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Course Finder

MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights

Location: Colchester Campus
Qualification: Master of Arts
Mode of study: Full-time
Duration: 12 months
Tuition Fee: Home/EU, Overseas
Funding available: Find out using our scholarship finder Department: Human Rights
Facebook: University of Essex
Further information: For more information, please e-mail us or see for yourself by booking a place at one of our open days.

About the course

Our interdisciplinary course, MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights, examines the history, theoretical development and implementation of human rights. It is intended if you want to work in the field but also if you are interested in the legal, political, sociological or ethical theory. It was described by Dr Simon Caney of Oxford University as the “premier degree of its kind”.

Beyond the practical problems of human rights lie many unresolved theoretical and philosophical issues. These form the basis of our MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights, which provides you with a solid grounding in fundamental matters of the law, politics, philosophy and sociology of human rights. It will enable you to undertake practical or legal work for human rights organisations.

Please note that this course is also available on a part-time basis.

Why study MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights at Essex?

Our interdisciplinary Human Rights Centre is the UK’s leading centre for the study of the theory and practice of international human rights, and has a worldwide reputation for research, teaching and practice. In February 2010, we were awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of our work in advancing human rights across the globe.

Our Human Rights Centre is one of the world’s oldest and most highly-respected environments for the multi-disciplinary study of human rights. Studying human rights at Essex will enable you to become a member of one of the world’s largest, most culturally diverse and professionally successful community of human rights students, practitioners and academics. We have been teaching postgraduate human rights courses since 1983 and the Essex alumni ‘family’ now numbers almost two thousand graduates.

Our work has always been informed by human rights practice and our senior staff have held - and continue to occupy - key positions in the United Nations human rights and development fields. We have also conducted numerous cases in Strasbourg, establishing far-reaching precedents that have shaped the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

Our facilities

Our Human Rights Centre has almost 50 academic staff members and 30 external fellows, we bring together some 250 scholars and practitioners across disciplines and courses, representing 50 nationalities. We organise and support a range of activities throughout the year and manage research projects on human rights, conflict prevention and promotion of democratic governance. In April 2000, along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we launched the Torture Reporting Handbook, which has been translated into numerous languages and is used throughout the world.

We are home to the UK member of the UN Human Rights Committee, and a member of the Government’s new Advisory Group on Human Rights. A number of our staff have also held senior positions in intergovernmental organisations and are actively involved in international practice.


A Masters course is an academically rigorous programme during which you explore your subject in depth, reaching a high level of specialist knowledge. You draw on knowledge and skills from your undergraduate study or your professional life to produce work of a high academic standard, informed by current thinking and debate.

A Masters course lasts for twelve months (full-time), starting in October, and consists of taught modules during your autumn and spring terms, and normally a research-based dissertation or other project-based work submitted in September. Your balance of modules and research varies according to the subject but, typically, your research counts for 60 credits and there are 120 credits of modules, varying from 10 to 40 credits each. (If you are from the EU, then our Masters courses are regarded as ‘second-cycle’ qualifications under the Bologna Declaration and consist of 90 ECTS credits).

Please note that module information on our course finder provides a guide to course content and may be subject to review on an annual basis.


Core modules must be taken and passed.
Core with options modules selected from limited lists must be taken and passed.
Compulsory modules must be taken.
Compulsory with options modules selected from limited lists must be taken.
Optional modules are selected from course specific lists.


Your postgraduate study at Essex gives you an opportunity to develop your own ideas and interests, and to engage with thinking at the leading edge of your subject, as part of the research community in our Human Rights Centre, and our wider academic and professional community.

As you are studying a non-science subject, then your teaching mainly takes the form of lectures and classes.

Your assessment is a combination of written coursework, end-of-term tests, practical and laboratory work (where appropriate) and end-of-year exams. During the summer, you will work on a dissertation or individual project included in your final grade.

Teaching methods and styles

Within our Human Rights Centre, our Masters courses are multidisciplinary and provide a first class education in both the intellectual foundations of human rights and in the application of human rights within a complex global environment.

As a student within our Centre, you will be taught and supervised by our staff who are world leaders and experts in the field of human rights.

Your dissertation

If you are taking a Graduate or Postgraduate Diploma, you do not need to do the dissertation.

If you are taking a Masters course, your dissertation is of 15,000 to 16,000 words and you are allocated a suitable supervisor to cover a wide range of human rights topics. You submit your dissertation in September.

Methods of assessment

Within our Human Rights Centre, all modules on our courses take the form of take home exams/essays. The only exception is modules from our Department of Government, which offer a formal sit down examination.

Seminars and conferences

Our Human Rights Centre runs an open seminar series that all our students can attend. We also run a variety of student activities including tours to European institutions, trips to Kosovo, Right Skills for Rights workshops, a seminar series and a celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are also a variety of human rights societies on our Colchester Campus, which are extremely active and that you can get involved with.

Career destinations

Graduates of MA courses within our Human Rights Centre go on to a variety of careers in the governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental sectors, and undertake further research. Recent graduates of our MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights have found employment as the director of investigations for Malawi Human Rights Commission, a human rights officer for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), an experimental learning director for CIEE, a web writer for the British Red Cross, Grants Manger for the American Councils for International Education, a project officer for Relief International, a campaigner for Amnesty International, the women and housing rights programme officer for the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and a photographer for Seb-Nem Photography.

Other graduates now work for the Council of Europe, the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Save the Children, Shelter, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.

Your employability

A postgraduate qualification is a major achievement and greatly valued by employers. Recent surveys show that higher degree graduates are more likely to obtain jobs at professional or managerial level and less likely to be unemployed. For some jobs a postgraduate qualification may be essential, for others it offers a competitive edge. Our graduates go into a variety of jobs, where the key employability skills and knowledge they have gained through postgraduate study are put to good use.

Our Languages for All programme lets you study a language, alongside your course, at no extra cost. You can take one of 50 taught language modules on a part-time day-time basis, or undertake flexible web-based learning, or opt for a language module taught in the evening. As employers can struggle to find graduates able to speak more than one language, Languages for All places Essex graduates in a very advantageous position.

If you achieve your Masters, you may wish to extend your knowledge with a research degree and many who graduate from Essex choose to stay here for research study. Some of our Masters may be taken as the first part of an Integrated PhD, leading to your PhD after a further three years of full-time study.

Support for postgraduates

Our University has a range of support services designed to help you to achieve your full potential and get the most out of your studies. These form a co-ordinated network of support, and are an important part of your overall student experience at Essex.

Our staff operate an 'open door' policy so are available to discuss any concerns with you throughout the year.

Research study opportunities

Within our Human Rights Centre, we offer supervision for PhD and MPhil. Our human rights research has always been informed by human rights practice. For many years, our senior staff have held - and continue to occupy - key positions in the United Nations human rights and development fields. We have also conducted numerous cases in Strasbourg, establishing far-reaching precedents that have shaped the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.


Our applicants should have a 1st, 2:1 or high 2:2 degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject.

If English is not your first language, then we require IELTS 7.0, or equivalent.

Open Evenings

Come to one of our Open Evenings in Colchester or London to discover what makes Essex an outstanding place to study. Our Open Evenings are your chance to find out what it’s like to be a member of our thriving postgraduate community. Meet our academics and talk informally to current students to find out more about postgraduate life and study at Essex.

Campus Tours

If you can’t make one of our Open Evenings then don’t worry, we offer regular Campus Tours at our Colchester and Southend campuses. Please let us know which campus you want to visit using the email addresses below and we’ll organise a tour with a current student for you.

Please try to give four working days' notice and if you or any of your guests have any specific individual needs. Please include details in your email and we can arrange to tailor your visit accordingly.

Colchester Campus

We offer campus tours from Monday to Friday at 12.30pm. Please email tours@essex.ac.uk letting us know when you would like to come.

Watch our Colchester Campus tour on Vimeo.

See our videos on our University of Essex Vimeo channel.