MSc Humanitarian Action

Total Credits: 90 ECTS, 3 trimesters; September start

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 humanitarian imperative extends beyond our immediate society.  The humanitarian system, comprising UN agencies, international government organisation (IGOs), non-governmental organisation (NGOs), government agencies, and the Red Cross Movement, is larger than ever and commands ever increasing budgets – in 2019 the global humanitarian budget approached $30 billion.  However, it is well recognised that budgetary increases will not meet global need in and of itself.  There is a need for fundamental change in how the system works.  A new Agenda for Humanity is already begun and there is little doubt that COVID19 has given it a new urgency.  Other actors including the private sector, diaspora groups, military and academia are increasingly called on to support the humanitarian effort.


Figure 1: Visit to Concern Worldwide's first intervention site in Wolaita, Ethiopia, in 1984.


UCD has a long tradition in humanitarian education and research.  The MSc in Humanitarian Action, offered by the UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action (UCD CHA) in collaboration with other UCD Schools and NGOs,  provides high-quality academic education and professional competencies since 1998. The programme is designed to develop graduates who are equipped with a range of competencies from project management, monitoring and evaluation, public health, human rights and international humanitarian law among others.  Typical of graduate education at UCD, they are encouraged to develop a challenging mindset to interrogate contemporary principles, policies and practices as they prepare for careers in this most honourable profession.

Graduate students will be located in the UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action.  This is an inter-disciplinary research centre committed to enhancing the professional delivery of humanitarian action through internationally recognised collaborative research and educational programmes. UCD CHA is based in the College of Health and Agricultural Sciences. It links closely with other Schools and Institutes within UCD as well as with Irish Aid and international and Irish humanitarian NGOs to deliver high quality, inter-disciplinary education and research in humanitarian action. 

The MSc in Humanitarian Action provides a dynamic and state-of-the-art learning environment compromising: lectures, simulations and field trips. As the Centre is renowned for its contribution to humanitarian research and practice, students are offered a number of opportunities due to its extensive network, which include: work placements with various organisations, panel discussions and hosted conferences, membership of a humanitarian alumni network as well as career development.  All students on this programme have the opportunity to undertake a field trip to Wolaita Sodo University (WSU) in Ethiopia.  This field visit is linked to Trimester Three – the Research and Work Placement Component.  Graduates will work alongside counterparts in WSU where they support ongoing research and visit aid programmes managed by a range of stakeholders: Government Organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations.  While this field trip is not a compulsory component, all students are encouraged to travel to Ethiopia.


Course content & structure:

  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. 


Careers and Employability:

UCD CHA has more than 20 years of experience collaborating with NGOs and has a strong alumni network of over 300 graduates. The Centre is also research-intensive and students are given the opportunity to be involved in cutting edge research as well as access to a wide network of Humanitarian actors and organisations.The UCD CHA is the National Secretariat for the implementation of Ireland’s commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit 2016 and coordinator of the Horizon 2020-funded projects entitled Preparedness and Resilience to address Urban Vulnerability (2016-2019) and Building Resilience through Education (2017-2020) Further research projects being undertaken are: Impact of NGO Intervention on Poverty Levels, Irish Innovation Hub for Humanitarian Action, Mapping of diaspora in Ireland for the purposes of enhancing Ireland’s overseas aid policy, Gender-based Violence, Supporting Grassroots Level Reconciliation and European Humanitarian Action Observatory. 

Graduates hold various positions in a range of international and national agencies, institutions and organisations, both in the field and at headquarters level around the world. Such positions include programme managers, protection officers, field/country directors, emergency team leaders, administrators, researchers and consultants.

Applications are now welcome for September 2021 entry.

Apply now