Sustainable Development (MSc) 2024 entry

The information on this page is for 2024 entry. If you are considering applying for 2025 entry or later, some of these details may differ and we advise you to check the page again before you apply. To receive a notification of when applications open for 2025 entry, please register your interest.

Our Sustainable Development programme addresses many of the most pressing developmental (environmental and social) challenges of the 21st century, equipping our students to evaluate diverse and contested ideas about what these challenges are and how best to solve them, as well as teaching the skills needed to develop these ideas in policy directions. We cover a breadth of environmental, social and economic issues, such as climate change, development, health, energy, policy change and conservation.  

Our MSc in Sustainable Development is led-by interdisciplinary critical social science. This means that we start from the scientific consensus about human impacts on climate and environment but also with recognition that it is social and political contexts that are preventing vital change. Social science perspectives address this current gap, for example by being attentive to questions of power, knowledge and politics. Within this, our course pays particular attention to questions of justice and equity. We commit to research-led teaching, academic rigour and teaching you the skills needed to implement research-led policy. 

Sustainable Development MSc - University of St Andrews
Start date
September 2024
End date
September 2025
One year full time
Graduate School

Application deadline

Thursday 8 August 2024

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

You will explore the tensions and synergies between different theories and approaches to sustainability, including forms of governance and decision-making. You will engage with sustainable development policy and practice at different scales (local, national, and international), and consider alternative frameworks and trajectories of sustainability - from broad-scale ecosystem approaches to decolonial agendas. Coursework components will help you to develop and demonstrate writing and analysis skills for different audiences. Optional modules allow you to explore topics such as capitalism and development, energy politics, and population change, which will further develop the interdisciplinary character of your studies. 


  • Introduces different conceptualizations of sustainability and enables students to navigate a contested (and urgent) field.  
  • Rooted in critical interdisciplinary social science, this course addresses social and political responses to climate science and offers a remarkable richness and depth compared with conventional single-subject degrees.
  • Core courses first use Development and then Nature as entry points into Sustainable Development. We teach you to analyse academic concepts and debates before shifting focus to research-led policy.
  • Our MSc focuses on the relationships between academia, policy, and society, and teaches writing for both academic and policy audiences.



The modules published below are examples of what has been taught in previous academic years and may be subject to change before you start your programme. For more details of each module, including weekly contact hours, teaching methods and assessment, please see the module catalogue.



The MSc is structured around two compulsory taught modules: 

Semester 1 

  • Interrogating Sustainable Development:   introduces the origins of the concept, as well as its key critiques and alternatives, using ‘development’ as a broad entry point to a famously vague term and provides solid theoretical foundations enabling you to critically analyse different and contested approaches to sustainability.

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. We will consider how inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to sustainable development stimulate learning and innovation to address socio-environmental inequalities and vulnerabilities.

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 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.




Application fee

Before we can begin processing your application, a payment of an application fee of £50 is required. In some instances, you may be eligible for an application fee waiver. Details of this, along with information on our 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.

15% Recent Graduate Discount

If you have graduated from the University within the last three academic years, you may be eligible for a 15% discount on postgraduate taught tuition fees. Terms and conditions apply.

Taught postgraduate scholarships    Postgraduate loans

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 two awards for all students known as the Saints Skills Awards. You can develop a range of skills through the Skills Builder Award or learn how to best articulate them through the Skills Spotlight Award. These skills are highly valued by employers and the awards are a good addition to your CV. 

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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+44 (0)1334 46 2032
Graduate School