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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’re 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, prioritization and decision making about vital interests in contemporary society.

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 harm and the potential consequences (economic, social, practical, ethical) this may have. However, these are not always easy to establish conclusively, especially in relation to modern-day complex global safety and security challenges.

Moreover, research shows that when making decisions on ‘vital interests’ and on prioritising risks other factors play a role as well. Think of the role of framing and conceptualising phenomena as a risk or threat (including the impact of rationality, emotions, biases and stereotypes), political factors (e.g. democratic values, ideology, political calculation, media attention), cultural factors (e.g. risk perception, risk appetite, social amplification), institutional or organisational factors (e.g. incentive structures, openness to outside influence, openness to change) and contextual factors (potential effects on, or interactions with, other interests/values to be protected).

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 successful completion of this course, students will:

  • Be able to identify and contextualise upcoming trends and threats in the field of security and safety, and place them in a broader societal context.

  • Have knowledge and understanding of elements in the cultural and political contexts in which decisions on safety and security are made at different levels in a globalised world. 

  • Have knowledge of theoretical principles, empirical findings and analytical models in relation to decision-making, vital interests and the prioritisation of risks, informed by various academic disciplines.

  • Be able to identify and understand how actors make decisions on vital interests and prioritisation of risk in relation to consequences, possible impact and other values in the field of safety and security. 

  • Have practiced independent, responsible, critical thinking and awareness of social and cultural differences and ethical dilemmas in security and safety govenance.

  • Be able to identify and evaluate different methods and strategies and value their applicability and desirability to address vital interest in contemporary society.

  • Be able to construct and articulate arguments about security and/or safety challenges in academic, professional and public settings.


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

Mode of instruction

14 plenary lectures
4 course labs in smaller groups (attendance is mandatory)

Course Load

Total study load of 280 hours

  • Contact hours: 54

  • Self-study hours: 223

  • Examination: 3

Assessment method

Individual paper 25%
Group paper 25%
Written exam (final) 50%

Compensation rule: Only assessments weighting 30% and less are compensable. This means that one does not have to pass an assessment if it weighs less than 30% in order to pass the course, if the average of all assessments combined is at least a 5.5. In addition, assignments with less than 30% are not re-sitable, meaning that if one failed an assessment of less than 30%, one is not allowed to resit it.

More information will be available on the Blackboard page.

The resit of the written exam takes the same form.


Course page will be available one week in advance

Reading list

Information on readings will be announced on Blackboard


To be announced by OSC staff.