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UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction

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BSc Global Humanitarian Studies

This exciting multidisciplinary programme aims to educate and train future generations of humanitarian leaders in the theory and practice of humanitarian action.

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In the Global Humanitarian Studies BSc, you will learn about the political, historical and development context, but you will also gain an understanding of the emergence, impacts and response to humanitarian crises. The critical and analytical research skills you will acquire, grounded in practice, will equip you to anticipate evolving humanitarian threats and manage widening vulnerability and crisis response.

Why study with the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction?

As a student in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) you will benefit from learning in a truly multidisciplinary environment. Staff and students in the IRDR come from a range of backgrounds and our research crosses traditional boundaries to produce innovative results. As well as your timetabled teaching, we have an active seminar series on international development, specialised masterclasses, high-profile public meetings and networking events with senior policymakers, UN managers and front-line workers.

Our staff are leaders in their field and course content is informed by the cutting-edge research taking place in the department. The IRDR is featured regularly in global press and media outlets, providing commentary a wide range of risk and disaster reduction subjects, including most recently the Coronavirus pandemic, extreme weather and storms, and flooding and flood risk. 


Programme structure

You will study this course full time over three years. In the first and second years you will take 120 credits from up to eight taught modules (15 or 30 credits each) and in the third year you will take 90 credits from six taught modules (15 credits each) and an independent research project worth 30 credits.

You will take a compulsory central core of humanitarian studies running through all three years with optional modules from within the department and our partner departments. The compulsory central core comprises five 15 credit taught modules in years one and two and in year three, three 15 credit taught modules and 30 credits from the independent research project. The remaining 45 credits each year is comprised of optional taught modules. You can select modules from your chosen specialism and humanitarian affairs which provide both breadth and depth according to your interests. You'll be able to find out more about the different specialism modules during the first few weeks of the programme, with plenty of support to help you choose the ones that are right for you. 

There are 150 study hours per module, totalling 1200 hours per year. For a taught 15 credit module you will spend about 20 hours in lectures, 20 in practicals, seminars, tutorials, fieldwork, and the remainder in independent study (approximately double for a 30 credit module).

You can find out more about the structure of the programme in our Introduction to the Global Humanitarian Studies BSc video on YouTube.

Compulsory modules

Please note these modules are indicative and may be subject to change. You can find more details about module content, including assessment methods, in the UCL Module Catalogue.

Year 1

Global History of Humanitarianism 

This module introduces international humanitarian history since the foundation of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement in 1863 through to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 and the Rohingya Exodis. Lectures will examine key events and ideas that have shaped the system, including: the Geneva Conventions, humanitarian politics of the 1967 Biafran war, and the international system’s successes and failures in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Seminars and tutorials will be used for discussion groups and feedback sessions.

Humanitarian Crisis Response

Since the Second World War the international community has evolved a complete system for responding to major humanitarian emergencies, coordinated by United Nations agencies. This module will explain the structure and dynamics of the relief system and the challenges it faces during crises and disasters. It will enable students to become familiar with the major issues and trends associated with modern humanitarianism and the methodologies used when responding to disasters. Examples will illustrate the principal challenges and achievements in the field. The module will combine practical, theoretical and ethical approaches to humanitarian action. Standards, norms and protocols will be discussed. So will the relationship between non-governmental organisations and government-sponsored aid. Relief appeals and the donor system will be covered in this module.

Climate and Natural Hazard Risks 

This module introduces the concepts of hazards, vulnerability, marginalisation, risk, resilience, adaptation and disaster and how they integrate will be discussed. It will address strategies for reducing the impacts and the likelihood of disasters in fragile areas. It will help students to understand social, economic, ecological, institutional, cultural and physical impacts of climate change and natural hazards on vulnerable populations in different environment settings and conflict affected states around the world.

Social and Geospatial Data Analysis

This module will help students to familiarise with a range of statistical techniques in order to understand and analyse data used in humanitarian studies. They will be able to apply the acquired skills through the analysis of both quantitative social survey data (collected through interviews and questionnaires) and spatial data (satellite images, and ordnance survey maps). At the end of the module, the students will be able to design and implement quantitative research, communicate statistical outcomes competently, link research questions and statistical techniques, and visualise results (maps, tables, and diagrams) from data analyses.

Practice and Analysis of Humanitarian Action

This module aims to equip you as a student with the knowledge and skills to analyse and engage with contemporary issues in the theory and practice of humanitarian action. You will learn about humanitarian action in the context of international development, environmental and climate change and in conflict zones.

What differentiates this module is the emphasis on students engaging with researchers, experts and practitioners, and where possible community members, from crisis-affected contexts, as well as UK experts and practitioners who have worked in those contexts.

Year 2

Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Conflict and Migration

This module analyses historical and contemporary perspectives on forced migration and the range of theories on conflict and violence that causes these events. Lectures will examine key events and ideas that have contributed to forced migration, including: the Rohingya Exodus, the Syrian civil war, the conflict in South Sudan, and longer historical perspectives from the Second World War and the Partition of India. The issues of gender-based violence and human trafficking will be examined. Seminars and tutorials will be used for discussion groups and feedback sessions.

Humanitarian Planning and Logistics

The challenge of humanitarian assistance is the physical deployment of goods and personnel. National and international disaster relief, as well as other forms of crisis management such as peacekeeping missions, have to assure the development and maintenance of their lifelines of supply. This module addresses these issues through scenario-based workshops supported by seminars focusing on disaster preparedness and response, but also introducing the role of sustainable logistics in the transition to recovery. Water, sanitation and hygiene issues will be addressed.

Humanitarian Policy

This module will provide students with an introduction to the global humanitarian policy making process. Each year the module will focus on one of the major global humanitarian frameworks (e.g. Sendai Framework for DRR; SDGs; World Humanitarian Grand Bargain; etc). Lectures, including guest speakers, and visits to organisations within the humanitarian sector which will provide students with a solid background to humanitarian policy. Students will interact directly with those who have been/are involved in global humanitarian policy development to get a ‘behind the scenes’ view of the process.

Qualitative Research Methods

To come

International Legal Framework for Humanitarian Action

To come

Year 3

Humanitarian and Aid Economics

This module addresses the key theories and debates in the broader fields of development and conflict economics and will move to an examination of the political economy of humanitarian aid. Students will have an increased ability to critically evaluate the economic policies of humanitarian actors and recommend alternative approaches and equip them with policy-relevant skills and expertise.

Gender, Disaster and Conflict

The module will advance students’ understanding around gender responsiveness in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) by analyzing the structural causes of vulnerabilities. This module also aims to enhance students’ knowledge and understanding on the links between gender, disaster and conflict. The module is divided into three parts. The first part will focus on theoretical debates around Gender, Disaster and Conflict. The second part will focus on policies and practices and the third part will focus on examining the real-life experiences of people living in conflict and disaster vulnerable countries and contexts.

Project Management for Humanitarians

To come

Independent Humanitarian Research Project

The independent research project culminates in a 5,000 word dissertation and poster presentation. Projects may be field, theory or modelling based and can be conducted in collaboration with external industry or NGO partners.

Optional modules

Students should take 45 credits of optional modules per year. This should include 15–45 credits from the IRDR optional module set and up to 30 credits from the non-IRDR thematic optional modules. (The balance on optional modules will depend on your preferences.) Most modules are worth 15 credits, modules worth 30 credits are stated.

IRDR optional modules
Students can select up to 30 credits (two modules) from the humanitarian affairs modules each year.

Year 1 

IRDR0022 Key Concepts and Debates in Humanitarianism (15 credits) 

IRDR0024 Technology for Humanitarian Action (15 credits) 

IRDR0027 Global Health Introduction (15 credits) 

IRDR0032 Key Concepts in Social Anthropology (30 credits) 

Year 2 

IRDR0030 Microeconomics for humanitarian contexts 

IRDR0031 Kinship, Ethnicity and Gender (15 credits) 

IRDR0035 Contemporary topic review 

IRDR0036 Anthropological theory (15 credits) 

IRDR0042 Humanitarian Engineering and Data Science (15 credits) 

Year 3 

IRDR0009 Digital Health: Epidemics and Emergencies in the Era of Big Data 

IRDR0028 Water security, crises and sustainability 

IRDR0033 International Migration Law 

Research methods for Humanitarian Contexts 

Optional modules in other departments

Students can select up to 30 credits from the non-IRDR thematic optional modules. Please note some modules in other departments have a cap on student numbers, pre-requisites, or timetable restrictions and therefore may not be available for all students. You will fnd out more at our module selection sessions during induction but if you have a query in the meantime, please contact humanitarian-info@ucl.ac.uk.

Year 1 

STAT0002 Introduction to Probability & Statistics (15 credits) 

BASC0040 Logic, Computation and Language Theory (15 credits) 

MSIN0048 Understanding Management (15 credits) 

MSIN0003 Communication and Behaviour in Organisations (15 credits) 

IEHC0026 Measuring Population Health (30 credits) 

Year 2 

STAT0003 Further Probability & Statistics (15 credits) 

BASC0038 Algorithms, Logic and Structure (15 credits) 

MSIN0049 Business in a Competitive Environment (15 credits) 

MSIN0059 Managerial Accounting for Decision Making (15 credits) 

SOCS0040 Population Studies (15 credits) 

Year 3 

STAT0011 Decision and Risk (15 credits) 

MSIN0147 Strategic Project Management (15 credits) 

GLBH0005 Global Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases (15 credits) 

GLBH0006 Global, Maternal & Child Health (15 credits) 

ANTH0193 Anthropology of War (15 credits) 

Some modules in other departments have a cap on student numbers or pre-requisites and therefore may not be available for all students. We also cannot guarantee that there will not be timetable clashes.

Meet the team

Our teaching team includes lecturers from across the department. Find out more on our People page.

Shams Headshot

Dr. Mohammad Shamsudduha (“Shams”), Programme lead

Hello! I am Dr. Mohammad Shamsudduha but everyone calls me Shams. I will be the Programme Lead for the BSc and I will be teaching the Climate and Natural Hazard Risks and the Humanitarian Data Science modules. I am a geoscientist by academic background and my research is centred around earth’s water resources, environment, and people. I look forward to meeting you all at the start of term!

Read more about Shams in this interview on the MAPS faculty website.

Sonja Ayeb Karlsson

Dr Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, Admissions Tutor

I am Dr Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, the admissions tutor for the BSc. I am responsible for overseeing the admissions process, from talking to prospective students to ensuring applications are dealt with efficiently. You'll meet me at our online events and open days.

Lisa Guppy

Dr Lisa Guppy, Departmental Tutor

Hi! I'm Dr Lisa Guppy and I am the departmental tutor, which means I'm here to help students with all things academic. I'll aslo be teaching on the programme. I have worked across humanitarian, peace and development fields, primarily United Nations organisations, across Asia, Africa, North America and the Middle East.

Sonia Fullerton

Sonia Fullerton, Teaching and Learning Adminstrator

I am the teaching and learning administrator for the programme. I'm here to support students with their academic queries and I'm the first point of contact in the student office.

Careers and employability

This programme was created to help professionalise the humanitarian sector. Teaching and module content is based on consultation with global and national employers, and the key skills you will acquire will prepare you for you future humanitarian career, whichever specialism you choose.

Between the second and third years, we will use our extensive networks to help facilitate an optional four-week summer placement, in the UK or internationally, to help you connect your academic learning with skills in the humanitarian workplace.

We also hold an annual Careers and Opportunities Fair to give you an insight into working in the sector and introduce you to some key employers. 

In 2021, UCL was ranked at 20th in the world in the latest QS Graduate Employability Rankings for graduate employability, placing us 3rd in the UK and 1st in London. 


Scholarships

We will award two fee-reduction scholarships for international students, to the value of £9,000, paid towards tuition fees. Application deadline is in the April before the start of the programme. See our scholarships page for more information and how to apply.


Frequently asked questions

What is humanitarianism?

Humanitarianism means different things to different people, groups and organisations. For many, humanitarianism is about saving lives, reducing suffering and improving the conditions that people are living in.

At the international level, humanitarianism is associated with the United Nations, governments and non-governmental organisations undertaking life-saving interventions during conflicts and disasters. But humanitarian action can also include practices of relief and care undertaken by ad hoc and unskilled individuals and groups, such as local volunteers.

To study humanitarianism requires examining responses to conflict, disasters, climate change, pandemic and other emergencies from a range of different perspectives and using lenses and tools from a range of different disciplines, as the problems and solutions relating to crisis are multidimensional.

How do I choose my optional modules on the Global Humanitarian Studies BSc?

As you’ll have seen on our programme information, there are four specialisma on this degree programme:

  1. Digital Science
  2. Management Science
  3. Global Health
  4. Anthropology and Social Science

The main advice we give is to choose what interests and excites you! Take a look at the module information, read around the topic of humanitarianism online, and you can even have a chat with our Admissions Tutor, Dr Bayes Ahmed to talk through your interests.

While you have to choose your optional modules when you apply to the degree, you will have the opportunity to change in the first two weeks or so of the programme, after a discussion with the Departmental Tutor.

Over the course of your degree you’ll also have access to the numerous seminars, talks and events put on by IRDR and other parts of UCL.

How does a Global Humanitarian Studies degree differ from International Development Studies?

Humanitarianism is different from international development as it refers to efforts to save lives and reduce suffering primarily after an emergency, like a conflict or disaster. International development aid tends to focus on longer term structural change in a society, with or without an emergency—for example the alleviation of poverty or improving the governance. However, humanitarianism and international development are not two distinct forms of action; emergency relief and development aid can complement, overlap, transition into each other, or even undermine each other. 

Humanitarian Studies as an academic area is a relatively new field of study that has grown in significance and impact since the 1990s. While it builds on theories and approaches from other areas, like International Development or Security, Humanitarian Studies has its own unique set of thinkers, approaches, dilemmas and questions, that focus primarily on the policy, practice, theory and ethics of relief during and after a crisis.

Check out the United Nations’ latest humanitarian case studies on their “Centre for Humanitarian Data” website to see what current humanitarian crises are in focus: https://centre.humdata.org/category/case-study/ 

How does a Global Humanitarian Studies degree link to Geography and other social science subjects?

The BSc in Global Humanitarian Studies does not replace single discipline degree programmes, such as Geography. Instead, it draws on relevant literature, debates and learning tools from these disciplines, and combines the most relevant, in order to tackle the multidimensional questions within Humanitarian Studies. 

Students on the BSc will therefore have the chance to engage with a range of topics familiar to geographers, while learning about how other disciplines approach these questions. Topics might include:

  • vulnerability (e.g. what makes populations vulnerable to particular crises in different locations around the world?) 
  • resilience (e.g. how can populations be supported to adapt and “bounce back” from crises?) 
  • urbanisation (e.g. how is the expansion of megacities affecting vulnerability and the ability of humanitarian organisations to respond?)
  • borders (What role do borders and boundaries – whether political or natural – play is crisis response?)
  • decolonisation (e.g. how have racism and legacies of colonialism shaped - and are still shaping - the aid industry?)
How does a Global Humanitarian Studies degree link to Maths and other Science subjects?

The BSc in Global Humanitarian Studies does not replace single discipline degree programmes, such as Mathematics. Instead, it draws on relevant literature, debates and learning tools from these disciplines, and combines the most relevant, in order to tackle the multidimensional questions within Humanitarian Studies. 

Students on the BSc will therefore have the chance to engage with a range of topics familiar to mathematicians, while learning about how other disciplines approach these questions. Topics might include:

  • Geospatial analysis (e.g. how to use mapping technologies to understand a hazard risk or humanitarian need?)
  • Data analytics/Big data (e.g. how can data innovations improve the effectiveness of emergency responses).
Will coronavirus affect my application or study?

You can find up to date information about how UCL is working with the UK Government to keep all students safe on the UCL Coronavirus Hub


Find out more

Find out more about the course, fees and funding, teaching and assessment on our course information page.

You can ask our staff and students questions at one of our IRDR virtual open days (see our events page for upcoming dates) or find out more about studying at UCL at one of the main University open days

Download course brochure