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Become a change advocate with our MA in Human Rights

Now, more than ever, we are realising the importance of understanding and protecting human rights in a global context. As we currently face worldwide challenges, human rights infringements and injustices are becoming more evident and the need to address these issues and advocate change is being recognised as a necessity.

Written by Lindsay Alexander |

Human rights protest
The protection of human rights is at the core of social injustice in all parts of the world.

We spoke with Dr Corinne Lennox, Programme Director of University of London’s MA in Human Rights programme, about the relevance of studying human rights and how the online master’s programme delves into significant areas of the field, providing fundamental knowledge of contemporary and emerging human rights issues.

The human rights lens is also being used in innovative ways to tackle pressing global problems, such as climate change, regulation of new technologies, global migration, international business practices and even the Covid-19 crisis.

“The protection of human rights is at the core of social injustice in all parts of the world. Human rights standards and mechanisms are vital tools to address social injustice and to give a voice to oppressed people. As authoritarianism and populism has increased in many countries in recent years, the language of human rights can be used in defence of fundamental values such as non-discrimination, freedom of expression and fair distribution of resources to eliminate inequality,” said Dr Lennox.

“The human rights lens is also being used in innovative ways to tackle pressing global problems, such as climate change, regulation of new technologies, global migration, international business practices and even the Covid-19 crisis. Learning about human rights can help to address these challenges. It is essential that we use human rights if we do not want to risk losing them.”

The MA in Human Rights was launched in 2017 as a distance learning programme and is based on more than 25 years of teaching a similar on campus programme at the School of Advanced Study. The learning outcomes and curriculum content are very similar, with some differences in assessment strategies. The distance learning programme takes the best of the campus programme and makes study more flexible and accessible for students. It also uses learning techniques especially designed for distance learning to maximise student engagement.

In this programme, we learn from each other. Virtually all of our distance learning students are working alongside their studies, which enables them to share from their own areas of expertise.

“We use asynchronous teaching strategies to ensure that students can study at any time wherever they are in the world. We also use a variety of teaching techniques, from overview video lectures, to online discussion forums, guest practitioners and diverse reading resources and podcasts to keep the learning varied and interesting.

“In this programme, we learn from each other. Virtually all of our distance learning students are working alongside their studies, which enables them to share from their own areas of expertise but also to learn about key developments in other regions of the world and thematic areas. It is fascinating when students share new policy advice they are developing or reflect on personal knowledge of human rights concerns in their own community.”

The programme has a special focus on practice, and the content has been developed by faculty with expertise in the field, many of whom are activist scholars. Assessments focus on building practical skills such as analysing campaign strategies, designing a human rights project, drafting a legal briefing or using international human rights monitoring bodies.

Students prepare for the real world of human rights work and gain insights into contemporary and emerging challenges in defending human rights.

“We also regularly make use of guest practitioners in our teaching, including through video interviews with leading activists and guest teaching slots for those working in specialised areas of human rights. This enables students to prepare for the real world of human rights work and to gain insights into contemporary and emerging challenges in defending human rights,” said Dr Lennox.

“The faculty are also working on important developments: in the past year they’ve worked on a new legal case concerning child rights and protection of the environment, how to improve the UN’s mechanisms to protect the rights of minorities, how the UK policy on fracking harms human rights, and human rights education for Syrian refugees. New students can become an active part of this peer-to-peer learning.”

Students begin the programme by building some useful foundational knowledge. They will also learn about key strategies for securing human rights, such as campaigning and other practical skills for social mobilisation such as fundraising. They can then explore topics of special interest through optional modules and their dissertation. Specialised modules include topics such as genocide, indigenous peoples and minority rights, human rights and development and research methods in human rights research.

Through the programme students will develop analytical expertise in human rights and to be able to evaluate and apply this knowledge across different issues, contexts and policies. Students will also develop a range of transferable skills applicable to the practice of securing human rights, including but not limited to legal briefings, advocacy planning, developing funding proposals, writing for policy audiences, and research design.

The programme is aimed at people interested in building a career in the broad field of human rights as well as those who are keen to build their current capacities in this field. It will equip them to work in the field of human rights and to develop advocacy, policy and research from an inter-disciplinary perspective and across a wide variety of contexts and themes.

A wide range of career opportunities are available to graduates of the programme, including roles in academia, UN agencies, working for major non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Save the Children and also at small local NGOs, or as human rights defenders and advisors on human rights compliance in businesses.

Learn more about the MA in Human Rights.