Magazine Studies & Scholarships

5 Top Human Rights MAs involving Field Experience

When studying human rights, it is indeed important to have a solid grasp of the theoretical and conceptual content that underlies the subject. However, gaining practical experience in the field can do much to enhance ones understanding of the day-to-day challenges that are faced by human rights practitioners. The following article lists 5 human rights Master’s programs that include in their course structure either a class field trip or a compulsory field work placement component. The purpose of such field experience is to expose students to the real-life conditions under which a career pursuing human rights will take place.

Master of Arts in Human Rights – Vienna University

This Master of Arts at Vienna University aims to equip students with the practical and theoretical knowledge and skills around Human Rights which will enable them to enter and significantly contribute to the professional human rights environment. The program is designed in such a way as to provide students with a range of core courses which allow a proper engagement with an interdisciplinary approach to the subject of human rights. As part of the completion of the course, students will undertake a field trip to Kosovo where they will get to experience, observe and engage with the post-conflict society, NGOs and international organisations. This unique situation, where the UN, the OSCE, the EU and other international organisations are coordinating a human-rights-based international administration, provides learners with an exceptional opportunity to explore the meaning of human rights in practice. There is a strong emphasis on how to go about translating research and theory into practical action for the betterment of the human rights situation worldwide.

Master of Arts in Applied Human Rights –University of York

As an interdisciplinary program, this master’s course focuses on how human rights discourse and tools are used in various different fields. With an emphasis on the application of human rights, the course is aimed at training practitioners in the field of human rights. There are three compulsory modules dealing directly with human rights activism including legal advocacy and the practice of human rights from a social science perspective. The other two elective modules allow students to engage with a variety of different topics related to human rights, thereby broadening their interdisciplinary exposure. A key component of this course is the fieldwork experience. This takes place in Cape Town, South Africa where students are placed in small groups with a local organisation over a period of two weeks. Students are expected to develop a relationship with their placement organisation which is to be maintained and inform their research projects throughout the rest of the year. Student’s reports have hailed the fieldwork component as an excellent opportunity to engage with a foreign setting and learn practical tools for working in the field of human rights.

European Master’s Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA) – European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC)

This unique learning opportunity offers students the chance to become part of an integrated, trans-European experiment in human rights education. The collaboration between 41 leading Universities and a variety of disciplines means that students are exposed to a truly interdisciplinary and global experience. There is a strong focus on equipping students with the practical skills that will form the foundation of their career pursuing human rights goals. The first semester takes place at the Venice School of Human Rights where students will undertake their first set of module courses. This semester is followed by a field trip to Kosovo. The purpose of the field trip is to provide student with a deeper insight into the human rights challenges and opportunities faced in a real-life, post-conflict society. The practical training gained on the field trip should inform the rest of the academic year and prepare students for what they should expect when embarking in careers in the human rights field. The final semester takes place at one of the participating universities where students will be supervised through the process of planning and writing their Masters dissertation.

Master of Arts in International Human Rights – University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies

This two-year, full time Master’s program aims to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of human rights and humanitarianism through an interdisciplinary curriculum approach. Students are required to take core courses which engage with human rights law, foreign policy and the role of international organisations. As part of the course completion requirements, students are expected to engage in field work, particularly in the form of an internship either locally or internationally. This aspect of the degree allows students to experience working within a human rights based organisation, where they can observe and engage with the practical challenges of day-to-day human rights work.

Master of Arts in Conflict Studies and Human Rights – Utrecht University

The Master of Arts in Conflict Studies and Human Rights seeks to engage students in an academic environment that is based both within a theoretical analytical approach, as well as within grounded research. As such, there is a strong focus on analysing case studies and critically evaluating how the theory translates to the cases. As a one year program the course is structured with two semesters. In the second semester, students have the option to undertake an internship with the aim of gaining experience in the human rights field. This internship forms part of the course grade and on completion, students are expected provide a reflective report on their experience working within a human rights environment. This field work should inform the thesis that will be submitted by the end of the program.

About the author

Claire McDonald

Claire McDonald is currently a Masters student studying Migration and Displacement at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg. She has a firm background in social science research and writing, having completed her undergraduate in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and her honours degree in Justice and Transformation, both at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Her professional experience includes almost two years work as the lead research assistant for a research organisation based at UCT – the Safety and Violence Initiative (SaVI). In 2014 she completed an internship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Claire has since spent time travelling solo through parts of South America as well as Spain and Portugal.

Upon finishing her Master’s degree, Claire hopes to continue her career in the field of social justice, working specifically in South Africa after gaining experience working abroad.

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