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Vital Interests


Admission requirements

Mandatory course for students enrolled in the bachelor’s programme Security Studies.


In this Bachelor programme, we have defined security and safety broadly as relating to protection from harm and threats against acquired values. This is a very broad and general definition. It leaves unspecified what ‘protection’ consists of, which ‘harms’ we are speaking of, and which ‘acquired values’ are deemed worthy of protection. It is this latter point – the key assets, interests or values that we choose to protect (over others) that are at the heart of this course. We label them as vital interests in society. The course Vital interests is all about identification, prioritisation and decision making about vital interests in contemporary societies.

Against the background of limited means, decision-makers (politicians, regulators, policy-makers and others) must make decisions with regard to prioritising risks and choosing which interests to protect. First and foremost, of course, they may do so on the basis of an understanding of the likelihood of the materialisation of a given harm and the potential consequences (economic, social, practical, ethical, political) it may have. However, probabilities are not always easy to establish conclusively, especially in relation to modern-day complex global safety and security challenges.

When critically assessing the labelling and prioritisation of vital interests, students must learn to consistently ask why something is considered a vital interest, for whom (who benefits, who doesn’t), what the potential effects are, and which legitimation(s) are used for it.

Course objectives

After this course students are able to:

  • Identify and contextualise trends and threats related to vital interests in the field of security and safety, and place them in a broader societal context.

  • Use theoretical principles, empirical findings and analytical models in relation to decision-making about vital interests, informed by various academic disciplines.

  • Identify and understand how actors make decisions on vital interests, and prioritise risks in relation to their consequences, possible impact, and other values.

  • Think critically about political and cultural viewpoints on vital interests and to address related ethical dilemmas.

  • Identify and evaluate different methods and strategies, as well as value their applicability and relevance, to address vital interests in contemporary society.


On the right side of programme front page of the E-guide Bachelor Security Studies you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of instruction

14 plenary lectures
4 course labs in smaller groups

Attendance of the course labs is mandatory. If you miss more than 1 course lab you fail the course and won’t obtain a grade.

Total study load of 280 hours:

  • Contact hours: 54

  • Self-study hours: 223

  • Examination: 3

Assessment method

Course lab participation

  • 15% of final grade

  • Grade must be compensated

  • Resit not possible

Written assignment

  • 25 % of final grade

  • Grade must be compensated

  • Resit not possible

Written exam

  • 60% of final grade

  • Grade must be 5.50 or higher to pass the course

  • Resit of a fail is possible.

  • Resit will take the same form

Transitional Arrangement
Students who participated in the course “Vital Interests” in academic year 2019-2020 but did not manage to pass the course will take part in the following transitional arrangement:
1. Students who did not pass the course labs assignments, individual portfolio, and the exam in the academic year of 2019-2020 will follow this year’s rules regarding the assessment methods for this course.
2. Students who did not pass their individual portfolio (25%) and/or course labs participation (15%) but did pass the exam (60%) will keep their passed grade for the exam, but have to participate in the course labs, submit the required assignment and meet the attendance requirements.
3. Students who passed their individual portfolio and course lab participation, will not have to attend course labs and do required assignments, but will have to retake the final exam.

Reading list

A selection of book chapters and articles, to be announced on Brightspace.


Register for every course and workgroup via uSis.
Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course. Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results.

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. Important information about the course is posted here.
After enrolment for the course in uSis you are also enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.


Dr. D.W.J. Broeders

[Dr. Lydie Cabane]