MSc in Migration Studies

This nine-month interdisciplinary master’s degree analyses migration from a global perspective and as an integral part of development and social change. Taught by world-class researchers, it will introduce you to key migration concepts, methods and theories across the social sciences, and prepare you for further research or for a career in policy and international development.

The course provides a broad, theoretical understanding of human mobility and the role of both internal and international migration in the wider processes of development, social change and globalisation, as well as an overview of the major debates and literature on contemporary migration from different disciplinary perspectives. You will gain skills in critical analysis and research, and should develop an ability to contribute new perspectives to the study of migration. You should also gain an understanding of the dilemmas facing policy-makers at both national and international level and the ability to help transfer theoretical knowledge to policy-oriented research.

Staff are mainly drawn from Oxford’s internationally renowned centres researching voluntary and economic migration: the International Migration Institute (IMI) at ODID and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). Teaching on the degree is problem-focused and delivered through a combination of lecture courses, classes and tutorials, seminars, student-led presentations, essays and library work. Class sizes are small – generally between 5 and 26 students – encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other.

The Course Director for 2016/17 is Dace Dzenovska of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology.


In the first and second terms you will follow three core courses:

  • International Migration in the Social Sciences
  • Migration, Globalisation and Social Transformation
  • Methods in Social Research

These will be supplemented by a fortnightly discussion class, Keywords: a Key to Migration Debates and Social Thought.

In the second term, you will choose two option courses from a list which changes from year to year, and in the final term, you will write a dissertation of up to 15,000 words.

Core Courses

International Migration in the Social Sciences

Dace Dzenovska

This paper covers theories and approaches in migration studies; basic concepts in migration studies; types of human migration and mobility; and the history and development of migration studies. It includes key concepts and analysis in the economics, politics, sociology and anthropology of migration, and an overview of migration law and public policy on migration issues.

Migration, Globalisation and Social Transformation

Gunvor Jonsson

This paper introduces you to the main migration theories, discusses their strengths and weaknesses, and explores whether and how theories can be integrated. The paper shows how an improved theoretical understanding of migration questions conventional migration categories and distinctions, for instance between ‘internal’ and ‘international’, ‘forced’ and ‘voluntary’ and ‘permanent’ and ‘temporary’ migration, which often do not reflect migrants’ experiences and ignores their agency. An improved theoretical understanding of migration processes also enables a more realistic assessment of what migration policies can and cannot achieve.

Methods in Social Research

Mathias Czaika

The course aims to familiarise you with common qualitative and quantitative research methods in migration studies. It will train you to be both a critical consumer and producer of social scientific data by increasing your understanding of the choices involved in conducting research and the consequences of these choices. The materials covered in the course will also support you in developing the methodology for your dissertation.

Keywords: Migration and Social Theory

Dace Dzenovska 

Keywords are concepts that function as organizing principles or “binding words” (Williams 1977) of ways of thinking and acting. For example, contemporary political life is hardly imaginable without the notion of human rights. Shifts in the kinds of concepts we use to make sense of and organise social reality indicate wider sociocultural changes, but they can also be instrumental in shaping such changes. In this seminar-style course, we will engage with selected concepts as nodal points through which to think critically about how migration is understood and governed by scholars, policy makers, and the public.

Option Courses

Please note that the option courses available change from year to year. Below is a list of options that were available in 2015-16. There is no guarantee that the same options will be offered in 2016-17.

Migration and Religion

Leslie Fesenmeyer 

Religion has always been in motion because people have always been moving: not only Catholic missionaries, Buddhist monks, and Sufi orders, but also workers, social activists, families, and scholars. Migration and religion are both rich sources for meaning- and life-making, stimulating imaginations about the future, while also shaping the ways people try to secure it. At the same time, they can each serve as markers of difference and thus sources of tension and conflict between migrants and nonmigrants, between those of different religious faiths, and between believers and non-believers. Both migration and religion are also inevitably entangled with power. In pursuing a critical understanding of religion in migration processes and experiences, the course will consider how migration and religion articulate together in shaping, for example, practices of migrant incorporation, senses of belonging, gendered experiences, and transnational and diasporic ties. Using a historically attuned perspective, we will look at ethnographic examples from a range of religious traditions and geographic regions, including Asia, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and North America. While firmly grounded in anthropology, the course will also draw on the disciplines of sociology, geography, and religious studies.

Migration and Mobilities in Africa

Gunvor Jonsson

Wildly inflated estimates of the number of African migrants headed to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea appear frequently in current political and media debates, and have been given further credence due to fears over future tides of “climate refugees” flooding Europe, as they will be fleeing desertification in Africa. Such narratives obscure the dominant patterns and complex reasons for African migrations and mobilities, which are primarily directed to destinations within Africa and which often constitute a normal feature of life on the continent. Analyses of African migration tend to focus on the “brain drain”, trafficking, displacement from conflict, and irregular migrants in the global North. This risks “pathologising” African migration, portraying it as a problem and a symptom of all that is wrong with Africa. This regional course challenges such mainstream discourse and misconceptions, by examining the experiences of African migrants themselves and moving beyond a purely crisis perspective to explore both the continuities and discontinuities of African migrations. The course provides students with an empirically grounded understanding of the past and present socio-cultural, political and economic contexts shaping human mobilities in Africa. Through this improved empirical and theoretical understanding, students will acquire the skills to critically evaluate research and policies that target African migrants.

Migration, Development and Conflict

Marieke Van Houte

What is the relationship between migration and development? How does migration affect broader processes of economic, cultural and political change? How do remittances affect poverty, inequality and growth in origin countries? And can migrants from conflict-affected areas be ‘peace-makers’ or ‘peacewreckers?’ Whether migrants and migration have positive or negative impacts on development and conflict have been subject to heated debate, with opposing optimistic and pessimistic views. This option course discusses theories and empirical evidence on the reciprocal but asymmetric relationship between migration, development and conflict, with a particular focus on the social, cultural, economic and political implications of migration for origin societies. The option course will also review the extent to which migration and development policies can enhance the developmental impact of migration.

Migration, Policy and Governance: A Critical Approach

Franck Düvell 

Migration is one of the top global policy concerns and migration control is a core aspect of state sovereignty. This course focuses on the global, international and national dimension of migration politics and the governance, management and control of international migration and borders; it does not cover integration or development policies. It will study various actors ranging from supranational institutions (i.e. the European Union), international organisations and national authorities as well as nongovernmental organisations and also touches upon the national and international legal frameworks. We will look at cases ranging from the old powers, like the US and Europe, to emerging powers, such as Russia and Turkey but also the Gulf countries; at issues ranging from highly skilled migration to refugee and irregular flows; and at themes ranging from modes of control, visa-diplomacy and bio-politics to policy discourses/narratives and the ethics of migration politics. The course rests on politics, sociology and ethnography, it will draw on the lecturer’s extensive experience in research and stakeholder engagement and will take a self-learning, interactive and student-centred approach.

The Political Economy of International Migration

Mathias Czaika

Over past decades, immigration and emigration has transformed many states both economically and politically. This course aims to provide students with a thorough understanding of the complex role and interaction of the state and the economy in international migration processes; and to help students understand current academic and public debates on core questions of international migration such as: why and how do people migrate across international borders? How does immigration and emigration affect the economy such as labour markets, fiscal balances, innovation, and economic growth? Who are the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of international migration? How can we understand the politics of immigration and emigration policy? Can states control migration, including “unwanted” migrants? How do countries aim to attract or retain “wanted” high-skilled migrants, and do they succeed?

I believe the MSc in Migration Studies allowed me to gain a solid understanding of migration and displacement, related policies and impacts and gave me a firm social science background.

Caroline Schultz, MSc in Migration Studies 2011-12, now Research Associate & PhD Candidate, University of Bamberg

The MSc in Migration Studies seeks to prepare students for further social science research, or for a career within the increasing number of organisations – public and private, national and international – concerned with migration issues. 

Graduates of the MSc have gone on to doctoral degrees, law school, research and consultancy. Many are now employed by organisations such as the European Commission, ILO, IOM, UNICEF, RAND, Red Cross, Red Crescent, think tanks, national governments and leading universities.

Find out more about what some recent graduates of the course are doing now.


Photo: Julien Brachet, Marie Curie Fellow, IMI

Teaching Awards

Mette Berg of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, who teaches on the MSc in Migration Studies, won an Oxford University Teaching Award in 2014. The awards recognise excellence in teaching and learning.

Please refer to the course webpage on the University's Graduate Admissions pages for full information on selection criteria, application deadlines and English language requirements. Also see our How to Apply page.

Enquiries about the MSc in Migration Studies should be addressed to the MSc Course Coordinator,