SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

MSc Humanitarian Action (Online) (2019 entry)

  • Overview
  • Q&A
  • Structure
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Fees and funding
  • Apply

Overview

duration:
2 years

Entry requirements

  • We welcome applications from those who have worked in the field of development and/or conflict, but we also encourage students without relevant work experience who can demonstrate a strong interest in humanitarianism and have a strong first degree, to apply.

Featured events

Start of programme: April / October

Mode of Attendance: Online Learning

How and where is humanitarian aid given, and how does it interact with the political and military complexities of emergency contexts? How have critiques of humanitarian aid, including from recipients, impacted on humanitarian action? How does South-to-South assistance in emergencies change, challenge or complement the concepts and practice of humanitarianism?


This is an online degree that engages critically with the history, politics and practice of humanitarian action. Students take the core module, followed by a selection of elective modules and a final dissertation.  

Why study MSc Humanitarian Action at SOAS?

  • This online degree has been developed to meet the needs of people working, or hoping to work, in international agencies, humanitarian organisations, and NGOs.

  • The online format enables students to study for a MSc degree alongside work, caring or other commitments.

  • The degree brings together a cohort of students from around the world into online discussions, led by a specialist seminar tutor.

  • It builds upon the strengths of the Department of Development Studies in areas of violence, aid and security.

  • The degree draws on research and professional experience from colleagues across SOAS, a university with an international reputation for its work on Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

What will you study?

The core module for the MSc Humanitarian Action has three parts: it starts with the groundwork in humanitarian principles and architecture, and then presents the critiques and voices from the Global South. It deals with practice and the contradictory contexts for humanitarian work, exploring the politics of security decisions, Responsibility to Protect, witness and asylum. This part presents the opportunity to examine and assess competing priorities in situations of multi-layered insecurity.

This module draws on a range of literatures, including the academic work on humanitarianism, publications, data sets and relevant websites from NGOs, humanitarian thinktanks and UN bodies. It also includes blogs, crowd-sourced data and journals from the Global South. The module challenges the conventional tropes of North to South assistance by examining how agents within the Global South have responded to humanitarian disaster, and also how humanitarianism has been transformed with the establishment of operations in Europe to assist refugees and other destitute people migrating across the Mediterranean.

Analytical and empirical depth will be provided through a series of case studies (Calais, Sri Lanka, Syria, for example) that examine the practicalities and institutional learning in famines and complex emergencies. The module presents processes and mechanisms of institutional learning as well as the persistence of some challenges in approach and delivery.

Who should apply?

We welcome applications from those who have worked in the field of development and/or conflict. We also encourage those without relevant work experience who can demonstrate a strong interest in humanitarianism and have a strong first degree, to apply.

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MSc Humanitarian Action (Online)

Convenors

Q&A

Introducing MSc Humanitarian Action

Zoë Marriage

Dr Zoë Marriage is Reader in Development Studies at SOAS and the programme convenor for MSc Humanitarian Action.  She describes what students can expect who join the programme.

What does the programme involve?

This is a brand new MSc programme in Humanitarian Action. It consists of a core module in Humanitarian Principles and Practice, three other taught modules and a dissertation. The programme is taught over two years, with modules starting in October and April. Students are expected to contribute to online discussions, interact with their colleagues and module convenor, and submit work to deadlines. The choice of modules will enable students to build up the requisite theoretical and empirical knowledge to conduct their dissertation, which is the final piece of work.

The core module, Humanitarian Principles and Practice, has three parts: it starts with the groundwork in humanitarian principles and architecture, and then presents the critiques and voices from the global South. The final part deals with practice and the contradictory and challenging contexts for humanitarian work. This structure enables students to build up a critical understanding of the ideological underpinnings, constraints and politics of humanitarian action, alongside an empirical grounding of humanitarian providers and relationships between them. Analytical and empirical depth is developed through reference to case studies that examine the practicalities and institutional learning in natural disasters, complex emergencies and humanitarianism in Europe.

What kind of students will the course appeal to?

The MSc Humanitarian Action is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of backgrounds and professional experiences, as it is through this diversity in the cohort that conversations around humanitarian action are enriched. As an online programme, it will appeal particularly to those who are not able to move to London or who are not in a position to stop working during their studies. We welcome applications from those who are working in humanitarian organisations, and those who are intending to move into this area of work. We also welcome applications from people who have experience of humanitarian work and are moving towards a career in research or policy-related work.

What facilities are available?

The programme is delivered online through a Virtual Learning Environment (intranet page) that sets out the readings for each week, the guiding questions for discussion and hosts the discussion boards. This page provides a platform to share other material such as videos, internet links, quizzes and feedback on assignments. Students also have access to a vast amount of academic and policy-related material through the SOAS library. The library has subscriptions to relevant electronic journals and electronic books that allow students not only to access their weekly reading but to explore their own research interests and build a thorough knowledge and bibliography to support their dissertation-writing.

What is special about the course at SOAS?

SOAS’s Director, Baroness Valerie Amos, is the former Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN, and the MSc Humanitarian Action draws on the expertise from across the University and within the Department of Development Studies. The Department of Development Studies has a flagship on-campus Masters programme, MSc Violence, Conflict and Development, that has established a network of staff, students and alumni who are involved in a huge variety of work in areas of conflict. This global network provides an unrivalled set of research, policy work and experience that the MSc Humanitarian Action engages with over the programme of study.

What would you recommend reading before the programme starts?

Duffield, M. (2019) Post-humanitarianism. Governing precarity through Adaptive Design. ­Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, 1(1), 15-27. Available here: https://www.manchesteropenhive.com/view/journals/jha/1/1/article-p15.xml

Hammond, Laura (2012) “Humanitarian space in Somalia: a scarce commodity” ODI Working Paper. Available here: https://www.odi.org/publications/6430-humanitarian-space-somalia-scarce-commodity

Hammond, Laura (2015)  'Neutrality and Impartiality.'  In: Patterson, Jenny and MacGinty, Roger, (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Humanitarian Action. London: Routledge, pp. 87-97. (Routledge Companions)

Marriage, Z. (2006). Not Breaking the Rules, Not Playing the Game. International Assistance to Countries at War. London, Hurst & Co.

Slim, H. (2015) Humanitarian ethics: a guide to the morality of aid in war and disaster. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Structure

Module structure

Students must take 180 credits per year comprised of one core and three elective modules totalling 120 taught credits, four supporting mini modules and a 60 credit dissertation.

Core modules: A core module is required for the degree programme, so must always be taken and passed before you move on to the next year of your programme.

Elective modules: These are designed to help students design their own intellectual journey while maintaining a strong grasp of the fundamentals. Elective modules can be chosen from a list of subjects offered across SOAS' portfolio of programmes.

Dissertation
Module Credits Type
Dissertation in Development Studies 60 Core
Core module
Module Credits Type
Humanitarian Principles and Practice 30 Core

Students choose up to three elective modules from the two lists below

Development Studies
Module Credits Type
Human and Critical Security Studies 30 Elective
Understanding Violence, Conflict and Development 30 Elective

Global Diplomacy, International and Environmental
Modules Credits Type
Afghanistan: Strategic and Geopolitical Perspectives 30 Elective
America and the World: US Foreign Policy 30 Elective
Climate Change and Development 30 Elective
Digital Diplomacy 30 Elective
Diplomatic Systems 30 Elective
Economics, Politics and Society in MENA 30 Elective
Economics, Politics and Society in South Asia 30 Elective
Food Security and Social Protection 30 Elective
Foundations of International Law 30 Elective
Gender, Conflict and the Middle East 30 Elective
Global Citizenship and Advocacy 30 Elective
Global Energy and Climate Policy 30 Elective
Global International Organisation: United Nations in the World 30 Elective
Global Media 30 Elective
Global Public Policy 30 Elective
India's Foreign and Security Policy 30 Elective
International Economics 30 Elective
International Security 30 Elective
Multinational Enterprises in a Globalising World 30 Elective
Muslim Minorities in a Global Context 30 Elective
Pakistan: Religion, Politics and Security 30 Elective
Political Economy of Violence, Conflict and Development 30 Elective
Political History, Culture and Diplomacy in Iran 30 Elective
Sports and Diplomacy 30 Elective
Strategic Studies 30 Elective
Trade Diplomacy 30 Elective
Understanding Poverty 30 Elective
Understanding Sustainable Development 30 Elective

Programme Specification

Important notice

The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session. If you are a current student you can find structure information on the previous year link at the top of the page or through your Department. Please read the important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.

Teaching and Learning

Teaching & Learning

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

This programme is taught 100% online through our VLE. In the VLE you will have access to learning materials and course resources anytime so you can fit your studies around your existing commitments. For each module, students will be provided with access, through both the SOAS Library and the University of London’s Online Library, to all necessary materials from a range of appropriate sources.

A key component of the student experience will be peer to peer learning, with students enrolled in discussion forums.

Study Timetable

In addition to a dedicated Associate Tutor, a Study Timetable is provided for each module and for the overall programme to help you to organise your time.
The programme is broken down into two study sessions per year. Each subject module lasts 16 weeks, followed by a research mini module lasting 8 weeks.

Sample Study Timetable

Activity Duration
Substantive module 16 weeks
Reading weeks 2 weeks
Research mini module 8 weeks
Reading weeks 2 weeks

Assessment

Each module is assessed by five written online assessments (‘etivities’*) comprising of 30%, the remaining 70% is formed of a 5,000 word essay.The etivities provide formative and summative feedback to students as a means of monitoring their progress and encouraging areas in which they can improve.

* An 'e-tivity' is a framework for online, active and interactive learning following a format that states clearly to the students its 'Purpose'; the 'Task' at hand; the contribution or 'Response' type; and the 'Outcome' (Salmon, G. (2002) E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, New York and London: Routledge Falmer.)

Research Training and Dissertation

Research training is a key feature of this programme, the dissertation module is presented in four development parts, which will follow each of your module sessions. Research modules one and three are formative modules only, and are not assessed.

The dissertation is assessed by the submission of a written dissertation of no more than 15,000 words, excluding the bibliography and appendices, which will account for 85% of the mark awarded for the module (research module four). The remaining 15% of the module mark will be based on the mark obtained for a 1,500 word research proposal (research module two).

The research proposal is compulsory for students going on to do a PGDip or MA; MA students must submit a dissertation at the end of research module four.
 

Pre Entry Reading

  • Ahmad, A. and J. Smith (eds), (2018) Humanitarian Action and Ethics London, Zed Books.
  • De Waal, A. Mass Starvation: The history and future of famine. Cambridge, Polity Press.
  • Duffield, M. (2018). Post-humanitarianism. Governing precarity in the digital world. Cambridge, Polity.
  • Keen, D. (2008). Complex Emergencies. Cambridge, Polity Press.
  • Marriage, Z. (2006). Not Breaking the Rules, Not Playing the Game. International Assistance to Countries at War. London, Hurst &co.

Fees and funding

MA/MSc PGDip* PGCert*
£12,000 See below See below

*PGDip and PGCert are available as exit awards. Interested students should get in touch directly with the course team.

Pay as you Learn

Our online programmes can be paid in full at the time of enrolment or on a pay as you learn basis. Pay as you learn means you pay for modules prior to enrolment (£3,000 each).

Postgraduate loans

If you have been a resident in England for three years you may be eligible. For more information, please see Fees and Finance..

Apply

How to Apply

You can apply using our online application form

If you have any questions please email our online support team.

The deadlines for applications are as follows:

  • 30 September 2019 for a 16 October 2019 start
  • 31 March 2020 for a 21 April 2020 start

Your completed application will be reviewed by a member of academic staff. If your application is successful, we will send you an official offer within ten working days and you will be asked to submit the relevant supporting documentation. Once in receipt of our offer, we recommend submitting your documents immediately.

Supporting documentation for applications

1. Degree certificates

We require documentation confirming the award of all qualifications listed in your application, which can either be your certificate or academic transcript. This must show: the name of the university, programme studied and the grade/classification you attained. If your university cannot issue official documents in English, we will require a certified translation in English of your degree certificate/transcript.

You can send us either original or certified copies of your documents. If you send original documents and you would like these to be returned to you, please state this in your covering letter.

If you send certified copies, please ensure that each document has been stamped and verified by one of the following:

  • British Council official. (You can find the location of your nearest British Council office from www.britishcouncil.org)
  • Local British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission
  • Notary Public
  • The issuing university (in the case of academic qualifications)
2. Copy of an identification document

This must be either your passport or birth certificate. This does not need to be certified, and may be sent to us via email.

Note: If your name as stated on your academic documents does not match that given on your identification document, we will also require documentary evidence (such as a marriage certificate) that supports your change of name.

3. Copy of English language proficiency certificate

If your degree was not taught and assessed in English, you will need to submit evidence of your English language competency. This should be either an IELTS or TOEFL certificate (you will need an IELTS overall score of 7.0 including 7 in both reading and writing). This does not need to be certified and may be received via email.

4. References

We may also request that you provide us with references in support of your application. They should be from an individual who knows you on an academic basis. However, if you graduated more than three years ago we will accept a professional reference.

Your reference should include an opinion (in English) on your academic and personal suitability for the proposed programme of study.

Please note that, if necessary, we reserve the right to verify your qualifications with the relevant awarding body and to request further information from you about your background.

Send your supporting documents to the following address:

Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London, WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom

Find out more

  • Contact us
    By phone:
    +44 (0)20 7898 4895
    By email:
    devsonlineprogs@soas.ac.uk
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  • Apply

    Development studies online applications should be made through our online application form.

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