Welcome to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies.

To provide you with clear and concise information on our institution, courses and values, we have compiled the answers to the most common inquiries we receive from our students and prospective learners. We hope that this comprehensive guide will allow you to find the information you seek for.

The Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies changed its name in June 2020. Formerly known as the Centre of Education and Research in Humanitarian action (CERAH), the Geneva Centre offers a new name that is simple, yet effective. It reflects our new vision: a wide range of specialist and academic courses on humanitarian action, with a majority online (only our DAS is residential). The new name is a new choice of branding; it does not affect our institutional position. The Centre continues to be supported by the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies (IHEID).

We are a joint centre of UNIGE and IHEID. The Centre is the fruit of a gradual and collective effort of the past 20 years bringing together a multitude of academic and humanitarian actors in order to offer high level continuing university education for humanitarian professionals. We benefit from key partnerships with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss Agency for Development & Cooperation (SDC). Based in Geneva, one of the main humanitarian hubs in the world, our courses are developed with the participation and intervention in class of speakers from the main humanitarian organisations represented in Geneva. This gives our students the opportunity to base the learning on real cases with experienced practitioners as much as with academic professionals.

Today, as an cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural centre, we have become an internationally renowned academic platform closer to where professionals work, offering integrated, evidence-based training and research looking at trends and changes in the humanitarian sector, as well as policy events on contemporary topics affecting the sector.


The Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies is independent of any type of pressure or interests in developing its own ideas and reflections. As an academic centre, and based on rigorous methods, the Centre is free to analyse, compare and create knowledge, tools and processes. Critical thinking and analysis, as well as creative concepts, designs and research are central to our vision and continuously encouraged. While close links and exchanges with partner humanitarian and academic institutions are valued, an “independent mind” is essential for us to truly contribute with its own thinking and experience to the humanitarian endeavour.


We promote diversity in many ways: encouraging diverse and divergent thinking and expression among its teachers, researchers, students and partners; drawing on several disciplines and their branches; ensuring that a variety of academic, professional and organisational humanitarian experiences are represented within the Centre; and, favouring different cultural perspectives by hiring and connecting professionals coming from all around the world.

Ethical action

Ethical action permeates our activities in many ways. For example, diversity must be matched by mutual respect and ethical behaviour. This implies respecting other opinions and approaches, and respecting confidentiality when needed. Ethical action also implies that decisions and actions are based on what best serves the interests of people affected by conflict and disaster as opposed to self-serving professional interests. Finally, research undertaken by the Centre must abide by the highest ethical standards.

Ensuring effectiveness and promoting quality

All activities undertaken by the Centre, whether in the realm of training, research or debate, are evidence-based, results-oriented and ultimately geared towards improving the humanitarian situation on the ground. We have a duty to apply the highest quality standards to our activities and to ensure as much as possible that our impact is measurable and positive, while avoiding harm. Quality is central to our mission to improve the quality of humanitarian responses.

The Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies is a joint center of the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

The MAS, CAS, DAS diplomas are awarded by both institutions. The programme benefits from both of them as it is interdisciplinary. The quality of the educational/training programme is reinforced by this collaboration.

You are a student of both. As a student from the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, you have access to most services of both institutions, such as libraries, computers, cafeterias, and job forums. You will be given a student card from UNIGE and one from IHEID upon your arrival. These student cards will allow you to print copies, borrow books, use the cafeterias in both institutions, as well as benefit from reduced prices in some restaurants around the universities’ campuses. Note that the Geneva Centre is not located in either of IHEID or UNIGE facilities (see access map).

We have partnership agreements with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), MSF and the ICRC, who are important institutions in the humanitarian field. They provide essential insight in terms of policy making, programme conceptualisation and implementation. Combined with academic teaching, their experience is an important added value to the quality of the courses at the Centre. Beyond these formal and important partnerships, other key local and international stakeholders contribute to the training through various interventions in the courses, such as the Aga Khan Development Network, the WHO, the Manchester Humanitarian and Conflict Resolution Institute, or the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies recognises the importance of allowing professionals to develop and expand their conceptual and analytical capabilities and also to develop and strengthen practical skills.

The Diploma of Advanced Studies (DAS) focuses more on the former while the Certificates of Advanced Studies (CAS) and Executive Short Courses (ESC) main focus is the latter. They strengthen people’s competencies around particular functions and attitudes that are related to very specific operational fields. Our courses bring together a large international audience with a lot of diversity, which provides a wealth of experience. Our students describe the teaching experience as ‘intense and challenging’ in a cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural environment.

A bachelor’s degree or an equivalent university degree from a Swiss or foreign university requiring three years of study, plus a relevant work experience in the humanitarian, social or development sector (at least 2-3 years).

All classes at the Centre are delivered in English. All students must have an excellent command of English. Students whose mother tongue is not English must provide a certificate to prove their mastery of English. See recognised tests here.

Continuing education is a form of knowledge transfer between university and real world experience. It is offered to people who have a university degree and professional experience and is part of their lifelong learning process. You should already have considered the requirements of postgraduate study before applying. Postgraduate study, especially at the master level, requires autonomous learning and critical reflection to be able to share about your professional experience in an adult, peer-learning environment.

Our MAS, DAS and CAS are all degree trainings, with 60 credits ECTS for the MAS, 30 ECTS for the DAS and 10 ECTS for the CAS. Executive short courses (ECS) are non-degree training with 2 credits ECTS. Upon successful completion, participants will be awarded a Certificate of Success. In the event of non-completion, a Certificate of Participation will be provided.

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a tool of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) for making studies and courses more transparent and thus helping students to move between countries and to have their academic qualifications recognised.

Our “Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Action” offers complete training and education in the field of humanitarian action and allows gaining additional qualifications to the original profession which can lead to new employment perspectives. It is a blended programme, composed of:

  1. the DAS, a residential course that takes place during three months in Geneva (September to December each year)
  2. specialisation options: a CAS and five elective ESC, which all take place 100% online (January to October each year)
  3. a Master dissertation

The MAS usually lasts 14 months but can be split into three years (flexible option up to 38 months). The MAS gives 60 ECTS credits, which correspond to 1,500 hours of work.

The “Diploma of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Action” develops professionals’ conceptual and analytical skills offering a critical understanding of the humanitarian system and response, and an ability to contextualize humanitarian action in today’s world. With each module, a specific angle of analysis is taken (different disciplines or different approaches). The participants will enhance their understanding of humanitarian realities, their background and their theoretical foundations. The DAS is delivered in intensive residential classes in Geneva, 4 days a week, from September to December each year. The DAS is worth 30 ECTS credits, which correspond to 750 hours of work.

A “Certificate of Advanced Studies” is a degree-granting programme designed for professionals, combining cutting-edge theoretical knowledge with practical courses. Our Centre offers two CAS, one with a focus on Quality management of humanitarian projects, the other with a focus on Accountability to Affected People. Both are intended to enhance participants’ careers in their working environment, by developing their management, leadership or accountability skills applied to concrete realities of the humanitarian field. Our CAS are equivalent to 10 ECTS, which correspond to 250 hours of work. They are delivered 100% online and include 20 hours of work per week. We recommend that participants allow at least 50% of their time for the course and adapt their professional activity accordingly.

Our Executive Short Courses are specifically designed to develop relevant skillsets as well as theoretical and practical competencies. The courses provide participants expertise in assessing methods, tools, applied concepts and approaches used to provide assistance to affected populations in different humanitarian contexts.

The Executive Short Courses are usually organised during two weeks and they all take place 100% online. They include 20 hours of work per week and allow to get 2 ECTS. We recommend that participants allow at least 50% of their time for the course and adapt their professional activity accordingly.

No. In order to be admitted to a PHD, you need to have a Master of Arts or a Master of Science (120 ECTS credits).

Online courses afford many opportunities, including flexibility and modularity with distance learning. They also require that students are familiar with the virtual learning environment, a good planning and greater individual responsibility. Distance learning is not easier than residential classes. It requires self-discipline to enjoy a successful learning experience. Online courses will require 20-25 hours of dedicated work per week. We recommend that participants allow at least 50% of their time for the online courses and adapt their professional activity accordingly.

The virtual learning environment requires that you have access to a computer or a laptop and a good Internet connection (2.5 Mbps minimum), so you can access the learning material online, especially readings and videos. Minimum IT requirements include microphone and webcam. Headphones and speakers are usually very useful to improve your experience during live sessions or videos.

Online learning doesn’t mean to study all by yourself, although you will be able to work sometimes at your own path. Our online courses are designed to promote interactive knowledge and learning activities through different options: student-led online discussions via forums, assigned group work in a virtual space to meet online, writing together in wikis. You will also meet and discuss with lecturers and/or experts during the live sessions on Zoom.

The support you will receive from your course coordinator will be the same as in residential, except that it will take place online. You will receive written or oral feedbacks on individual assignments and group work. Interactions with the course coordinator take place via multiple formats: forums, emails and individual or group calls via Zoom. You can reach out to the course coordinator whenever you have questions, but the purpose of continuing education is also to benefit from peer knowledge, so you will be encouraged to share your questions via forums.

Online courses will require 20-25 hours of dedicated work per week. We recommend that participants allow at least 50% of their time for the online courses and adapt their professional activity accordingly.

Live sessions meet via Zoom two to three times a week, in the afternoon (Central European Time) for 2 hours and a half. The rest of the programme is designed in different learning activities: asynchronous self-study activities (such as case studies, videos, recorded slideshows, readings, written exercises, quizzes and wikis) and synchronous group works.

There are scholarships available every year, but in limited number. Check our scholarship policy here. Please note that MAS scholarships are only for students who attend the MAS programme during 14 months starting from September (course fees and/or living expenses) or the DAS (course fees). No system based on merit or on social conditions is in place. 

One of the richness of the programmes at the Geneva Centre is its audience of professionals in humanitarian action coming from all over the world and working for various organisations including small local NGOs, UN agencies, international specialized NGOs and collaborators of state funding agencies. The interaction between students is therefore very rich and offers perspectives on real cultural and institutional diversity.

Once you enrol with us, you will receive a study plan that informs you of the programmes, as well as the tests and requirements to validate your MAS, DAS or CAS.

Study regulations also contain provisions for objections and appeals.

Training with us is intensive but compatible with a 50% professional activity (maximum) during the CAS or the Executive Short Courses. During the DAS, participants will be in class 4 days per week and 5 hours per day. Besides face-to-face teaching, students will also be required to do additional readings, learning activities, work on assignments, and reflect on their dissertation and their lectures when not in class. As for online courses, they require 20-25 hours of dedicated work per week. In practical terms, it means that the time and space for private and family life is reduced. It is important to prepare and arrange for that. In case there is an unforeseen need to take a leave for professional (or other reasons) during the course, you will have to request the agreement from the Course Director.

Students come to the Centre with different levels, although the vast majority are junior or middle managers. The teaching aims to give a common foundation to all of them. However, the learning process will rely on the individual and will be different for each student. Some will gain new competencies and develop existing ones, others will capitalise on professional experience at different levels.

For each course programme, you will have access to a list of mandatory readings, to be used before and during class. Optional readings will be provided as well, and participants will be strongly encouraged to explore them in an effort to enhance their learning. All reading requirements are posted on our online learning platform (Moodle).

Classwork means the work done in class (or during live sessions online), such as lectures, case studies, role-plays, workshops attended by the participants in the class. Homework includes all the work accomplished by a participant at home, including reading, dissertation writing, and assignments on given topics.

The majority of our courses are intensive. It is therefore not possible to carry on with a 100% professional activity. We recommend that participants allow at least 50% of their time for the online courses and adapt their professional activity accordingly.

Please note that the DAS requires 100% of time allocated for studying.

It is possible to split the MAS in two or three years (up to 38 months). You may decide to attend the residential DAS one year and the specialisation options online (CAS and ESC) in one or two years. You may do it in the order you want. Your MAS dissertation should be finalised by the end of the chosen period for the MAS. If interested in this option, you need to choose this option in the registration form and the administration will discuss with you about your preferred study plan. Any request of change, after being registered, needs to be discussed with the administration.

Unfortunately, this can happen. If you fail the programme, you will receive a certificate of attendance with the courses completed, as well as credits and grades obtained.

Yes. You have the opportunity choose specialisation options from the ESC list, which include more than ten topics, ranging from management, communication, health, cash transfer, protection or negotiation.

To validate the skills and knowledge acquired during the training, the Centre uses the Swiss grading system. You will get introduced to it once you enroll in our programmes.

We have a specific pedagogical approach linked with adult learning principles, which are:

  • The students are a driving force
  • Learning comes from action and doing
  • Learning comes from understanding the action (its utility, structure)
  • Learning happens over time

Therefore, we consider that learning is an interactive process that happens through peer-to-peer discussions and sharing, between students, lecturers and external speakers. Learning is also a continuing process taking place during debates and groupwork, conferences and visits organized outside the classroom. Participation is evaluated through discussions and assignments.

The presence during the course is essential, and being present a minimum of 80 % of the time is required. This is a condition for credit validation.

Our role is not to facilitate internship placement or job opportunities. Nevertheless, several activities and services are provided throughout the year, in order to support the students. The courses offer an important opportunity to interact with professionals coming from various organisations. The Centre’s Alumni services, as well as the large Alumni Network of UNIGE and IHEID, are also a good opportunity to interact.

Only MAS and DAS participants can make full use of our facilities in Geneva, as they will be given access to the libraries once registered with their student cards. Other online participants for the CAS and the ESC will be given a personal IT account to access our learning platform (Moodle) and the course material.

  • A humanitarian hub (opportunities to network, varied input from those actors in the trainings)
  • Opportunities to participate to events linked to humanitarian action (conferences, exhibitions…)
  • A multicultural environment with plenty students and facilities.

It is your own responsibility to go through all the processes and procedures in order
to stay in Geneva (student’s via, accommodation, health insurance, bank account).
The procedures and the search for accommodation take time, as the housing situation is difficult.

Our administration is responsible for the academic support of the students. We only offer some guidance for the following procedures:
The student is responsible for finding accommodation. You are strongly advised to do it as early as possible, as the accommodation is now a condition to obtain a visa. Information on accommodation is available in the student’s guide provided by the administration.

In order to get a visa, you will need to obtain the necessary papers for residence in the canton of Geneva from the Swiss Embassy in your country of origin. Allow yourself enough time to go through the visa process, which can take up to 3 months. The administration will provide you with a recommendation letter as well as some support in the follow up of the process.

Residence permit
Obtaining the visa to enter Switzerland is not enough to make your stay legal. When you arrive in Geneva, you must go to the Office cantonal de la population (OCP) with your visa, passport-sized photographs, and a copy of your passport. Due to the current pandemic, the OCP has normally sent you a specific appointment. In case you did not receive anything, you need to contact them. The deadline to submit your request is 14 days after your arrival in Geneva. More information on that matter is available in the student’s guide provided to the students. The administration is available for some advice.

We advise you to arrive in Geneva at least one week before the programme starts in order to complete the administrative tasks

Yes. Health Insurance is mandatory in Switzerland. Unlike other countries, there is no social security, so you must get one from a private insurance company. Don’t forget to ask your insurer for an insurance that covers health and accident. A list of insurance companies is proposed in the student’s welcome pack.

The cost of living in Geneva is high. Public transport, accommodation and food are expenses that students have to cover by themselves. The monthly cost for a student is usually estimated around 2,000 Swiss Francs, including rent, health insurance, public transport, food, telephone and a little spending money. We only offer a very limited number of scholarships and these are only available to MAS and DAS students. We strongly advise you to look for your own financial support. Some tips about student’s life and prices in Geneva are offered in the student’s welcome pack.

Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.