Sustainable Development (MSc) 2023 entry

Sustainable Development is a framework to address pressing environmental and development challenges whilst facilitating transformation for a better world. The MSc programme fosters critical and creative thinking about sustainability and sustainable development, and allows students to develop the skills and competencies needed for a career in and beyond academia.

Start date
September 2023
End date
September 2024
One year full time
The Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies

Application deadline

Thursday 10 August 2023

Applicants should apply as early as possible to be eligible for certain scholarships and for international visa purposes.

“The assignments in the programme are very innovative, from recording podcasts, creating apps, presenting group PowerPoints, writing journalist-style articles and policy briefs. The diversity of the postgraduate community provides a great opportunity to meet people from such different backgrounds, fields of study and countries.”
- Renfrewshire, Scotland

Entry requirements

The MSc in Sustainable Development welcomes applicants from a range of disciplinary backgrounds including, but not limited to:

  • biology 
  • business or management
  • economics
  • environmental history
  • environmental science
  • geography
  • mathematics
  • politics
  • sociology.

The qualifications listed are indicative minimum requirements for entry. Some academic Schools will ask applicants to achieve significantly higher marks than the minimum. Obtaining the listed entry requirements will not guarantee you a place, as the University considers all aspects of every application including, where applicable, the writing sample, personal statement, and supporting documents.

Application requirements

  • A CV or résumé. This should include your personal details with a history of your education and employment to date. 
  • A personal statement explaining:  
    • why you have applied for this course 
    • how the course relates to your personal or professional ambitions 
    • how your academic and professional background show you have the skills needed to work effectively at postgraduate level.  
  • A sample of your own, single-authored academic written work such as an extract from a previous project, essay, or undergraduate dissertation (max. 1000 words). 
  • Two original signed academic references on headed paper. 
  • Academic transcripts and degree certificates. 

For more guidance, see supporting documents and references for postgraduate taught programmes.

English language proficiency

If English is not your first language, you may need to provide an English language test score to evidence your English language ability. See approved English language tests and scores for this course.

Course details

The MSc in Sustainable Development explores the socio-economic, political, and environmental aspects of the inter-relationships between human development and sustainability. 


  • Introduces key topics in sustainable development, providing a broad-based overview of the field. 
  • Interdisciplinary character helps you to develop a more rounded understanding of sustainable development questions and concepts. 
  • Critical study of socio-economic, political, and environmental aspects gives a remarkable richness and depth compared with conventional single-subject degrees. 
  • Considers sustainability from the perspectives of the public, businesses, and policymakers and the relationships between academia, policy, and society. 

Using a range of case studies and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals as a common framework, you will: 

  • engage with critical perspectives on sustainability and related subjects 
  • gain an interdisciplinary understanding of sustainable development principles and practice 
  • develop your ability to critically assess sustainable development problems and solutions from multiple perspectives. 

The MSc includes an integrated programme of skills workshops that connect your academic learning with the development of personal and professional competencies. Workshops bring together students from other Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies Masters degrees, helping you to make new interdisciplinary connections. 


The modules in this programme have varying methods of delivery and assessment. For more details of each module, including weekly contact hours, teaching methods and assessment, please see the latest module catalogue which is for the 2022-2023  academic year; some elements may be subject to change for 2023 entry. 


The MSc is structured around two compulsory taught modules: 

Semester 1 

  • Interrogating Sustainable Development:  introduces you to the principles of sustainable development and explores what is distinctive about the challenges that it addresses;  provides a foundation that helps students connect core principles of sustainable development with discipline-specific learning from option modules and prior experience. 

Semester 2 

  • Sustainable development: from principles to practice:  examines how doing sustainable development research with non-academic partners challenges us to engage with sustainability as an academic, policy and practical concern; helps prepare students for the end of degree project by developing ability to evaluate and communicate progress towards sustainability for academic and non-academic

Alongside compulsory modules, students will complete a number of optional modules (normally two per semester). Optional modules allow you to shape the degree around your own personal and professional interests. 

It is recommended that students complete modules from the following list: 

Semester 1 

  • Contemporary environmental issues: allow masters students to develop their depth and breadth of understanding of a wide range of environmental concerns through the lens of 'Planetary Boundaries'; provides a foundation for students to integrate environmental science aspects of global issues into sustainable development.
  • Population Change and Sustainable Development: Patterns, Processes and Politics: equips students with knowledge of core concepts in population studies and develops critical engagement in the connections between population and sustainability using examples from across the globe and research from a range of social science disciplines. 

Semester 2 

  • Capitalism, development and environment: considers the ways in which environments, resources and livelihoods both shape and are shaped by development practices, and how one distinguishes between and evaluates 'negative' (harmful, or unsustainable) and 'positive' (beneficial, or sustainable) development.

Other optional modules are expected to be offered in the following areas: 

  • environmental history 
  • green politics: theory and practice 
  • managing natural resources
  • managing non-governmental organisations 
  • disease and environment
  • extractive environments 
  • valuing environments. 

Optional modules are subject to change each year and require a minimum number of participants to be offered; some may only allow limited numbers of students.

The final part of the MSc is the end-of-degree project. This takes the form of a period of supervised research where you will explore a sustainable development topic in depth. 

Through the project, you will show your ability to undertake sustained critical analysis, develop and improve your research skills, and produce an extended piece of written work that demonstrates a high level of understanding of your area of study. 

You can choose to present your end-of-degree project in one of the following ways:   

  • a policy report and policy brief that emphasises your ability to critically assess sustainable development policy and make convincing recommendations for policy changes. 
  • a written dissertation that emphasises your ability to plan and execute academically rigorous research (open to students with appropriate methodological experience). 

If students choose not to complete the project requirement for the MSc, there is an exit award available that allows suitability qualified candidates to receive a Postgraduate Diploma. By choosing an exit award, you will finish your degree at the end of the second semester of study and receive a PGDip instead of an MSc.  

The modules listed here are indicative, and there is no guarantee they will run for 2023 entry. Take a look at the most up-to-date modules in the module catalogue.


The taught modules are taken over two semesters – September to December (Semester 1) and January to May (Semester 2). The period from June to August is used to complete the end of degree project. 

Each taught module will use teaching and learning methods appropriate to its aims. These may include seminars, workshops, lectures, tutorials, and independent study. 

Assessment methods used may include essays, reports, presentations, practical exercises, reflective exercises, and examinations.




More information on tuition fees can be found on the postgraduate fees and funding page.

Funding and scholarships

The University of St Andrews is committed to attracting the very best students, regardless of financial circumstances. Find out more about the scholarships and postgraduate loans available.

All taught postgraduate scholarships

After your degree


The University of St Andrews’ global reputation makes its graduates highly valued by employers. The MSc in Sustainable Development provides subject knowledge and applied skills relevant to a range of career paths in government and public bodies, non-governmental organisations and charities, and the private sector. 

In addition to broadening your subject knowledge and applying established techniques of research and enquiry, you will develop and demonstrate essential skills including: 

  • critical thinking and creativity 
  • analysis and appraisal 
  • problem solving and decision making 
  • personal leadership and project management 
  • interpersonal communication and team-working. 

The University also offers a programme of skills development activities for all students known as the Professional Skills Curriculum. This will help you develop your personal and professional capabilities and gain skills that you need to succeed in your studies and enhance your employability. 

The Careers Centre offers one-to-one advice to all students as well as a programme of events to assist students in building their employability skills.

Further study

St Andrews offers a vibrant and stimulating research environment. One of the great strengths of a St Andrews research degree is the collegiate atmosphere which enables access to expertise beyond your formal supervisors and the ability to conduct interdisciplinary research.  

Research students are supported by a supervisory team throughout their studies and are assessed by means of a substantial thesis of original research. 

Postgraduate research

What to do next

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Contact us

+44 (0)1334 46 2032
The Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies
The Old Burgh School
Abbey Walk
St Andrews
KY16 9LB

The Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies website