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MSc International Humanitarian Affairs (online)

Explore the changing nature of humanitarianism in this unique course, taught entirely online

Year of entry: 2024 (September)


2 years part-time

Start date

September 2024 (semester dates)

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Engage with the philosophical and theoretical emergence of the concepts of humanitarianism.

‌‌We offer an opportunity for you to explore fast-changing, contemporary debates over the theory, policy and practice of humanitarian affairs. You will have the opportunity to network with like-minded experts, academics and policymakers from around the world who are responding to disasters, conflicts and complex political emergencies.

Research excellence

Our research is ranked 6th in the UK for research power in the Times Higher Education ranking of the latest REF results with over 92% of our research rated as world-leading (4*) for impact.

Expert tuition

​Our experts help improve human health and humanitarian responses through the analysis and delivery of leading research.


Work in collaboration with experts on humanitarianism from the United Nations, IFRC, INGOs, academic institutions and community groups in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Course content

Our team brings expertise from Sub-Saharan and West Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, and experience of responding in real-time to tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, civil conflicts and many other disasters. They are conducting research and practice-oriented projects in most disaster- and conflict-affected countries in collaboration with the UN, INGOs, national governments and communities to challenge policy and practice to be effective, efficient and relevant.

This course will enable you to:

  • develop how you understand and respond to humanitarian needs in complex operational contexts such as violent conflict, natural hazards and political crises
  • examine and analyse contemporary issues, challenges and dilemmas using social, political, cultural, economic and environmental perspectives, lived experience of crisis-affected communities and changing policy debates as well as the technical approaches of the main humanitarian sectors
  • gain advanced academic and policy skills and learn how to use theory to maintain good practice
  • experience teaching led by a dedicated team of academic staff, policymakers and practitioners in the field of humanitarian affairs.

The course leader is Dr Jo Rose. Other staff from the Department of Health Sciences and our associates and collaborative organisations also contribute.


This course is delivered in three main stages over two years: Taught Component (Year 1), Taught Component (Year 2), and MSc (Year 2 with the completion of the dissertation).

Taught component - Year 1

You will take core modules, which may include:

Taught component - Year 2

Core modules

You will take core modules, which may include:

Option modules

You will take a selection of option modules, examples of which may include:

The third component is your dissertation.

Our modules may change to reflect the latest academic thinking and expertise of our staff, and in line with Department/School academic planning.


To successfully complete the course, you will have to complete a 15,000-word dissertation based on an original research project.

The dissertation will allow you to design, implement and finalise your own research project with a final research report. The module encourages you to conduct your dissertation research on a subject or research question that is stimulating to you as well as important to the field of contemporary humanitarian affairs.

You will receive a personal supervisor for your dissertation who will offer you support throughout the research period.

The York approach

Every course at York is built on a distinctive set of learning outcomes. These will give you a clear understanding of what you will be able to accomplish at the end of the course and help you explain what you can offer employers. Our academics identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences you'll need upon graduation and then design the course to get you there.

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  • critically evaluate humanitarian crises, and responses to them, drawing on an advanced understanding of the dynamic relationship between humanitarian affairs theory, policy and practice
  • appraise the design and delivery of humanitarian projects to improve the impact, efficiency and effectiveness of responses to humanitarian crises 
  • use strategic and innovative thinking to deal with the challenges of humanitarian crises
  • coordinate, cooperate and communicate effectively with different cultures and organisations, and collaborate with disaster and conflict affected communities as equal partners of change
  • carry out accurate, ethical, evidenced-based academic, policy and practice research into humanitarian affairs using an appropriate range of methodological skills and presenting the results in
  • audience-appropriate formats
  • operate as ethical professionals, based on knowledge of contemporary protection and legal frameworks of humanitarianism and their challenges
  • approach humanitarian work with humility, demonstrated through their ongoing personal reflection on practice

Fees and funding

Annual tuition fees for 2024/25

Study modeUK (home) / International and EU
Part-time, distance learning (2 years)
This is the year 1 fee. Fees for future years are subject to confirmation.

For courses which are longer than one year, the tuition fees quoted are for the first year of study.

  • UK (home) fees may increase in subsequent years (up to a maximum of 2%).
  • International fees may increase in subsequent years in line with the prevailing Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rate (up to a maximum of 10%).

Fees information

UK (home) or international fees? The level of fee that you will be asked to pay depends on whether you're classed as a UK (home) or international student. Check your fee status.

Find out more information about tuition fees and how to pay them.

Additional costs

We don't anticipate there being any additional costs to study this course. The tuition fees cover the learning and reading materials, access to the University of York library and various humanitarian databases. Depending on how you like to work, you may wish to print some documents out - this may incur an additional cost, but that will be dependent on your own preference and working styles.

Departmental funding

Teaching and assessment

You’ll work with world‐leading academics who’ll challenge you to think independently and excel in all that you do. Our approach to teaching will provide you with the knowledge, opportunities and support you need to grow and succeed in a global workplace.

Teaching format

The course is primarily taught through our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). All your course materials will be provided through the VLE.

We combine a variety of learning techniques including interactive discussion groups and seminars led by practitioners, academic staff and course partners. We are constantly updating and exploring new learning technologies and developing new ways to provide the course material using the most effective methods.

You'll use a wide variety of learning tools, including:

  • Participatory learning and teaching
  • Experiential and problem-solving approaches
  • Interactive online discussions
  • Collaborative exercises and case study materials
  • Webinars for each module with leading experts
  • Bespoke study materials
  • Private study exercises
  • Access to the extensive online library


As a distance learner, you'll also have the opportunity to access e-support from the Writing and Language Skills Centre at the University.

Assessment and feedback

You will be assessed throughout the course in theory, policy and practice elements. You will have to successfully complete all areas to be able to progress.

A variety of assessment methods including critical essays, analytical reports, posters and proposals will be used. You will be given individual written assessment feedback for every piece of assessed work. You can request detailed feedback either through an email or a Skype meeting.

Careers and skills

Our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many are working full-time jobs in real-time humanitarian responses where they can take full advantage of the flexible nature of the course.

The learning and teaching on the course enables you to build upon the practical knowledge gained from your professional experience with cutting-edge theory and an insight into humanitarian policy-making. Successful completion of the course leads to a globally recognised qualification.

Our graduates have gone on to leading roles in governmental and non-governmental organisations, the United Nations and charities, working in areas affected by disasters and conflicts around the world. Their work spans the humanitarian and development spectrum, from camp management to advising the UN and governments on humanitarian responses. Many go on to further study at York and other leading universities.

Career opportunities

  • Policy analyst
  • Development Policy Officer
  • Partnership Liaison Officer
  • Fundraising and communications manager
  • Journalist
  • Human Rights Officer

Transferable skills

  • Collaborate with affected populations as equal partners
  • Analytical and critical skills to engage at policy and practice levels
  • Creativity and imagination to respond to complex and challenging emergencies
  • The ability to facilitate positive change and response improvement
  • The ability to undertake reflective independent learning
  • The ability to research, source and examine information thoroughly
  • The capacity to critically analyse evidence and construct coherent arguments
  • Intellectual independence and autonomy
  • A flexible and open-minded approach to work

Entry requirements

Typical offer
Undergraduate degree 2:1 or equivalent in an appropriate subject. We are willing to consider applications from those who do not have the appropriate qualifications but have suitable humanitarian and development experience through working with the United Nations, international humanitarian and development organisations, government authorities, community-based groups or local charities.
Other international qualifications Equivalent qualifications from your country

English language

If English isn't your first language you may need to provide evidence of your English language ability. We accept the following qualifications:

Minimum requirement
IELTS (Academic and Indicator) 6.5, minimum 6.5 in Writing and 6.0 in all other components
Cambridge CEFR B2 First: 176, with a minimum of 176 in Writing and no less than 169 in all other components
Oxford ELLT 7, minimum of 7 in writing and no less than 6 in all other components
Duolingo 120, minimum 120 in production and 105 in all other components
LanguageCert SELT B2 with 33/50 in each component
LanguageCert Academic 70 with a minimum of 70 in Writing and no less than 65 in all other components
KITE 459-494, with 459-494 in writing and 426-458 in all other components
Skills for English B2: Merit overall, with Merit in writing and Pass with Merit in all other components
PTE Academic 61, minimum 61 in Writing and 55 in all other components
TOEFL 87, minimum 23 in Writing and 21 in all other components
Trinity ISE III Merit in all components

For more information see our English language requirements.


You can apply and send all your documentation online. You don’t need to complete your application all at once: you can start it, save it and finish it later.

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Department of Health Sciences