The University of Hull's MA in restorative justice is now in its third year. Global interest in the subject is increasing – in the UK, the Coalition's recent green paper on sentencing and rehabilitation mentioned it in some depth, and this interest is mirrored all over the world. "Restorative justice is a growing area of practice, study and research," says course leader Professor Gerry Johnstone. "I see it as a distinctive way of dealing with crime, wrongdoing and other forms of conflict. Instead of focusing on punishing wrongdoers, the focus is on repairing the wrongs done by them; and instead of handing things over to judges, the victim and wrongdoer talk to one another and decide what is to be done."

Although usually associated with the criminal justice system, restorative justice can have other applications – in business, education or any field requiring conflict resolution or mediation. In education it is used to address bullying, for example. As a result, the MA might appeal to graduates of law and social science degrees, but also to anyone interested in the wider uses of restorative justice.

"For those already involved in professional practice, the course is about deepening and enriching their knowledge," says Johnstone, "and it will give undergraduates who are looking to go into professional practice an edge."

Students will study via an innovative distance-learning programme, and can choose a full-time (12-month) or part-time (24-month) course of study. The programme also includes two optional two-day residential courses at the university itself, where students get to know each other and are made familiar with the online environment in which teaching takes place.

Although online forums, tutorials and discussions form the backbone of the course, no specialised IT skills are required other than the ability to send an email or visit a website, and contact with tutors is always available. "Students have a personal supervisor as well as tutors. We try to put the emphasis on how the student wants to study," says Johnstone. "It's very flexible – our students are very different from on-campus ones, so we try to organise things around their learning styles."

The modular course structure is intended to foster an understanding of the principles and practices of restorative justice, as well as looking at the context in which it has developed. The programme has a broad cultural scope too, taking in everything from victim-offender mediation in Europe to indigenous restorative traditions among Maori, Aboriginal, Inuit and Navaho communities.

There is also a separate module dedicated to research techniques and skills. "A lot of our students have been out of higher education for a number of years," explains Johnstone, "so this gives them those academic skills and helps them prepare for the dissertation."

Students are assessed at the end of each module through written assignments including case studies, essays, research proposals and mock ministerial briefings, before they reach the final dissertation, which comprises a third of the entire course. This is a 12,000-15,000 word investigation of an area of restorative justice, which students choose and develop with the help of a supervisor from among the teaching staff.

With part-time students expected to spend up to 18 hours a week studying, Johnstone is realistic about the demands of the course. "Studying something part time in addition to a job requires a lot of discipline and commitment. Enthusiasm for the subject and restorative justice practices is vital, and you need endurance." As many MA students are already in full-time employment, the course is not geared to any particular final occupation, but Johnstone suggests that undergraduates taking the MA might look for police, probation or prison service work, "and increasingly work in education as well".

To apply, prospective students will need a first or 2:1 in a relevant degree subject such as law or social sciences, although there is some flexibility. For students from the EU, current fees begin at £1,610 per year for part-time students, and from £3,220 for full-time. International student fees begin at £4,100 per year (part-time) and £8,200 (full-time); all course fees include textbooks.

As for return on investment, Johnstone is confident that students find the MA both engaging and rewarding. "One of the most pleasing things we have is the feedback from students," he says. "The message that consistently comes across is that it's been one of the most exciting learning experiences of their lives."

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