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Humanitarian Action and Peacebuilding

MA / PGCert

School of Architecture

This is the first MA aimed at investigating the interactions between humanitarian action and peacebuilding, and is designed mainly for practitioners working in those fields, though it is also open to those working in related areas. It has been designed using the knowledge and expertise of both the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP).

This programme merges knowledge and techniques developed in both fields to promote better targeted initiatives and comprehensive responses. It is delivered through online lectures, action research, sharing of experiences, discussions with key practitioners, and critical reflection on practices. Practitioners will be able to broaden their perceptions, critically review their role, and develop and refine the hard and soft skills needed to work effectively in the fields of humanitarian action and peacebuilding. The programme is also relevant for practitioners working in other fields interested in exploring new opportunities in conflict transformation.

Available start dates

January 2019 / September 2019 / January 2020 / September 2020

Teaching location

Distance learning

Course length

  • Part time: 30 months - Distance learning only

For full application details, please see the 'How to apply / Entry requirements' section.

  • Flexible and user-friendly online learning environment allowing you to learn from your workplace.
  • Investigating cutting-edge issues in the field of humanitarian action and peacebuilding, proposing innovative tools and reflecting on current field practices.
  • Designed and delivered jointly by Oxford Brookes University and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), offering you access to resources and support from both institutions online and in the field through UN missions. 
  • Unparalleled support from a team of academic experts and top-ranked practitioners as well as field experts for specific topics.
  • Founded on action-research, and on populations and employers' direct needs in humanitarian and peacebuilding programming.
  • Access to a worldwide community of learners.
This is the first MA aimed at investigating the interactions between humanitarian action and peacebuilding, merging knowledge and know-how developed in both fields to promote better targeted initiatives and comprehensive responses. This MA is also one of the first Masters working on the principle that long-term and sustainable peace can only be built by local and national actors and initiatives. Therefore culture sensitivity, community initiatives and local responses are at the core of the learning process. 
To explore the links between humanitarian action and peacebuilding, the MA relies on three distinctive features brought together to propose a unique and innovative learning approach: 
  • Based entirely on online delivery  to create a web-based learning community, the MA offers a flexible and diverse method based mostly on collaborative work. A large portion of the learning activities are based on discussion and confrontation of ideas and practices to enhance peer to peer learning and discourse. 
  • The workplace is intended to be the main learning environment, to allow learners from all countries to engage with this global community of reflective practitioners. As a result, case studies, action research and hands-on exercises with live and field-based problems, working with communities, practitioners and agencies are an integral part of the programme.  
  • Based on innovative multicultural and multidisciplinary approaches, the MA uses studies and theories from social sciences, peace and conflict studies, humanities, management, political sciences, law, urban planning and architecture. It also merges practice-based knowledge produced by field practitioners and research outputs from practice-oriented scholars. The diversity of learners and lecturers creates a unique opportunity to merge and discuss different cultural paradigms, perceptions and intellectual traditions.
This part-time programme is usually studied over 30 months. However, you are able to take up to 5 years to complete the necessary credits or to finish it in 24 months if you can take time out of work to complete the programme.
It is constituted of three core modules; three issue-based modules as well as a research skills module as preparation for the dissertation.
The three core modules are:
From Conflict Sensitivity to Conflict Transformation
This module equips you with a sound understanding of the complexity of conflicts, including of conceptual frameworks and theoretical debates related to humanitarian action and peacebuilding in complex environments. It provides you with the analytical tools to understand the contexts of conflict and to assess the challenges faced as practitioners. 
Culture-Sensitivity in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings
It is agreed that emergencies, rehabilitation and peacebuilding programmes need to be embedded in local cultures. How can we be truly 'culture sensitive'? If this principle is clear, the practicalities remain confusing and difficult to put into operation. Culture sensitivity requires knowledge, skills and competences but also an attitude towards others. This module allows you to understand and deal with core issues related to culture, communication, trust building and culture-sensitivity. You also to explore issues related to cultural dimensions such as gender, displacement and identity. 
Leadership, Team and Self-management in Conflict Settings
You will critically examine some of the personal skills (or 'soft skills') needed by professionals working in humanitarian action and peacebuilding. In particular, the module focuses on leadership skills, team management and self-management skills. The session on self-management is more specifically centred on stress and stress management and introduces you to a number of techniques that can be applied for self-support, but also to support peers and members of communities in conflict-affected countries.
A PGCert in Humanitarian Action and Peacebuilding is also offered for those not wishing to undertake the full MA. It consists of the three core modules.
The three issue-based modules are:
Humanitarian and Peacebuilding Programmes in Urban Conflicts
Focusing on urban spaces becomes increasingly important for the efficiency of humanitarian actions, but presents new challenges as humanitarian and development traditions are usually focused on 'open spaces' and rural environments. In urban conflicts, all lines are blurred and programming will need to take that into account. Conflicts particularly have an impact on the way people produce, understand and inhabit spaces and places. Rebuilding some social links and establishing communities in locations will become one of the key elements in conflict transformation and humanitarian programmes. Through action research methods, issues related to urban settings and specificities of humanitarian projects can be investigated.
Protection of Civilians in Conflict and Post-conflict Settings
This module reviews the critical issues related to the protection of civilians in conflict and post-conflict contexts by exploring different conceptual and operational frameworks. In its second part, the module focuses on the planning and implementation of protection activities and offers you the opportunity to apply different tools to concrete situations. The module concludes with a discussion on community-based protection strategies, including unarmed civilian protection.
Post-Conflict Stabilisation and Recovery
This module explores the different dimensions of post-conflict stabilisation and recovery, with a specific focus on restoration of governance and rule of law, justice and reconciliation. It specifically looks at the role of different actors, involved at different levels and in different capacities in the above mentioned processes. The second part of the module focuses on programming tools in post-conflict contexts, and introduces in a critical and non-prescriptive manner the human rights-based approach, as well as the human security-based approach to stabilisation and peacebuilding, presenting principles relating to human rights and human security in terms of potential operational standards for the planning, implementation and evaluation of interventions.
Note that one of the six modules could be replaced by an independent study, should you wish to investigate a specific issue in depth. Each of these six modules is accessible to associated students and can be studied individually.
The research component is constituted of:
Research Methods and Dissertation/Practice-based Final Work
The dissertation is a large piece of work that enables you to explore an issue or theme in depth. The dissertation is a self-driven work, where the supervisor plays the role of advisor, supporter and questioner.

Teaching and learning

This programme favours supportive active learning approaches centred on electronic delivery of content and active student engagement. It is based on self-led learning and strong interactive teaching tools as much on peer-to-peer as on tutors’ mentoring. This approach to the teaching and learning strategies are established to learn from the workplace, using practical cases either through action-research or through case studies; particularly in 'learning by doing', 'self-reflection' and 'action testing of theories'. It allows you to develop new knowledge based on the specifics of humanitarian action and peacebuilding, to improve related practices and to reflect and acquire attitudes and personal competences.

UNITAR and Brookes have considerable experience in delivering humanitarian education directly to humanitarian actors in field operations. Insight from previous education programmes in similar settings shows that learners are often under constant stress, working in harsh conditions and commonly have limited access to internet. As a result, a variety of learning tools are applied within each module. In both institutions, students’ approach to enquiry is supported by a range of webinar, tutorials, debates, discussions, case and work-based studies, and interactions with academics, experts and field practitioners.

Approach to assessment

Assessment is designed to examine programme learning outcomes and is intended to demonstrate that graduates possess the competences and knowledge required in practice. In keeping with the course's emphasis on practical application and on learning from the workplace, 100% of the assessment of each module is based on coursework.

Each module contains ongoing assessment through feedback and facilitation of discussions, webinars, and exchange of experiences for the group work, as well as in individual and group tutoring. You are asked to keep a reflective journal each week in which you can assess your learning experience and its relevance to your practice. This reflective journal is compulsory, and commented upon twice during the modules by tutors, but not graded.   
The summative assessments include individual and collective assignments to be handed in at the end of each module. Individual assignments for the core modules are the form of personal written essay, which will test your ability to synthesise critical debates, develop a critical argument and apply arguments to field practice. The individual assignment for the issues-based modules is more practical, based on problem-solving or programming issues. The six taught modules will also include a group work assessment, which will comprise reflection on tools or concepts, an individual application of those tools and concepts in work-based experiences, a collective synthesis of the lessons learnt from those experiences and a formulation of guidelines or statements for further practices.

Specialist facilities

You will be provided with access to Oxford Brookes Virtual Library, which has a large collection of electronic sources of information. Most electronic information, including electronic journals, can be consulted off-campus. All documents necessary for the course (core and optional readings, videos, podcasts, and so on) will be provided on Moodle. Consultations with the subject librarian for the widest access to online resources to students and to digitalise core texts, have already taken place.

You will also have access to UN libraries (physical and online libraries) and access to the UNITAR Community of Practice (COP). UN libraries constitute a strong network that share expertise, best practices and resources. These libraries have become important actors in the Organisation’s information strategy. The UN Libraries are gateways to knowledge, thought and culture, facilitating the decision-making process within the Organisation. Since 1946, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations Secretariat in New York has arranged for the distribution of United Nations documents and publications to users around the world through its depository library system. At present, there are more than 367 United Nations Depository Libraries in over 136 countries. Students will be able to consult the material free of charge at any of these depository libraries.

Attendance pattern

This programme is delivered entirely online. Apart from two webinars per module conducted at a fixed time, all other activities can be conducted in your own time to allow maximum flexibility.

You will need a good internet connection and to login regularly to participate in discussion forums and to conduct group work and online exercises.

As this programme is designed for people who may be working in a location where internet access is intermittent or slow, summaries and recordings will be provided to help you catch up if needed. Multimedia files will only contain optional, not core, materials.

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.

Tuition fees

Home/EU - distance learning fee: 2019/20 - September 19 & January 20 entry: £9,020 over 2 years 2020/21: September 20 & January 21 entry: £9,200 over 2 years

International - distance learning fee: 2019/20 - September 19 & January 20 entry: £9,020 over 2 years 2020/21: September 20 & January 21 entry: £9,200 over 2 years

Fees are paid over 2 years in 6 instalments

Please be aware that some courses will involve some additional costs that are not covered by your fees. Specific additional costs for this course, if any, are detailed in the 'This course in detail' window above.

Questions about fees?
Contact Student Finance on:
+44 (0)1865 483088

Funding and scholarships

Entry requirements

The programme is open to all candidates who fulfil at least one of the following conditions:

  • hold an approved honours degree (or equivalent) at 2:1 or above in a relevant discipline, and preferably some experience in the field of humanitarian action and peacebuilding or related fields
  • hold a relevant recognised diploma and/or certified professional qualification and 3 to 5 years' experience in humanitarian action and peacebuilding or related fields
  • have substantial and proven field experience (minimum 10 years) in humanitarian action, peacebuilding and related fields.
In exceptional circumstances, where applicants can show that they have qualifications or experience or both that demonstrate that they have knowledge and capabilities equivalent to those listed above, they may be admitted onto the course.

English language requirements

  • At least 6.5 in IELTS, with a minimum of 6.0 across all four components of the test.

Please also see the university's standard English language requirements

International applications

Preparation courses for International and EU students

We offer a range of courses to help you to meet the entry requirements for this course and also familiarise you with university life. You may also be able to apply for one student visa to cover both courses.

  • Take our Pre-Master's course to help you to meet both the English language and academic entry requirements for your master's course.
  • If you need to improve your English language, we have pre-sessional English language courses available to help you to meet the English language requirements of your chosen master’s.

If you are studying outside the UK, for more details about your specific country entry requirements, translated information, local contacts and programmes within your country, please have a look at our country pages.

How to apply

Terms and Conditions of Enrolment

When you accept our offer, you agree to the Terms and Conditions of Enrolment. You should therefore read those conditions before accepting the offer.

How this course helps you develop

  • This programme will allow you to strengthen your professional network as you will be working collaboratively with other professionals and experts based in different humanitarian fields of operation.
  • It will allow you to strengthen you digital literacy and distance team-working
  •  It will develop self-reflective approaches and allow you to appraise critically your work environment.   


This course is ideal for a career in the field of humanitarian action, conflict transformation or related fields - such as civil servants or diplomats in charge of humanitarian affairs, academics teaching humanitarian practices, journalists seeking a better understanding of humanitarian issues, or military personnel ready to be deployed in a field of operation where humanitarian actions are taking place.

How Brookes supports postgraduate students

UNITAR support services are at the disposal of students throughout the duration of the programme. Students will automatically be given access to the UNITAR community of practice, whose purpose is to provide students with a space where they can present themselves and share information, as well as receiving guidance and support for personal and professional development.

The University offers students advice through the careers centre, which is accessible through e-mails and phone. Skype appointments may be booked following an initial consultation.

Students also have access to the UN Career Service and receive specific induction on the application process for openings in the area of humanitarian action and peacebuilding.

Supporting your learning

From academic advisers and support co-ordinators to specialist subject librarians and other learning support staff, we want to ensure that you get the best out of your studies.

Research highlights

The programme is a joint initiative from the Centre for development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP) at Oxford Brookes and the UNITAR Peacekeeping Training programme.
The CENDEP is a multidisciplinary research centre that brings together humanitarian workers, academics, professionals and practitioners to develop practice-oriented approaches for conflict, and disaster-settings. It with a focuses on humanitarian action, recovery, development, human rights and peacebuilding. The CENDEP staff are dedicated to contributing to the much-needed body of knowledge on how to understand, deal with and respond to contemporary crises. Our interdisciplinary approach to development and emergency practice addresses a wide range of conflict-, disaster- and development-contexts where emergency and development initiatives are needed. Research takes place at all scales and contributes to knowledge for the development of global policy-making, development of national laws and strategies, and mobilisation and engagement with local communities.
The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is a training arm of the United Nations System, serving some 25,000 trainees by conducting more than 400 capacity development and research activities around the world. The Mission of the UNITAR is to develop capacities of individuals, organizations and institutions. The UNITAR offers training and capacity-development activities in thematic areas such as multilateralism; economic development and social inclusion; environmental sustainability and green development; sustainable peace; and research and technology applications. More specifically, within the thematic area of sustainable peace, the Peacekeeping Training Programme contributes to the international community’s efforts towards the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the building of lasting peace. Recognizing that peace is a prerequisite for the achievement of the post-2015 sustainable development goals, the Peacekeeping Training Programme supports the development of capacities in the areas of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and crisis management.