MSc Humanitarian Action

Academic Year 2020/2021

Graduate Taught (level 9 nfq, credits 90)

The COVID19 pandemic has impacted societies globally.  It has exposed the vulnerabilities and fragility of our existence.  Unfortunately, it has emerged at a time when the International Humanitarian System is already challenged to address the effects of other disasters.  We are living in an era of unprecedented humanitarian need brought about by climate change, complex political emergencies resulting in conflict, global migration, and protracted conflicts. Before the pandemic emerged, an estimated 72 million people were displaced from their homes due to conflict, an estimated 180 million people were in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, and almost a billion were under-nourished globally.  Needless to say, the devastation of COVID19 will vary considerably across societies. 

The MSc in Humanitarian Action provides high quality academic education and professional competencies for those working or intending to work in humanitarian action and related areas which is now more relevant than ever.

The MSc has evolved over a 25-year period and is distinguished by its inter-disciplinary, inter-sectoral and international nature.​

Inter-disciplinary: Engaging with a range of disciplines as they relate to humanitarian action and strengthening societal resilience, including management, politics, public health, international law and social anthropology.

Inter-sectoral: Partnering the full stakeholder mix including The Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement, INGOs, Government Representative and the Private sector to engage with academics to enrich the learning experience for graduate students

International: Attracting students from a diverse range of nationalities, educational cultures and professional experiences to challenge contemporary theory, policy and practices.  The international dimension is typified by the field trip to Wolaita, Ethiopia as part of the third trimester of the 2020/2021 programme.

This MSc Programme is closely aligned to the UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action (UCD-CHA) and NOHA, both of which are well recognised as key global institutional stakeholders in Humanitarian Studies.

Careers & Employability

UCD has delivered graduate programmes in Humanitarian Action since 1998.  There are some 600 alumni of UCD’s humanitarian action postgraduate programmes currently holding positions both in the field and at headquarters level around the world.  The majority of these alumni are employed by the UN, governments, non-governmental organisations or within academia.  In more recent years increasing numbers are employed by consultancy companies and private sector organisations.  The positions held by these alumni vary but include programme managers, protection officers, field/country directors, delegates, administrators, researchers, academics and consultants.

Curricular information is subject to change

Full Time option suitable for:

Domestic(EEA) applicants: Yes
International (Non EEA) applicants currently residing outside of the EEA Region. Yes

The programme attracts graduates from a range of academic backgrounds, cultures and professional experiences. Humanitarian action is regarded as a boundary discipline, occupying a space on the margins of several academic disciplines including public health, law, social anthropology, geopolitics and management.  The inter-disciplinary, inter-sectoral and international nature of this Masters programme benefits from a diverse stakeholder mix amongst both instructors and students engaged in the programme.  

  1. Trimester 1 - Humanitarian Action: Disciplinary Modules (30 ECTS) September – January: The first trimester introduces students to key humanitarian concepts, principles, issues and challenges.  The initial introductory module introduces students to humanitarian action, the humanitarian principles and the humanitarian system.  This is followed by five disciplinary modules to equip students with the competencies to interrogate humanitarian interventions from and inter-disciplinary perspective.  The modules are: Management, Anthropology, Public health, Geopolitics & International humanitarian law. All modules are 5 ECTS, which equates to three weeks of student work time.  
  2. Trimester 2 - RESILIENCE: localising the aid effort (30 ECTS) February – June: In the second trimester students will be introduced to specialised modules on localisation and building societal resilience.  The modules are: Linking Localization with Humanitarian Management, Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies (GBViE); building local agency; and Evidence-Based Community Resilience: applied research design.  These modules are blended i.e. they combine online and face-to-face components and are taught in 5-week blocks. Each module is 10 ECTS. Please note that the second trimester specialisation modules are also available to non-Master students as part of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programmes. For further details on CPDs and Pathways programmes please email  
  3. Trimester 3 - Research Field Visit / Work Placement (30 ECTS) June onwards: In this final trimester, students have to complete a minor thesis on a topic of their choosing. Graduates with limited field experience are highly encouraged to participate in a field trip to partner university Wolaita Sodo University in Ethiopia where they receive first-hand experiences of aid programmes and obtain the opportunity to critically analyse academic research across a range of disciplines: health, rural development, business, agriculture, and education.  Graduates with more extensive experience are encouraged to combine their thesis with a suitable work placement. In the past, UCD CHA has successfully supported several students to obtain internships and conduct collaborative research with leading humanitarian organisations both in Ireland and abroad. For this period it is not mandatory to be physically present in UCD. 

The programme aims to provide students with a broad foundation in the area of international humanitarian action, in which both critical thinking and research skills are emphasised. The goal is to deliver high level, committed, interdisciplinary trained personnel who can function with enhanced professionalism in the broad field of humanitarian relief, and are informed by their theoretical insights and humanitarian principles.  The programme design integrates professional and research orientations and is intended to bridge the gap between academic research and humanitarian practice.  It adopts a competence-oriented, interactive and student-centred approach to learning. Teaching practices include group and project work, lectures and seminars, student presentations, simulation exercises, individual internship and individual thesis research. The programme is suitable for both recent graduates and experienced practitioners working or intending to work in the field of humanitarian relief and international co-operation as project managers, administrators, researchers, evaluators, consultants in national and international organisations, both in the field and at headquarters around the world.

    • Demonstrate a sound understanding of the humanitarian principles, and the ethical, legal and emancipatory rationales for humanitarian action
    • Established competence in the theory, policy and discourse of humanitarian action as it relates to a range of related disciplines, including programme management, international law, geo-political science, public health and social anthropology
    • Demonstrate a sound understanding of the international humanitarian system, the main stakeholders that comprise this system, together with the main challenges faced by the system in addressing global humanitarian need
    • Apply research knowledge and analytical skills that support evidence-based humanitarian action
    • Critical analysis of humanitarian action to optimise local engagement and support ‘people-centred humanitarian action’
    • Demonstrate an understanding of and capacity to work in a humanitarian context (Field Visit)
    • Design and develop an appropriate research study to strengthen resilience in a humanitarian context

    MSc Humanitarian Action (D062) Full Time
    EU          fee per year - € 9000
    nonEU    fee per year - € 24200

    ***Fees are subject to change
    Tuition fee information is available on the UCD Fees website. Please note that UCD offers a number of graduate scholarships for full-time, self-funding international students, holding an offer of a place on a UCD graduate degree programme. For further information please see International Scholarships.

    • Applicants must hold a minimum of an upper second class degree, or international equivalent, in a cognate subject. 
    • Given that this is an Erasmus Mundus programme, knowledge of languages of the place(s) of study is an asset. Practical experience in the area of humanitarian action and / or development is valued. 
    • Applicants whose first language is not English must also demonstrate English language profi ciency of IELTS 6.5 (no band less than 6.0 in each element), or equivalent.
    • Students meeting the programme’s academic entry requirements but not the English language requirements, may enter the programme upon successful completion of UCD’s International Pre-Master’s Pathway programmes. Please see the following link for further information:

    My time on the MSc (Humanitarian Action) programme at UCD’s Centre for Humanitarian Action was very productive and fulfilling. I met a wonderful faculty that was always available to students. Their interactive teaching methods and their ability to allow and encourage students to discover knowledge beyond the prescribed material is one of a kind. What also makes this course one to pursue is the pool of students enrolled in the programme that are drawn from across the world. This enriches student learning and exposes students to different perspectives. This enabled me to see the world from many angles and this is helping me in my humanitarian work.

    The UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action prepared me well for humanitarian and development work, which I have been undertaking since 2016. I have worked as a health and nutrition specialist for UNICEF and WFP in seven different countries over the past four years. I cherish the skills I acquired from the master’s programme as they have been invaluable in the work that I do. I made a fantastic choice to take the MSc Humanitarian Action at UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action.

    Bernard Mendy, Nutrition Specialist, World Food Programme

    The following entry routes are available:

    MSc Humanitarian Action FT (D062)
    12 Months
    Full Time