The study of human rights is no longer constrained to the restricted confines of the boardrooms of supranational organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, or the World Health Organization – it is now a legitimate, full-fledged field of study that is being taken up all over the world, in classrooms, in homes, and in corporate settings.
The number of universities offering undergraduate and postgraduate programs in this field is a testament to the importance of this academic discipline.
In a world that is headed towards a concerning rise in nationalism, populism, and authoritarianism, human rights is increasingly becoming a concern that all of us have to deal with and guard vigilantly over the coming years – to see to it that these rights, which generations before us have fought tooth and nail to defend, are continued to be protected and defended in spite of these trends – and manage to adapt to the changes that are bound to come.
Let’s take a look at 15 bachelor’s degree programs that seek to educate the next generation about human rights, especially for those of us who seek to make an impact into this field and make inroads towards careers in this path; because human rights is a field that is literally something worth protecting, defending, and learning from and about.
Barnard’s program focuses on multidisciplinary approaches drawing from the social sciences, law, and the humanities to provide a macro context of human rights studies to prospective students – all in the background of the country’s most progressive, open, and diverse cities: that of New York City.
The Embrey Human Rights Program of SMU is a recently-established human rights program that seeks to impart tomorrow’s policymakers and leaders a solid background in human rights and the concepts behind it, and features programs for students to put their learnings into practice.
Trinity College’s human rights program focuses on a creative curriculum and a solid foundation for learning; summer internships at important human rights organizations, networking with leaders in the field, as well as the opportunity to partake in important and continuing research on human rights is all part of the curriculum.
Home to the first undergraduate human rights studies program – founded in 1998, to be exact, to just show how young this field is, Dayton has produced over 100 graduates in their groundbreaking human rights programs, who have since gone on careers as lawyers, advocates, academics, or professionals in all sorts of sectors of society.
The University of Malmö’s famed program explores the dynamic, increasingly relevant practice of human rights through the framework of law, politics, and philosophy, which then provides prospective students a strong foundation from which to formulate policies and engage in global diplomacy.
York University allows its students to pursue a BA, Honours BA, or Honours Double Major BA featuring its human rights program, which addresses the roots and impact of human rights as well as its ethics and philosophy, preparing its graduates for careers in the academe, social services, public service, and human resources.
This program focuses on understanding the forms of oppression and marginalization that are institutionalized in our legal frameworks, and offers solutions as to how to remedy such institutionalized violence. Furthermore, it offers electives and specializations that will seek to provide an interdisciplinary foundation that is useful not just in human rights careers, but in other fields of study, most especially in legal studies.
The human rights program of the National University of Ireland at Galway focuses on its training and education on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the quintessential foundation from which human rights takes its definition, as its guiding light for its students, which it seeks to protect and defend, as states are obliged to uphold. If you want a firm, fundamentalist perspective and seek to further the vision of the 1948 declaration, then this program is perfect for you.
Canada is one of the most progressive hotspots in the world, and especially so in Ontario – which provides an excellent diverse and multicultural environment for prospective students to put theory to application. And Carleton University is a fantastic place pursue your studies, with its three-pronged approach to human rights education and training through its interdisciplinary approach, its specialized faculty, and practical, real-world experience.
Monash University’s human rights program provides an excellent training ground for students who aim to further their studies into law and is an ideal major to take for a double degree. According to the website of Monash University many graduates have pursued careers in NGOs and public service.
Kingston University’s program focuses on the history, theory, and practice of human rights in international relations and politics, while offering increased specialization in particular topics such as human rights through African, Middle Eastern, or Latin American socio-political contexts. Further study opportunities are granted in Europe, North America, and Australia – with a homebase in one of the cultural capitals of the world, London.
The University of Connecticut is famed for being one of the hotbeds of progressive learning in the United States, and which is made manifest in its undergraduate program in human rights. The program is capped with an opportunity to gain valuable, relevant, and practical experience through sponsored internships.
If learning about human rights in an African context is what you desire, then Makerere University in Kampala is one of the best choices you can make – especially in Uganda, which is already known for its human rights concerns which are not unknown to many of us. Makerere is one of the best and most diverse universities in Africa, so make sure to put this among your considerations for further studies.
The University of Massachusetts in Amherst is a unique program in that it offers bachelor’s degrees for adults who would like to continue their studies through a distance-learning perspective, while allowing you to learn at your own pace with your fellow learners. This is great for those who seek to switch careers towards social work and human rights activism midway through their professional career, with great flexibility and affordability to boot – plus a UMass diploma, too.
Arizona’s unique location on the United States and Mexico border offers prospective students an opportunity to learn on the frontlines of human rights’ hotspots – as well as one of America’s stress tests in the face of President Donald Trump’s opposition to illegal immigration. Apart from this, the global studies program of the University of Arizona offers opportunities for international research, international studies, and international internships, which should be reason enough for prospective students to consider this program.
So, have you decided on where to take your human rights education yet? We hope this list gives you a good start. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section. No time for a bachelor degree now? Why not take one of these free human rights online courses?
Human Rights Master’s degrees
Master of Laws (LL.M) in Human Rights
The University of Hong Kong
Arab Master in Democracy and Human Rights
University of Saint Joseph
Vienna Master of Arts in Applied Human Rights
University of Applied Arts
Human Rights Studies
International Human Rights Law
University of Groningen
European Master’s Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus of Human Rights
Theory and Practice of Human Rights
University of Oslo
International Law and Human Rights
Åbo Akademi University