically examines strategies employed by inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and governmental agencies to secure human rights. It also reflects on and builds skills for human rights practice. It exposes students to the practical work of various human rights actors, the contexts in which they operate, the techniques they use, and the challenges they face. The module includes contributions from human rights practitioners, who will engage directly with the students in periodic online seminars and via videos. The module is divided into two parts. Section A – Actors and Mechanisms gives students an overview of the role of various key players in implementing human rights, namely the state, NGOs and the UN system. Section B – Skills and Strategies familiarises students with practical abilities needed to run human rights projects such as lobbying; media; fundraising, campaigning; using a human rights-based approach in project management; and research, monitoring, reporting. The assessment will build skills to analyse advocacy strategies for securing human rights and also give students the opportunity to design their own human rights project and to prepare a funding proposal.

Translating Human Rights into International Law

This module aims to provide all students – regardless of whether they have a legal background - with a firm understanding of how human rights are translated into international law. The module begins by providing a basic grounding in public international law. Each session introduces foundational concepts in international law and ties these to important debates within international human rights law. The second half of the module builds a critical understanding of the main international and regional human rights systems through which human rights standards are developed and enforced in practice. Students will gain confidence in dealing with and critiquing the law, constructing legal arguments, analysing facts against a legal framework and problem-solving, reading international law materials and conducting legal research.


The dissertation is a key part of the MA programme, and builds independent research skills through three components. This module includes a ‘conducting human rights research’ taught element, the submission of a research proposal and the submission of a final dissertation. The ‘conducting human rights research’ component will help students to develop the skills and knowledge that will be used to construct a research proposal and to undertake a substantial piece of independent research in the human rights field for the dissertation. Once the dissertation topic is approved, the MA programme staff will endeavour to provide a specialist in the topic chosen by the student to supervise his/her dissertation research.

Elective modules

Genocide, Gross Human Rights Violations and Reconciliation

This module utilises a broad range of approaches from the social sciences and humanities in order to develop a nuanced understanding of genocide and reconciliation processes. It aims to provide an insight into some of the key debates and an overview of important literature in the fields of genocide studies, transitional justice, memory and reconciliation studies. Students will emerge with a deeper and more complex understanding of the concept and law of genocide, the theory and practice of 'reconciliation' and the appropriateness of applying such concepts to key case studies.

Securing Human Rights in Development and Conflict

In this module, the concepts explored in Securing Human Rights are used to review strategies employed by actors to secure human rights in the context of development and conflict situations, broadly understood. This module also reflects on and builds skills for human rights practice and includes contributions from human rights practitioners, who will engage directly with the students in periodic online seminars and via videos. The module is divided into two parts. In Section A, entitled “Securing Human Rights in Development”, students will be introduced to the use of human rights-based approaches to development, how international development agencies work on human rights issues, the particular challenges of protecting women’s human rights in development, the responsibilities of businesses in human rights protection, and the practice of securing human rights through domestic level capacity building and litigation on poverty-related issues. In Section B, entitled “Securing Human Rights in Conflict”, students will examine the various issues facing human rights officers in field operations, the special protection mechanisms used to safeguard human rights defenders living in (or targets of) conflict, how to address the needs of refugees and IDPs, the particular issues faced by women in conflict and the difficulties of securing human rights in the transition to peace. The assessment will be practice-based and students will be asked to write a policy paper on a key topic in development or conflict.

Topics in International Human Rights Law

Building on the pre-requisite module on The Foundations of International Human Rights Law, this module aims to develop a more advanced legal understanding around a broad range of crucially important aspects of human rights principles and practice. The module is divided into two parts. Section A – Securing Social Justice through Human Rights Law – explores how international law engages with key questions of social justice that go to the very heart of the discipline, ranging from the principle of equality to economic, social and cultural rights, the human rights of women and the growing field of business and human rights. Section B – Securing Human Rights during Armed Conflict – focuses on how law seeks to protect human dignity during armed conflict and other public emergencies, including an introduction to International Humanitarian Law, and international law on refugees and internally displaced persons.

Researching Human Rights: Social Science Research Methods

This module will introduce students to the theories and methods of qualitative social sciences research and how they can be applied to the study of human rights. It will assist students in developing skills for understanding and evaluating the process and outcomes of applied research. Students will reflect on the theoretical context, key concepts and tools of social sciences research in order to articulate a critical perspective on human rights. Students will learn how to identify a range of ethical issues and how to overcome them, understand how qualitative data is collected, analysed, interpreted, appreciate how quantitative and qualitative methods can be combined in interdisciplinary human rights research and articulate methodological steps for Human Rights Impact Assessments. This module is particularly recommended for students interested to pursue further study at PhD level or to develop a career conducting human rights research.

Human Rights and Development

This module will equip students to understand the conceptual, legal and practice-based links of human rights with development.  The module is being taught by leading researchers in the field based at the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

The module begins by briefly clarifying why post-1945 human rights and development were forced apart and the gradual move back towards one another, including situating the human rights story in the context of decolonisation, which was a vital factor in the rise of international development aid. Students will then be introduced to key policy frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and to relevant programming tools established by the human rights system including human rights indicators and the AAAQ (available, accessible, acceptable, and of good quality) framework used to elaborate key economic and social rights.  This knowledge will be consolidated with an introduction to human rights-based approaches (HRBA) in development and their applicability, including the critical examination of the impact of applying HRBAs to development projects in different sectors.

Indigenous Peoples, Minorities and Human Rights

This module will investigate key historical and contemporary human rights issues faced by indigenous peoples and ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities that emanate from the relationship they have with the states in which they live, other communities and the international system. Topics covered range from colonial genocide and contemporary settler/indigenous relations to discrimination and accommodation of non-dominant ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and struggles for equality and non-discrimination more generally. The module will also look into how indigenous peoples and minorities are protected by international human rights law, considering the rights that have been established, the jurisprudence that has been developed, and the mechanisms for implementation that are currently used in practice. The module will provide an opportunity to reflect how these rights have been constructed and framed, from the collective rights of indigenous peoples to the individual rights of ‘persons belonging to minorities’, and how they are protected and implemented in practice. The module will also provide a space for consideration of contemporary challenges relating to political participation, conflict, development and other matters that affect indigenous peoples and minorities. The assessment will include an opportunity to prepare a report to a UN body on the rights of a specific indigenous or minority group.

Study materials

How you study

Distance learning is much more flexible than traditional face-to-face teaching. It allows you to study whenever and wherever is convenient to you, and to fit your studies in around professional or personal commitments. You can study wherever you live in the world - if you move country with your job, for example, you can still continue with your studies.

Studying by distance learning requires you to be highly motivated, disciplined, and able to master complex problems independently. Many students do find self-directed study to be challenging, but the outcome is incredibly rewarding.

Study materials

Most of your study materials are provided electronically through the Virtual Learning Environment (Moodle). These include individual module handbooks, assessment activities and digitised readings. For each module there will be online tasks to complete and opportunities to discuss your work with your fellow students and your tutors. Additional expert tuition is provided in each module via podcasts and videos from leading academics in the field.


All registered students have free access to the University of London’s excellent online library, which currently has a collection of over 6 million electronic items (e-journals and e-books).



The fees below refer to the 2017-2018 academic year only. Fees are subject to annual review.

Either whole fee
MA£ 8,100
PGDip£ 6,480
PGCert£ 3,240
Or Modular fees
Core or Elective Module Fee (per module) £ 1,080
Dissertation Module Fee£ 1,620
Other fees (where applicable)
Examination resit fee / Dissertation resubmission fee / Dissertation second deferral fee£ 230
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Disclaimer: the currency conversion tool is provided to you for convenience only and does not constitute an endorsement or approval by the University of London; the exchange rates are provided dynamically via a third-party source, consequently, the University of London International Programmes is not responsible for their accuracy.

Other costs

In addition to the fees payable to the University, you should also budget for the fee charged by your local examination centre to cover its costs. Examination centre fees are not included within the fees set out above. This fee will vary from centre to centre and you should contact your proposed examination centre(s) for details of their fees to factor them in to the overall cost of completing the programme. You can find contact details for all our examination centres here.

When to pay

Fees may be paid in one of two ways:

  • Either pay the total fee on registration by making a single payment which covers all module fees.
  • Or, if you prefer to spread out your payments, pay the fee for each module before the term that you want to take it.

How to pay

All University fees must be paid in pounds sterling (GBP). The University accepts:

  • Western Union - Quick Pay.
  • Credit/debit card (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, Electron, JCB).
  • Sterling banker's draft/cheque.
  • International money/postal order.


If you are a UK or EU national and you have lived in England for three years, you could be eligible to apply for a Postgraduate Loan.


Fees are subject to annual revision and typically may be increased by up to 5% per annum. For a full list fees that may be applicable, please see the fee schedule.



Understanding Human Rights / Translating Human Rights into International Law

These modules are assessed by a seen written examination (70% of the overall grade), and two E-tivities (30%).

Securing Human Rights

This module is assessed by two equally-weighted items of coursework (70% of the overall grade) and two E-tivities (30%).

Elective modules

Elective modules are assessed by one item of coursework (70% of the overall grade) and two E-tivities (30%).


This is assessed in two parts: a research proposal (15% of the overall dissertation grade) and a written thesis (85%).

Take your exams anywhere in the world

You do not have to come to London to take your examinations. Examinations are held twice a year in exam centres around the world as well as in London.


Academic Requirements

An undergraduate degree (e.g. bachelor) which is considered at least comparable to a UK upper second class honours degree, from an institution acceptable to the University.

If you do not meet the entrance requirements you may still apply. Each application will be considered on an individual basis by the Programme Director, giving attention to alternative qualifications and/or relevant experience.

Work experience

There is no minimum work experience requirement for entry to this programme.

Language Requirements

For awards at FHEQ level 7, students must provide satisfactory evidence showing that they have passed within the previous three years a test of proficiency in English at the following minimum level:

  • IELTS with an overall score of at least 7.0, and a score of at least 6.0 in the Reading and Writing sub-tests.

Tests of English proficiency from other providers will be considered on an individual basis.

Where an applicant does not meet the prescribed English language proficiency requirements but believes that they can demonstrate the requisite proficiency for admission the University may, at its discretion, consider the application.

Note: Some programmes will require greater proficiency in English language; these requirements will be reflected in the relevant programme regulations.

Computer Requirements

You must have regular access to a computer (or mobile device*) with an internet connection to use the University of London International Programmes website and the Student Portal. These are where your programme’s study resources are located. Through the Student Portal you can register as a student, enter exams and use your programme’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The VLE provides you with electronic learning materials, access to the University of London Online Library, networking opportunities, and other resources.

To get the most from your studies, your computer should have at least the following minimum specification: 

  • a web browser (the latest version of Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer). This must accept cookies and have JavaScript enabled
  • screen resolution of 1024 x 768 or greater
  • sufficient bandwidth to download documents of at least 2 MB

and the following applications installed:

  • a word processor that reads Microsoft Word format (.doc)
  • Adobe, or other pdf reader.

Certain courses may have addtional requirements, such as:

  • Microphone and speakers
  • software to manage spreadsheets and run macros
  • software for playing mp3 and mp4 files.

* Full mobile access is not available for all programmes.

Academic leaders

The School of Advanced Study - Academic leadership

Founded in 1994, the School of Advanced Study at the University of London brings together nine internationally renowned research institutes to form the UK's national centre for the support of researchers and the promotion of research in the humanities. The School provides a research base for an international community of scholars; inspires, develops, and supports innovative research initiatives and networks; enhances the dissemination of the research of others, and related activities, beyond what they or their institutions could achieve alone; provides specialist research training at master's, doctoral, and postdoctoral levels; and adds value to the work of researchers in the humanities and social sciences throughout the UK.

The Human Rights Consortium

The Human Rights Consortium (HRC) of the School of Advanced Study was established to facilitate and promote inter-disciplinary research in human rights nationally and internationally.

The HRC fulfils its mandate by:

  • organising and supporting academic, policy and practice-oriented events on human rights;
  • disseminating research on human rights;
  • fostering national and international networks of human rights researchers;
  • hosting visiting fellows working in human rights;
  • contributing to the training of research students working on human rights;
  • enhancing the teaching and learning environment for graduate students;
  • raising funds in support of human rights research and research support.

The on-campus MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights

The on-campus MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights was established in 1995 with the input and teaching of staff from Amnesty International. It was the first inter-disciplinary MA in human rights offered in the UK. Students were supported to do internship programmes with London-based NGOs. This symbiotic relationship with human rights NGOs has been at the core of the MA since its inception. The MA programme was designed to be inter-disciplinary, and had two distinct characteristics: 1) a dual emphasis on the theory and the practice of human rights in an inter-disciplinary curriculum; and 2) a focus on equipping students with a range a skills needed for human rights work. Both these aspects remain relevant and attractive to our students today and underline the reason why students choose this particular MA programme. There are now more than 750 graduates of this MA programme.

Academic leaders

Dr Corinne Lennox

Dr Corinne Lennox is a Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and convenes the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights. She also is Associate Director of the Human Rights Consortium. Her research focuses on issues of minority and indigenous rights protection, civil society mobilisation for human rights, and human rights and development. She has worked for many years as a human rights consultant and trainer, including at Minority Rights Group International, the UNDP and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her research interests include: human rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples; civil society mobilisation; human rights and development; social mobilisation of Afro-descendants in Latin America; Dalits and caste-based discrimination; international relations and human rights; and the role of international organisations in the protection of minority and indigenous rights. See Dr Corinne Lennox's full research page.

Dr Damien Short

Dr Damien Short is Director of the Human Rights Consortium (HRC) and a Reader in Human Rights at the School of Advanced Study. He has spent his entire professional career working in the field of human rights, both as a scholar and human rights advocate. He has researched and published extensively in the areas of indigenous peoples’ rights, genocide studies, reconciliation projects and environmental human rights. He is currently researching the human rights impacts of extreme energy processes (e.g Tar Sands and Fracking - see our designated HRC website http://extremeenergy.org) . Dr Short is a regular academic contributor to the United Nation’s ‘Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ and an academic consultant for the ‘Ethical Trade Task Force’ of the Soil Association. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Human Rights (Taylor and Francis) and convenor of the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Rights Study Group and an active member of the International Network of Genocide Scholars. Dr Short has also worked with a variety of NGOs including Amnesty International, War on Want, Survival International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs; and with a range of campaign groups including Eradicating Ecocide, Biofuelwatch, Climate Justice Collective and the UK Tar Sands Network. He currently advises local anti-fracking groups in the UK and county councils on the human rights implications of unconventional (extreme) energy extraction processes such as fracking. See Dr Damien Short's full research page.

Apply online

An interview with Dr Short and Dr Lennox

Dr Damien Short and Dr Corinne Lennox from the University of London's School of Advanced Study

In London Connection read about the MA relating to contemporary and emerging issues, the practical skills students will gain and more from the programme course director and lecturer.

Human Rights Consortium (HRC)

Find out more about the Human Rights Consortium 

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