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MA Applied Human Rights

Learn to make voices heard through law, policy and human rights practice.

Year of entry: 2023 (September)


1 year full-time,
2 years part-time

Start date

September 2023 (semester dates)

Online Open Day

Wednesday 7 June 2023
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Human rights defenders strive for a world in which human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Learn to bridge the gap between theory and practice by combining hands-on experience with interdisciplinary academic enquiry. Discover the theoretical frameworks and practical skills which make advances in human rights possible.

Study different aspects of human rights practice: the strategies employed and the debates, institutions and political structures that human rights defenders seek to influence. You'll learn directly from human rights defenders with first-hand experience in governmental, judicial, and grassroots roles.

You'll also develop a range of fieldwork, advocacy and legal skills and apply these on a placement in the UK or South Africa.

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Each year we host human rights defenders at risk from around the world, providing a unique opportunity for you to learn from activists working in difficult environments.

Course content

Taught over one year, the MA will familiarise you with different aspects of activism. Semester 1 introduces key theoretical and practical elements, cemented by applying your knowledge on a group placement with a human rights organisation.

In Semester 2, you'll explore international human rights law. You'll also choose two option modules, allowing you to focus your studies on an area aligned with your interests.

During Semester 2 and the summer, you'll start work on a dissertation of up to 12,000 words on a topic of your choice.


Gaining direct experience of fieldwork is a key component of this course. You'll work with a partner organisation in Cape Town or York for several months, including a two-week placement at the end of your first semester.

To get an idea of previous years' placements in Cape Town and York, have a look at our student experiences.


Core modules

Option modules

You will also study two option modules. In previous years, options have covered topics such as:

Our modules may change to reflect the latest academic thinking and expertise of our staff.


During the Summer Term and over the summer vacation, you will work on a dissertation of up to 12,000 words. You can choose your own topic to investigate, but it should have a human rights focus.

Recent students' dissertations have examined:

  • Destitution and the asylum process
  • Peace, silence, and historical commemoration in Northern Ireland
  • How responsible are conservation organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the discrimination and exclusion experienced by the Batwa?
  • How did the Truth and Reconciliation Commission influence the development of a human rights culture in South Africa?
  • Democratisation and human rights: The case study of Venezuela's progress and regress
  • Overcoming stigma: Applying whistleblowers' experience to human rights defenders
  • Homelessness and in/security in York, United Kingdom
  • St. Louis, Missouri: A city divided over black lives matter
  • The communication of human rights through collective art projects

Throughout the project, you will have the support of your dissertation supervisor. Where possible we'll allocate you someone who is familiar with your chosen topic. Dissertation training at the start of the Summer Term will help you to clarify your ideas and refine your methodological approach.


You and your group will forge a relationship with an organisation, to develop and deliver a project. This includes:

  • Preparation: extensive background research on country context, the host organisation and relevant thematic issues, to identify and define a project.
  • Fieldwork: two weeks intensive work in Cape Town or York.
  • Follow-up: completing the project and disseminating outputs.

Projects with partners have included researching and writing human rights reports, training manuals, annual reports, funding proposals, policy briefs, and communications to the special procedures of the UN.

Please note that the South Africa trip will only run if there are sufficient student numbers.

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:

  • Analyse and evaluate human rights issues to develop informed, critical understanding of the ways in which social, political, economic and institutional
    interests shape human rights problems and responses.
  • Design advocacy to enhance the implementation of human rights practice by drawing on an understanding of UN, regional, and state policy-making processes.
  • Retrieve and critically assess socio-legal data using appropriate research methods and analytical techniques to investigate complex contemporary
    human rights issues
  • Engage with debates at global, national, and local levels, communicating ideas effectively and in different formats to peers, policy actors,
    lawyers and human rights defenders across a range of professional settings.
  • Apply the values of collaborative, participatory approaches and cultural sensitivity to problem-solving and the shaping of human rights interventions.
  • Engage in continual reflective practice by exploring different approaches and theories to particular challenges and critically reflecting on
    their value and effectiveness in diverse contexts.
Having regular lectures and seminars coupled with this hands-on placement meant that our learning in the classroom was directly translated into practice. It taught me skills as varied as making participatory videos and using theatre in human rights, as well as leadership skills, team management and communication.
Johnny, MA Applied Human Rights

Read about our students' experiences

Fees and funding

Annual tuition fees for 2023/24

Study modeUK (home)International and EU
Full-time (1 year) £9,990£22,250
Part-time (2 years)
This is the year 1 fee. Fees for future years are subject to confirmation.

Students on a Student Visa (formerly Tier 4 Visa) are not currently permitted to study part-time at York.

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

If you choose to undertake a placement in South Africa you will need to budget around £1,200 to £1,400, over and above MA tuition fees and living expenses. Placements in York do not incur additional costs, apart from potential limited local travel.

Funding information

Discover your funding options to help with tuition fees and living costs.

We'll confirm more funding opportunities for students joining us in 2023/24 throughout the year.

If you've successfully completed an undergraduate degree at York you could be eligible for a 10% Masters fee discount.

Funding opportunities

Centre for Applied Human Rights scholarships

We expect to be able to offer one scholarship for the MA in Applied Human Rights in 2023/24. The scholarship is only open to UK/EU applicants who have received a conditional or unconditional offer for full-time study.

Chevening scholarships

Awarded by British embassies and high commissions, Chevening Scholarships provide one year of fully-funded postgraduate study in the UK. They are offered to early and mid-career professionals with the potential to become future leaders. We have hosted 34 Chevening Scholars in the past five years and welcome further enquiries and applications.

Living costs

You can use our living costs guide to help plan your budget. It covers additional costs that are not included in your tuition fee such as expenses for accommodation and study materials.

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

You'll be taught using a variety of methods in a range of formats including:

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Directed reading
  • Simulation and role-play
  • Independent study

Our teaching staff have wide-ranging experience in both academic study and human rights practice. You'll be able to put your learning into practice on placement in South Africa or the UK.

Teaching location

The Centre for Applied Human Rights is based in the Research Centre for Social Sciences on Campus West.

You will spend two weeks on placement, either in Cape Town (South Africa) or in and around York (UK).

About our campus

Our beautiful green campus offers a student-friendly setting in which to live and study, within easy reach of the action in the city centre. It's easy to get around campus - everything is within walking or pedalling distance, or you can always use the fast and frequent bus service.

Assessment and feedback

You'll be assessed through essays, group projects and reflective diaries. Your dissertation makes up a large proportion of your final mark.

We'll be looking for evidence of your ability to communicate across cultures, bearing in mind diverse cultural and political viewpoints. You should be able to speak knowledgeably about unfolding international events to a range of audiences, and collect and interpret qualitative data to support your arguments. 

As well as your assessed work, you'll be given assignments which don't count towards your final grade. The feedback you receive for this work will help you develop your skills and identify areas for improvement.

The Human Rights Defenders fellowship scheme at the Centre for Applied Human Rights has been amazing. In an academic setting we're so used to studying about issues that happen elsewhere, usually far away. The scheme brings that reality into the classroom.
Brittany, MA Applied Human Rights

Read about our students' experiences

Careers and skills

Our graduates go on to work with NGOs, humanitarian and development organisations, policy think-tanks, national governments and UN agencies. We provide advice, networking opportunities, hands-on experience, and personalised reference letters to support you as you establish your career.

Career opportunities

  • Human rights officer
  • International development researcher
  • External affairs and communications officer 
  • Philanthropy executive
  • Refugee relocation caseworker
  • Ethical trade coordinator 

Transferable skills

  • Intercultural communication
  • Ability to appreciate multiple points of view
  • Awareness of international current events
  • Argument and persuasion
  • Data collection and interpretation
  • Practical application of theoretical knowledge
  • Teamwork
  • Problem solving
  • Project management
  • Writing for diverse audiences

Our alumni

Find out more about our graduates' careers.

Alumni profiles

I was employed by International Alert, a peace building INGO, as a Project Senior Officer within three months of finishing my studies. My responsibilities include establishing a mechanism of mitigating tensions, in partnership with the local community in a multi-sectarian region on the border of the endless war in Syria.
Rony, MA Applied Human Rights

Read about our students' experiences

Entry requirements

Typical offer
Undergraduate degree 2:1 or equivalent. We will also consider a 2:2 with at least three years' relevant work experience.
International pre-masters programme Pre-masters from our International Pathway College
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 6.0 in each component
C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency 176, minimum 169 in each component
Duolingo 120, minimum 105 in all other components
LanguageCert SELT B2 with 33/50 in each component
LanguageCert International ESOL B2 Communicator: Pass with 33/50 in each component
PTE Academic/PTE Academic Online 61, minimum 55 in each component
TOEFL 87, minimum of 21 in each component
Trinity ISE III Merit in all requirements

For more information see our postgraduate English language requirements.

If you've not met our English language requirements

You may be eligible for one of our pre-sessional English language courses. These courses will provide you with the level of English needed to meet the conditions of your offer.

The length of course you need to take depends on your current English language test scores and how much you need to improve to reach our English language requirements.

After you've accepted your offer to study at York, we'll confirm which pre-sessional course you should apply to via You@York.


You can apply and send all your documentation electronically through our online system. 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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Next steps

Contact us

Get in touch if you have any questions

Professor Paul Gready

Learn more

Centre for Applied Human Rights

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