Sustainable Development is widely regarded as the most promising framework for addressing environmental and developmental challenges in the 21st century. These challenges include the provision of clean water and adequate sanitation, energy generation and supply, human health, food production and distribution, and the continuing threat to biodiversity.
The MA (Hons) in Sustainable Development encourages students to rise to the challenges of the environment and society and focuses on the study of principles and practices of sustainability in an interdisciplinary environment.
Sustainable Development is studied up to Honours level in both the Faculty of Science (BSc) and the Faculty of Arts (MA). Students who have a background in the Arts or who wish to study Sustainable Development alongside Arts subjects at St Andrews should apply for the MA. For those interested in studying Sustainable Development alongside Science subjects, the BSc in Sustainable Development may be of interest instead.
If you started this programme in 2019, you can find information about 2019 entry on the 2019 Sustainable Development MA page. Information about all programmes from previous years of entry can be found in the archive.
These grades are the overall standards required to consider you for entry. Find out more about Standard, Minimum and Gateway entry requirements using academic entry explained and see which entry requirements you need to look at using the entry requirements indicator.
Standard entry grades: AAAB
Minimum entry grades: AABB
Gateway entry grades: BBBB
Standard entry grades: AAA
Minimum entry grades: ABB
Standard entry grades: 36 (HL 6,6,5)
Minimum entry grades: 36 (HL 6,5,5)
We accept a wide range of qualifications for entry on to our programmes, please see our entry requirements for more information.
For degrees combining more than one subject, the subject with the higher entry requirements determines the grades you need. You will also need to meet any further subject specific entrance requirements as outlined on their pages.
If English is not your first language you will need an overall IELTS score of 7.0, with a minimum score of 6.5 in each component (Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking), or an equivalent English Language qualification.
No previous knowledge of this subject is required.
Faculty entry requirements
You must also meet the Faculty of Arts minimum qualifications. These vary depending on which qualifications you hold.
SQA National 5 (B) or equivalent in English and one SQA National 5 (B) from the following:
Computing Science or equivalent
Lifeskills Mathematics (A grade)
GCSE (B or 5) in English, English Language or English Literature, and one GCSE (B or 5) from the following:
Computing Science or equivalent
Passes in other examinations at equivalent levels and subjects may be accepted by the Dean of the Faculty. More information on how to apply via other entry routes or accreditation of prior learning and experience can be found on the University’s entry requirements web page.
The University publishes its expected timetables before the advising process, and aims to provide each student with a personalised timetable once module choices have been made and confirmed during matriculation.
The University of St Andrews as a whole was voted top in the UK for student academic experience in The National Student Survey 2019 as 95% of St Andrews final year students gave the University top marks for the quality of the learning and teaching experience.
The University has secured a TEF Gold Award for the quality of teaching and the undergraduate experience.
The MA (Hons) in Sustainable Development is a four-year course run by the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, with contributions from the Schools of Biology, Chemistry, Management and the Department of Social Anthropology.
St Andrews also offers a BSc in Sustainable Development, which may be more suitable for students who wish to take Sustainable Development alongside Science subjects. The Sustainable Development element within both the BSc and MA degree programmes is exactly the same.
Your first two years of study illustrate the breadth of issues involved in sustainable development as well as how to move from unsustainable to sustainable development.
Alongside Sustainable Development, in the first year of your studies, you will be required to study an additional two subjects. In the second year you will usually carry on at least one of these subjects, sometimes two. Find out more about how academic years are organised.
The knowledge you gain will prepare you for your final two years, during which you will have the opportunity to choose from a range of modules from different Schools. These modules allow you to pursue your specific interests and explore the practice of sustainability through specific field visits. Subjects in these modules include (but are not limited to):
During your final year, you will also carry out a dissertation module which focuses on a topic of your choice, with structured support from a member of staff in an appropriate school.
The University of St Andrews operates on a flexible modular degree system by which degrees are obtained through the accumulation of credits. More information on the structure of the modules system can be found on the flexible degree structure webpage.
Students will take the following compulsory first-year modules:
What is Sustainable Development?: provides an introductory overview to Sustainable Development, such as social justice, human well-being, inter-generational equity and environmental stewardship.
Sustainable Development Goals: Challenges and Opportunities: offers detailed investigation of a selection of core issues in sustainable development - and how these issues are addressed by key players.
Students will take the following compulsory second-year modules:
Sustainable Development: Frameworks for Implementation: explores conceptual frameworks that might be utilised (individually or together) to encourage and facilitate Sustainable Development.
Sustainable Development: Tools for Action: builds upon core themes from Frameworks for Implementation and looks at how different agents, such as governments, corporations, and individuals enact change.
If you decide to take Sustainable Development in your third and fourth years, you choose from a wide variety of advanced options, including modules from separate Schools within the University.
Here is a sample of Honours modules that may form part of the programme:
Governance for Sustainability
Home and Energy Geographies
Transitioning to sustainability: community, nature and governance.
You have the opportunity to undertake extensive training in research through a residential field course where you will learn how to conduct research, explore research methods and gain statistical and quantitative skills.
In fourth year, students will complete a dissertation module which combines expertise from partner disciplines with an understanding of sustainable development in researching a topic of your choice.
The compulsory modules listed here must be taken in order to graduate in this subject. However, most students at St Andrews take additional modules, either in their primary subject or from other subjects they are interested in. For Honours-level, students choose from a range of Honours modules, some of which are listed above. A full list of all modules available for the current academic year can be found in the module catalogue.
Sustainable Development is taught using a wide variety of methods including:
At sub-honours level, class sizes range from100 to 200 students for lectures, 15 to 25 students for seminars, and 8 to 12 students for small-group tutorials.
At Honours level, much of the teaching is in small groups and there is a considerable amount of one-on-one contact with staff. Honours class sizes range from 10 to 30 students for seminars and laboratories down to 1 to 5 students for tutorials or supervisions.
When not attending lectures, tutorials and laboratory classes, you will be expected to continue learning independently through self-study. Typically, this will involve:
working on individual and group projects
undertaking research in a laboratory
undertaking research in the library
preparing coursework assignments and presentations
preparing for examinations.
You will be taught by an experienced teaching team with expertise and knowledge of Sustainable Development. Postgraduate research students who have undertaken teacher training may also contribute to the teaching of laboratory classes and seminars under the supervision of the module leader.
In addition to your studies in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, optional academic support is available through practical study skills courses and workshops hosted within the University.
The University’s student services team can help students with additional needs resulting from disabilities, long term medical conditions or learning disabilities. More information can be found on the students with disabilities webpage.
All Sustainable Development sub-honours modules are assessed by at least 50% coursework; depending on the individual module, the remaining 50% is made up either of further coursework or written examinations.
At Honours level, Sustainable Development modules are assessed by a variety of methods that include coursework and examinations.
Modules run by contributing Schools have varying methods of assessment.
Examinations are held at the end of each semester during a dedicated exam diet with revision time provided beforehand.
The School aims to provide feedback on every assessment within three weeks to help you improve on future assessments.
Undergraduates at the University of St Andrews must achieve at least 7.0 on the St Andrews 20-point grade scale to pass a module. To gain access to Honours-level modules, students must achieve the relevant requisites as specified in the policy on entry to Honours and in the relevant programme requirements. Please note that some Schools offer qualified entry to Honours, and this will be clearly specified in the programme requirements. To find out the classification equivalent of points, please visit the common reporting scale webpage.
Visit St Andrews
If you are interested in studying at St Andrews, join us at a visiting day to explore the town, find out about our courses and meet current students.
Given sustainable development’s high global profile, graduates with this degree are in demand because of their keen interest in the nature and future of the planet, and their skills in thinking critically and creatively about today’s key challenges.
Sustainable Development students have a rare combination of quantitative and qualitative skills, an ability to integrate and analyse diverse data, and a deep understanding of human-environment interactions.
Career pathways for graduates include:
non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
strategic planning and development
the energy sector
business and finance
The Careers Centre offers one-to-one advice to all students as well as a programme of events to assist students to build their employability skills.
Sustainable Development students may participate in the University-wide St Andrews Abroad programme. For information about study abroad options, please see the Study Abroad site.
From the outset, the University of St Andrews offers an array of events and opportunities which result in a truly unique student experience. Students participate in a range of traditions, notably, the red academic gown and the academic family, where older students adopt first year students as ‘children’ and help guide them in a system of mentoring. These traditions and the choice of over 150 sports clubs and student societies to choose from ensures a community feel amongst students from first year onwards.
Students of Sustainable Development may be interested in joining the following student societies:
Geological Society: organises academic activities such as lectures and networking events as well as social events and field trips to places such as Oban, Skye, and Loch Ness.
Geography Society: organises regular social meetups and Geography-related events throughout the year for students and staff.
The School of Geography and Sustainable Development is housed within the Irvine Building, an attractive building close to the sea in the historical heart of the University between St Salvator's Quadrangle and St Salvator's Hall. Students attend tutorials, seminars, lectures and individual meetings with tutors in this building.
The town of St Andrews itself has lots to offer. As University buildings are located throughout the town, walking around you encounter ancient and modern buildings and areas of greenery and seaside which provide a rich, beautiful backdrop to learning. If you want a change of scenery, St Andrews' position near surrounding towns and cities such as Anstruther, Dundee and Edinburgh make it ideal for getting to know more about Scotland.
“My passion for the environment and in learning how we can make adjustments to live more sustainably made me want to study Sustainable Development. There are many projects to get involved in within St Andrews and beyond to ensure that I am applying what I learn and having a positive impact on the community. I also enjoy the field trips we go on, they are a great way to experience a different style of learning and provide us with the opportunity to talk with lecturers in a more relaxed setting.”
Brittany (Toronto, Canada)
School of Geography and Sustainable Development University of St Andrews Irvine Building North Street St Andrews KY16 9AL
As a research intensive institution, the University ensures that its teaching references the research interests of its staff, which may change from time to time. As a result, programmes are regularly reviewed with the aim of enhancing students' learning experience. Our approach to course revision is described online (PDF, 72 KB).