Sustainable Development (MSc) 2016 entry

The MSc in Sustainable Development is aimed at students with a background in politics, sociology, environmental sciences, biology, mathematics or economics who are interested in making a change to society, environment and economy.

Course type

Postgraduate; leading to a Master of Science (MSc)

Course duration

One year full time

Entry requirements

A good 2.1 Honours undergraduate degree. No previous training is sustainable development is required.

If you studied your first degree outside the UK, see the international entry requirements.

English language proficiency. See English language tests and qualifications.

The School of Geography and Geosciences also offers a research-focused MRes in Sustainable Development.

Tuition fees

UK and EU: £6,800
Overseas: £19,400

Application deadline

Application requirements

  • CV
  • covering letter/personal statement explaining why you are a suitable candidate and how the degree will help your personal development
  • sample of academic written work (1,000 words)
  • two original signed academic references
  • academic transcripts and degree certificates
  • English language requirements certificate.

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

If you are looking to start this programme in 2017, you can find information about 2017 entry on the 2017 Sustainable Development MSc page. Information about all programmes from previous years of entry can be found in our archive.

Course information

Course highlights

  • Interdisciplinary teaching provides multiple perspectives. Students are taught by experts from disciplines across the University and beyond.
  • Field trips, such as to a Scottish highland estate, bring the subject alive by exploring practical applications of sustainable development. (Field trips are at no additional costs.)
  • Practical experience supplements leading theory. The lecturers and visiting speakers all have practical experience of advising government, business and communities on aspects of sustainable development as well as being leaders in their academic fields.

Teaching format

The MSc in Sustainable Development is a one-year, full-time taught postgraduate programme run by the Department of Geography and Sustainable Development.

Sustainable development is now widely regarded as the most promising framework within which the challenges of clean water and adequate sanitation, energy generation and supply, human health, food production and distribution, and the threat to biodiversity can be addressed. The MSc programme will enable you to develop the knowledge you need to understand and address sustainability issues from multiple perspectives.

During the taught portion of the programme, students take six modules which are taught via lectures, tutorials, seminar presentations, student-led workshops, as well as field trips and away days. Modules are assessed through written examinations and coursework including class tests, presentations and review essays.

Over the course of the programme, but with particular focus during the summer months, students will research and write a 12,000-word dissertation.

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.

Compulsory modules

Optional modules

Students choose four optional modules. With permissions from the relevant Head of School, up to 60 credits may be taken at MSc level from schools across the University with a focus on management, economics or business.

Optional modules are subject to change each year and require a minimum number of participants to be offered (see the University’s position on curriculum development), but currently recommended modules include:

  • Economics for the Environment: introduces the contributions that environmental economics can make to helping us understand and manage a wide range of environmental problems.
  • Development and the Environment: introduces students to key topics in development and environmental economics, including poverty, inequality and land reform.
  • Public Policy and the Environment: introduces students to advanced topics in development and environmental economics through weekly seminar reading groups.
  • Environmental Change
  • Contemporary Global Issues in Management: examines how various global tends will impact upon economies, organisations and the practice of management, especially the ways in which ecological, social and economic factors interact to create threat and opportunities for organisations.
  • Being a Social Scientist: explores the fundamental skills required by all social scientists and prepares you for the research dissertation and professional development.
  • Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences: introduces the basic theoretical approaches in the social sciences, encouraging you to make connections between the methodological and epistemological issues involved in conducting social scientific research.
  • Responsibility, Sustainability and Accountability in Organisations: an introduction and analysis of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, the meaning, tensions and conflicts that these concepts entail and the role that accountability can play in their achievement.
  • Environmental History: Nature and the Western World (1800–2000): examines attitudes to nature and animals, species history, national parks and nature reserves, as well as the history of environmentalism and nature conservation, countryside recreation and tourism, and current problems such as pollution and pesticide use.
  • Ten Global Health Problems: considers a range of health problems that represent the diversity of the issues that affect most of the world’s population. 
  • Geographic Information Systems for Environmental Management: introduces students to the basic principles, including the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and an introduction to the use of remotely sensed data for spatial analysis.
  • The Biology of Marine Mammals: introduces the zoogeography of marine mammals and the morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations which have enabled this diverse group to successfully colonise all of the world's oceans and some freshwater systems.

The modules listed ran in the academic year 2015-2016 and are indicative of this course. There is no guarantee that these modules will run for 2016 entry.

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


The dissertation gives students the chance to fully engage with the area of sustainable development about which you are most passionate, by researching and writing a 12,000-word dissertation which is the culmination of your degree. Advised by a member of academic staff, you will work across the summer months on your individual dissertation.

If students choose not to complete the dissertation requirement for the MSc, there is an exit award available that allows suitably 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.

Conferences and events

The Department of Geography and Sustainable Development's vibrant research culture is reflected in an extensive programme of events including seminars, and conferences, in addition to the regular meetings organised by the research clusters and centres


Recent Graduate Discount
The University of St Andrews offers a 10% reduction in tuition fees for students who have graduated during the last three years and are now starting a postgraduate programme.

Find out more about postgraduate scholarships.

After the MSc

Research degrees

Applicants thinking of undertaking research degrees might consider taking the one-year Master of Research (MRes) as an alternative to the MSc, or converting to it once they begin the MSc programme.

Many of our graduates continue their education by enrolling in further research degrees, either a PhD or the shorter two-year Master of Philosophy (MPhil).

PhD funding opportunities are available from the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science.

PhD in Sustainable Development


Sustainability impacts upon almost all aspects of life and graduates from the Sustainable Development MSc pursue many different professional careers including:

  • sustainability in business management, engineering, planning, transport, waste, energy or environmental management.
  • sustainability research and policy consultancy.
  • international development.
  • sustainability advisers to supra-national bodies such as the United Nations, World Bank, European Union, and the OECD.

The Careers Centre offers one-to-one advice to all students on a taught postgraduate course and offers a programme of events to assist students to build their employability skills. 


Department of Geography and Sustainable Development
Irvine Building
University of St Andrews
North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9AL
Scotland, UK

Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 3904

Geography and Sustainable Development website

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)