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Development and Emergency Practice

MA or PGDip or PGCert

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Start dates: September 2023 / September 2024

Full time: MA: 12 months, PGDip: 9 months, PGCert: 3 - 9 months (depending on module choice)

Part time: MA: 24 months, PGDip: 21 months, PGCert: 9 months

Location: Headington

Department(s): School of Architecture


Development and emergency practice is a complex, rapidly evolving blend of issues and challenges in the 21st century. And we teach it as such. 

Study the political context of an armed conflict or natural hazard – and how this can influence humanitarian efforts and human-rights-based responses. You can look at which development approaches have increased the impacts of climate change and disasters – and explore how cultural differences affect outcomes. Or gain a practical understanding of designing aid programmes, factoring in long term development goals, humanitarian imperatives and adaptive working.

You’ll investigate issues such as international human rights practices. Humanitarianism. Refugee experience. You’ll consider gender, diversity and equality; discovering what it takes to create an inclusive civil society. You’ll learn about design in emergency contexts and housing after disasters.

Your studies link to humanitarian work, international development, or NGO operations. You’ll learn critical theory, and what that means for your practices and the people you’re there to support.

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Arial photo of natural disaster aftermath

Why Oxford Brookes University?

  • Hear the latest research

    Run by the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice, the course is delivered by expert researchers and practitioners and features the latest thinking in the field.

  • Experiences beyond the classroom

    Extra-curricular opportunities and optional field trips abroad give you first-hand knowledge of the issues you’re studying.

  • Pick your specialism

    With our wide range of optional modules, you can choose to specialise in specific areas based on the expertise of our teaching team of researchers and practitioners.

  • Delivered by the School of Architecture

    This means we can offer unique perspectives on topics like shelter reconstruction after disasters. Or how design can resolve development and humanitarian problems.

  • Practice-based

    Our experienced staff don’t just teach the subject, they help you become a reflective practitioner in your field. They’ll use their own work to give you first-hand insight into your future role.

Course details

Course structure

We’ve designed the course to cover a wide range of subjects within the fields of development and emergency practice. This means you can delve into not just your own area of expertise, but related topics that impact your work.

You can choose to specialise in:

  • human rights, emergencies and development,
  • disasters, risks, shelter and development,
  • conflict and humanitarian action.

Optional modules let you tailor the course content to fit your goals. Whatever areas you choose to focus on, you’ll develop a combination of theoretical insight and practical knowledge.

Chitrod Old after Earthquake

Learning and teaching

Your learning will be grounded in theory, case studies and field based experience. You will develop intellectual knowledge and cultivate academic skills including:

  • synthesis
  • analysis
  • interpretation
  • understanding
  • judgement.

You will focus on your approach as a practitioner. Particular reference is made to:

  • the setting in which you work - for example poverty, conflict, power and vulnerability
  • the approaches you adopt - for example community mobilisation, aid and human rights advocacy
  • yourself - the personal motivations that drive and shape your vocation, personality and temperament

You will become a more self-aware, knowledge-based practitioner, able to work flexibly around a variety of problems in different situations. These include poverty, armed conflict and disaster.


Details of the assessment methods used for this course will be included here soon.

Field Trips

The course offers several field trip options each year. These usually take place in late January before the beginning of Semester 2.

Past field trip locations have included:

  • Asia (India, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines)
  • Latin America (Peru, Colombia)
  • Middle East (West Bank)
  • Europe (Bosnia, Northern Ireland)
  • Africa (South Africa)
  • The Caribbean (Jamaica).

Please note that field trips are an additional cost to the course fee, to reflect the fact that some students prefer not to take up this option.

Study modules

The modules listed below are for the master's award. For the PGDip and PGCert awards your module choices may be different. Please contact us for more details.

Taught modules

Compulsory modules

Critical Inquiry Development & Emergencies: Theory and Policy (20 credits)

This module provides a basis for you to understand and critically examine development and emergency practice from the perspective of poverty, vulnerability and humanitarian issues involved in the same. The module begins by an enquiry into the development paradigms, and explores experiences of poverty and vulnerability. It introduces you to different analytical frameworks and approaches to development and emergency practice. They include basic needs and social protection approach, livelihoods approach and rights based approach. It further introduces approaches in relation to social groups; such as gender and equity approaches. It also introduces key policy dimensions relevant to the humanitarian sector, including the humanitarian performance appraisal and post-conflict and transitional justice approaches. The module aims to develop an insight into current debates, discussions and understandings within development and emergency practice.

Research Methods and Design (10 credits)

This module aims to advance your understanding of research, including both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Optional modules

Conflict, Violence and Humanitarianism (20 credits)

This module examines contemporary armed conflicts stressing on the understanding of violence, culture of war, political and legal contexts. It aims to introduce conflict analysis and sensitivity and how those approaches may shape international humanitarian action. It also examines conflicts and responses to them through the perspectives of the actors involved in it: mostly local populations and the international community.

Working with Conflict : practical skills and strategies (10 credits)

Conflict, as distinct from violence, is an inevitable dimension of any work for change, including development, rights and emergency relief. It constitutes a potentially positive, as well as destructive dynamic, and practitioners need to have the awareness and skills to make the most of the opportunities it offers as well as the ability to manage the risks it poses. To be effective we need to be able to analyse, quickly and effectively, the situations we are working in, and have the wisdom and expertise to implement the full range of options available in such situations. This module focuses in turn on analysing conflict, developing strategy and methods of intervention.

Refugees: Forced migration, Protection and Humanitarianism (20 credits)

The most conservative estimates put the numbers of displaced people globally at more than 40 million. This includes those who have crossed international borders in search of refuge from persecution, as well as those displaced by conflict within their own country. It does not include many millions more who have fled other types of disaster or unfavourable environmental conditions, or who have not sought formal refugee status, not to mention other types of forced migrant, such as victims of human trafficking. Forced migration is both a central part of the human experience in the twenty-first century and a key challenge to humanitarian practitioners.

Disasters, Risk, Vulnerability and Climate Change (20 credits)

This module will investigate the nature, scope, context, concepts, and dynamics of vulnerability, risk and disasters, and their links with development. It starts by looking into how modern development and climate change is contributing to new kinds of vulnerabilities. It further critically appraises different models of conceptualising risks and disasters. It investigates the social, economic and political factors contributing to the making of disasters, and their effects. Issues such as culture, and other social variables that mediate disasters are investigated thoroughly. It further evaluates strategies and tools to under risk assessments, and the framing of the discourse/policies for disaster risk reduction or resilience building. Specific case studies such as famine, earthquakes, floods, and urban disasters are used to develop critical insights into the dynamics of disasters.

Design in DEP (20 credits)

Designing within the development and emergency (DEP) context requires a deep understanding of the complexity of actors and agents in addition to the physical domain.  Led by an experienced architect and development practitioner, this module aims to equip students with an understanding of the potential role of design and possible approaches they might take to engaging in this complex context. This module will seek to develop the behaviours of reflective practice: rejecting prescribed solutions and instead building the skills to listen, learn, adjust and adapt to the complex contexts in which development and humanitarian practitioners work. Much of the work and learning will be done through weekly design development and tutorials, based on student proposals, culminating in a final portfolio submission for assessment. The portfolios will formulate creative design proposals with context sensitive design interventions to resolve complex development and emergency problems.

Human Rights & Governance (20 credits)

In any historical account of the second half of the twentieth century, the establishment of the international human rights protection system must be seen as a moral, legal and political milestone. The gradual entrenchment of the concept of human rights in law and practice has had a profound impact on the way we think about international relations today. How did this project come into being? Who determined its shape and substance? How can international human rights standards be enforced? Where is the human rights movement heading in the twenty-first century?

Humanitarian Action: Responding to crisis in 21st Century (10 credits)

This module allows you to identify and critically analyse the key challenges facing international humanitarian action in the early 21st century; to consider the root causes of these challenges; to debate the degree to which the solutions that have been proposed for these challenges are desirable and realistic; and to suggest how they would address these challenges in the context of current humanitarian field operations. It will also consider how decisions are made in the humanitarian system; the role of evidence in establishing humanitarian policy and practice, and how, and by whom, changes in global humanitarian approaches might be effected.

Programming and Partnerships (10 credits)

Emergency and development aid and assistance in the 21st century presents a diverse and complex landscape for new professionals to navigate. New actors are competing for space and resources with traditional aid agencies, and established principles and ways of working are increasingly under question. This module aims to equip you with a working understanding of the primary frameworks and approaches that aid organisations use to guide and structure emergency response and longer term development programs. With an emphasis on practical, 'real world' application, you will explore how aid programs are designed, implemented and evaluated; how access and resources are negotiated; and the challenges of leading a team in the field. This module will seek to develop the habits and behaviours of reflective practice: rejecting prescribed solutions and instead building the skills to listen, learn, adjust and adapt in conditions of complexity and uncertainty.

Shelter after Disaster (20 credits)

While few humanitarian organisations list post-disaster shelter reconstruction as one of their main activities, many often become instrumental in the delivery of large-scale shelter projects in the wake of a natural disaster. Yet, as evidenced by the recent Haiti earthquake and previous large disasters, such as the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake, shelter after disaster is complex. It spans the immediate relief needs of security and comfort, through a transitional stage, as well as permanent housing. It also looks at longer term developmental issues of land, funding, community engagement and political control. This module analyses the scale and complexity of these issues and examines shelter as an emerging discipline. The module uses case studies to illustrate different models of shelter programming and identifies the principles behind the implementation of a good shelter project. 

Global Civil Society (20 credits)

This module investigates the dynamics of global civil society, understood as the space for interaction between institutions and non-state actors. It looks at the existing architecture of global governance and the competing theories and approaches to analysing these phenomena. It asks questions about the accountability and legitimacy of the institutions and processes of global governance and evaluates the possibilities for change. This module will critically evaluate the role of civil society and social movements as a democratising force in global governance. Learning experience will include reflections on challenges to the nation state model as a consequence of the globalization process; critical investigation of the concepts of civil society and social movements and social transformations.  The module will reflect on societal transformations and how notions of citizenship identity are remodelled. It will debate on development of anti-politics and forms of resistance from below. 

Independent study

Optional modules

Independent Study Module (10 credits)

Candidates with research experience or with substantial practice and field experience may select a predominantly research or practice-oriented route to the MA through the independent study.

You will be required to produce a proposal and agree this with your supervisor prior to commencing work. The independent study route could include literature reviews in preparation for dissertation work, reflecting on the outcomes and successes of already implemented projects, work in progress, unconventional piece of work or research on untaught topics.

Please note: As our courses are reviewed regularly as part of our quality assurance framework, the modules you can choose from may vary from those shown here. The structure of the course may also mean some modules are not available to you.


Research specialisations linked to the five research clusters within the School of Architecture offer cutting edge teaching from subject area experts.

The specialisations are:

  • environmental design
  • technology
  • development
  • emergency practice
  • humanities
  • architectural design.


Past students are working at international development organisations like Save the Children or the United Nations. Some have started their own agencies or aid groups. Others are continuing their academic work, with PhDs in subjects like communication during Covid, food security, climate disasters or refugee wellbeing.

The broad scope and practical nature of the course will help you thrive in any development or emergency practice role. You could enhance your current career or look for work in:

  • NGOs - international and national,
  • human rights, forced migration and development,
  • United Nations agencies and organisations,
  • governmental and commercial organisations working in development.

Of course, your critical thinking, analysis and design skills will apply to work beyond these areas too.

Entry requirements

International qualifications and equivalences

How to apply

Application process

Tuition fees

Please see the fees note
Home (UK) full time
£9,900 (Masters); £8,900 (Diploma); £4,950 (Certificate)

Home (UK) part time

International full time

Home (UK) full time
£10,200 (Masters); £9,200 (Diploma); £5,100 (Certificate)

Home (UK) part time

International full time

Questions about fees?

Contact Student Finance on:

Tuition fees

2022 / 23
Home (UK) full time
£9,900 (Masters); £8,900 (Diploma); £4,950 (Certificate)

Home (UK) part time

International full time

2023 / 24
Home (UK) full time
£10,200 (Masters); £9,200 (Diploma); £5,100 (Certificate)

Home (UK) part time

International full time

Questions about fees?

Contact Student Finance on:

+44 (0)1865 483088

Fees quoted are for the first year only. If you are studying a course that lasts longer than one year, your fees will increase each year.

Additional costs

Please be aware that some courses will involve some additional costs that are not covered by your fees. Specific additional costs for this course are detailed below.

Funding your studies

Financial support and scholarships

Featured funding opportunities available for this course.

All financial support and scholarships

View all funding opportunities for this course

Programme changes:
On rare occasions we may need to make changes to our course programmes after they have been published on the website. For more information, please visit our changes to programmes page.