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Sustainable Development (MSc) 2021 entry

Managing human development in sustainable ways is one of the key challenges of our times. On the MSc in Sustainable Development you will explore sustainable development theory and practice.

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Key information

Course type

Postgraduate, leading to a Master of Science (MSc)

Course dates

  • Start date: 6 September 2021
  • End date: 30 September 2022

Information about all programmes from previous years of entry can be found in the archive.

Course duration

One year full time; part-time study is not currently offered.

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.

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Tuition fees

Home: £9,900
Overseas: £24,240

Application deadline

Wednesday 11 August 2021. Applicants should apply as early as possible to be eligible for certain scholarships and for international visa purposes.

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 academic written work such as an extract from a previous project, essay, or undergraduate dissertation.
  • Two original signed academic references on headed paper.
  • Academic transcripts and degree certificates.
  • Evidence of English language proficiency (required if English is not your first language).

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

Course information

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.
  • Integrated training programme connects your academic learning with the development of personal and professional competencies.

Sustainable development is now widely regarded as the most promising framework through which we can address global challenges such as:

  • clean water and adequate sanitation
  • energy generation and supply
  • human health and wellbeing
  • food production and distribution
  • threats to biodiversity.

The ability to provide solutions to these problems requires an understanding of the different aspects of the complex inter-relationships between human development and sustainability.

The MSc in Sustainable Development is distinguished by its interdisciplinary character and its engagement with sustainability as both an academic and a policy concern.

Sustainable development is inherently interdisciplinary. You will be encouraged to develop a more rounded, interdisciplinary understanding of the problems that sustainable development seeks to address and the tensions that characterise this field. On this MSc subject experts from across the University provide their own disciplinary perspectives on key topics and you will consider the nature and functioning of the social, political, economic, and environmental systems that are central to sustainable development.

Using 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, and develop your ability to critically assess sustainable development problems and solutions from multiple perspectives.

Optional modules allow you to explore topics such as capitalism and development, environmental change, and population change, that shape sustainable development needs and responses and which will further develop the interdisciplinary character of your studies.

As well as a need for an advanced understanding of sustainable development problems, there is a need to consider sustainability from the perspectives of the public, businesses and employers, and policymakers and to promote engagement beyond academics and researchers.  

You will explore the tensions and synergies between different forms of governance and decision making, engage with sustainable development policy and practice at different scales (local, national, and international), and consider the relationships between academia, policy, and society. You will also examine how sustainable development, particularly the Sustainable Development Goals, intersects with other frameworks for managing natural resources  - from broad-scal ecosystem approaches to local-scale community strategies. Coursework components are, in part, intended to help you develop and demonstrate skills in communicating sustainable development concepts to different audiences.

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.

Teaching format

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.

Further particulars regarding curriculum development.


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 2020-2021 academic year; some elements may be subject to change for 2021 entry.

The MSc is structured around two compulsory taught modules:

Semester 1

  • Interrogating Sustainable Development: introduces the problems that sustainable development seeks to address and the tensions that characterise this field; you will also examine how sustainable development intersects with other frameworks for managing our resources.

Semester 2

  • Master Class in Sustainable Development: develops your understanding of advanced-level sustainability debates, by engaging critically with interpretations of sustainability and the ways it stimulates interaction with partners beyond academia to address socio-environmental vulnerabilities.

Optional modules allow you to broaden your learning in key topics relevant to the MSc.

The available optional modules are confirmed in advance of the MSc start date.

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 (see the University’s position on curriculum development).

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.

Your end of degree project will be presented as:

  • an academic literature review
  • a policy brief or data project
  • a reflective piece on
    • the process of translating academic review into policy advice, or
    • addressing key questions identified in the academic review by way of secondary data analysis.

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 2021 entry. Take a look at the most up-to-date modules in the module catalogue.

Meet us online

If you're interested in studying at St Andrews, join us on a virtual visiting day or daily information session to find out about our courses, how to apply, and to meet current students. 

The next virtual visiting day will be in November 2021.

Virtual events

Join our Admissions team for one of our upcoming virtual events. During these events, you can find out more about studying at St Andrews and what it will do for your future.

Online information events

The Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies

The Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies was established in 2017 to foster interdisciplinary postgraduate education and scholarship.

The ability to work across subject boundaries is now recognised as an essential skill. The Graduate School’s Masters degrees will help you to develop a more rounded, interdisciplinary understanding of your subject and to use ideas from different disciplines to illuminate your studies.

As well as their interdisciplinary character, the Graduate School's Masters degrees are distinguished by an emphasis on the development and application of practical skills. In addition to broadening your subject knowledge, you will develop your skills of critical thinking and creativity, analysis and appraisal, problem-solving and decision-making, and project management and personal leadership.

One of the most appealing aspects of joining the Graduate School is the welcoming interdisciplinary community. The Graduate School is a place where you can make social and intellectual connections across subject boundaries and where students form close networks within and across their Masters degree groups.



Scholarships are designed to help students support themselves during their studies. Find out more about postgraduate scholarships.

Postgraduate loans

Loans are available for students who meet the residency and other criteria. Find out more about postgraduate loans.

Recent Graduate Discount

The University of St Andrews offers a 10% discount in postgraduate tuition fees to students who are eligible to graduate or who have graduated from St Andrews within the last three academic years and are starting a postgraduate programme with the University of St Andrews. Find out more about the Recent Graduate Discount.

After the MSc

Research degrees

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.

Research degrees


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

However, your Masters degree is just one part of your personal and professional development during your time at St Andrews. The Professional Skills Curriculum is the University's programme of skills development activities for all students.

Comprising evening lectures, workshops, and online presentations, the Professional Skills Curriculum will help you develop your personal and professional capabilities and gain skills that you need to succeed in your studies and enhance your employability.

Additionally, the Careers Centre provides advice and support to help you plan your professional development and achieve your career goals. As well as online resources, the Careers Centre offers one-to-one appointments to discuss any career-related matters.


The Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies
University of St Andrews
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Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 2032

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Admission to the University of St Andrews is governed by our admissions policy.

Curriculum development

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).

Tuition fees

The University will clarify compulsory fees and charges it requires any student to pay at the time of offer. The offer will also clarify conditions for any variation of fees. The University’s approach to fee setting is described online (PDF, 84 KB).

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