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Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies

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Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies


The closing date for applications to start this course in September 2024 is 31 July 2024. Further detail here.

Key information

Duration: 1 year full time or 2 years part time

Institution code: R72

Campus: Central London

UK fees*: £9,000

International/EU fees**: £20,500

The course

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies (MSc)

How do we know what terrorism is? Can counter-terrorism itself produce the conditions of terrorism? What are the key terrorist threats, and why do people join terrorist groups?

If you're interested in the answers to these questions, and many more, this programme is for you. Our MSc Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies degree, which is taught at our central London campus, is designed for students who wish to get an interdisciplinary understanding of individual and organisational involvement in terrorism, coupled with an understanding of national and international approaches to counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE).

Studying this degree is a unique opportunity to work with our expert teaching team, which includes Dr Elizabeth Pearson, Dr Anthony Richards, Professor Andrew Silke, Dr Andrew Whiting and Dr Akil Awan. Read more here. You can also see what former students thought of the course.

This programme is ideal for those seeking to develop a research career in terrorism and counter-terrorism studies - or, if you are are already working in, or wish to work in, the security, tech or policy sectors. Previous professional students, for instance, have joined us from backgrounds including policing and Prevent.

The interdisciplinary nature of this programme draws on the interlinks between criminology, law, psychology, international relations, and sociology.

Alongside the formal lectures and seminars, you will have the opportunity to hear from and engage with external guest speakers from the public and private sector, who will provide talks and briefings on a variety of career paths in the area of counter-terrorism.

The programme will be taught over one or two days each week. 

  • Focus on the theory and practice of terrorism and counter-terrorism and hear from practitioners working in the field.
  • Develop a critical understanding of counter-terrorism in England and Wales.
  • Examine counter-terrorism work in context of the wider criminal justice system and consider the role of human rights.

From time to time, we make changes to our courses to improve the student and learning experience. If we make a significant change to your chosen course, we’ll let you know as soon as possible.

Core Modules

The core modules listed below are all taught on our central London campus.

  • This module will challenge you to question what exactly terrorism is, and who can commit acts of terrorism. You will consider the immediate and long-term aims of terrorist groups – and does terrorism ever ‘work’; is terrorism the result of root causes such as poverty and exclusion; is religious extremism a major cause of terrorism? Alongside these and other questions, you will also address the emergence of ‘Critical Terrorism Studies’ and will deal with issues raised by scholars on both sides of the ‘critical/orthodoxy’ divide, and question whether or not this has had a positive impact on the development of this area of study

  • The module aims to provide you with an evidence-based understanding of the history and modern nature of counter-terrorism.  The module will focus on different forms of counter-terrorism and will provide a critical assessment of the effectiveness and flaws of different strategies and tactics as well as focus attention on several case studies to illustrate the role and impact of counter-terrorism policies and the lessons that can be learnt from them. The history, context and impact of the various counter-terrorism initiatives will be explored, and trends and patterns identified. States can respond to terrorism and low-intensity conflicts with a range of approaches and these will be explored and critically assessed.

  • The purpose of this dissertation is to provide you with the opportunity to engage in a significant independent research project. You will choose the topic of the research. However, it must focus on an area within the remit of the terrorism and counter-terrorism studies focus of the programme. The dissertation must be an original, independent piece of research which can be either empirical or literature based in nature. Prior to starting the dissertation you must have a research proposal accepted by the dissertation committee. After your dissertation proposal has been accepted you will each be allocated a supervisor who will be able to give you guidance, feedback and support throughout the research process. 

  • This module will describe the key principles of academic integrity, focusing on university assignments. Plagiarism, collusion and commissioning will be described as activities that undermine academic integrity, and the possible consequences of engaging in such activities will be described. Activities, with feedback, will provide you with opportunities to reflect and develop your understanding of academic integrity principles.


Optional Modules

There are a number of optional course modules available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course modules that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new modules may be offered or existing modules may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.

The latter three modules are 15 Credit optional modules offered from Politics, International Relations and Philosophy (PIRP). These are offered at our Egham campus during daytime teaching.

  • This module examines the origins of political and state terror, starting with ancient examples like Ghengis Khan and Tamburlaine's city sackings. It also explores more recent instances of state terror, such as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Pol Pot's Cambodia. The French Revolution's 'regime de terreur' is studied as a precursor to modern terrorism. The module traces the evolution of terrorism from 19th-century anarchists and Fenians to anti-colonial movements in the 20th century. Lastly, it explores lessons from the history of terrorism for understanding the phenomenon and shaping current responses to it.

  • The purpose of this module is to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the role which psychology can play in helping us to understand terrorist involvement. Students will be assessing why people join, stay involved and ultimately leave terrorist groups. Critically assessing the psychological evidence for radicalisation and deradicalisation. This module will challenge students to consider whether or not the psychology of terrorist actors is any different from the psychology of non-terrorist actors. In doing so students will be introduced to concepts and theories from a variety of areas of psychology that may apply to understanding terrorist engagement.

  • This module provides you with a contemporary appreciation, through a number of case studies, of terrorist groups and movements across the globe. By the very nature of this module the content will be significantly updated year by year. However, the aims and learning outcomes will be constant. Using academic literature and research, you will gain an evidence-based understanding of terrorist ideologies, structures, tactics and targets and the impact that terrorist groups and networks have, both nationally and internationally. These will be studied in the context of contemporary debates within terrorism – for example, are we really confronted by what has been called ‘new’ terrorism? If so, what is new about it?

  • This module introduces you to how the area of security studies has evolved to include ever more transnational dynamics. You will see how scholars have traditionally understood security and how the study of security has developed. You will develop a theoretical and conceptual awareness of the practical issues and problems in Transnational Security Studies, exploring why security has become transnational. You will also look at security communities, alliances and collective security; global security governance; and cyber warfare.

  • In this module you will examine the theories, concepts and issues surrounding the role of media in war and conflict in the early twenty-first century. The post-9/11 global security situation and the 2003 Iraq war have prompted a marked increase in interest in questions concerning media, war and conflict, and you look at the relationships between media, governments, military, and audiences/publics, in light of old, new, and potential future security events. You will develop an understanding of the theories of media effects in conflict situations, covering a number of important themes, including embedding, sanitisation, legitimacy, and terrorism and publicity. You will explore the role of ethics, technology, and professional norms that inform war reporting, analysing a range of media with consideration for conceptual, theoretical and methodological issues in light of ongoing conflicts around the world.

  • In this module you will analyse the content and sources of change in defence policy during the post-Cold War era. You will look at changes to the objectives of defence policy, military capabilities, force structures and doctrines of the world’s major military powers (the US, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia). In so doing, you will asses the extent to which these reforms have helped the state concerned to meet its central security challenges. In addition, you will develop an understanding of the embedding of defence policies within regional and international institutions and the sources of defence cooperation. You will also see the implications of non-state actors in defence, notably private military companies and non-governmental organisations.

You will take a number of taught units and complete a dissertation worth 60 credits.

You will be assessed through a mixture of reports, presentations, portfolios, peer assessment and a thesis.


Bachelor Upper Second Class Honours in Law, Criminology, Psychology, Politics or a related subject in Social Sciences.

International & EU requirements

English language requirements

MSc Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies requires:

  • IELTS: 6.5 overall. Writing 6.5. No other subscore lower than 5.5.
  • Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. Writing 61. No other subscore lower than 51.
  • Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
  • Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C.
  • TOEFL ib: 88 overall, with Reading 18 Listening 17 Speaking 20 Writing 22.
  • Duolingo: 120 overall, with 125 in Literacy & Production. No subscore lower than 100.

Throughout the course you will have the opportunity to hear from and engage with external guest speakers from the public and private sectors, who will provide talks and briefings on a variety of career paths in the area of counter-terrorism.

Future career opportunities may include becoming a civil servant in the Home, or Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; working within the UK's intelligence services; becoming an analyst with a security think-tank; or a role in one of the police services' anti-terrorism branches. Alternatively, you may wish to complete a PhD and forge a career in academia.

Home (UK) students tuition fee per year*: £9,000

EU and international students tuition fee per year**: £20,500

Other essential costs***: There are no single associated costs greater than £50 per item on this course.

How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

* and ** These tuition fees apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis in the academic year 2024/25. Students studying on the standard part-time course structure over two years are charged 50% of the full-time applicable fee for each study year.

Royal Holloway reserves the right to increase all postgraduate tuition fees annually, based on the UK’s Retail Price Index (RPI). Please therefore be aware that tuition fees can rise during your degree (if longer than one year’s duration), and that this also means that the overall cost of studying the course part-time will be slightly higher than studying it full-time in one year. For further information, please see our terms and conditions.

** This figure is the fee for EU and international students starting a degree in the academic year 2024/25. Find out more 

*** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree at Royal Holloway during the 2024/25 academic year, and are included as a guide. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing, have not been included.

Elizabeth Pearson

Lecturer in Criminology


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