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The MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development course is designed for graduates who want to help tackle pressing global problems by developing practical engineering solutions. The course is about recognising that engineers have to operate within an increasingly complex set of constraints, and therefore must be capable of dealing with a range of challenges. The subject is based on some very straightforward principles: it is about living within Earth’s finite limits and resources, helping everyone on the planet to achieve an acceptable quality of life; acting as stewards of the environment for future generations; dealing with complexity; and handling the many trade-offs which have to be made.

The programme aims to:

  • produce engineers who are equipped to lead change with the understanding and skills necessary to conceive and deliver fitting solutions to society’s needs and to address global challenges within a sustainability framework;
  • explore value frameworks for engineers which are based on the concepts behind sustainable development and which can guide the design and management of engineering artefacts and schemes, so that their impacts are addressed at every stage of planning, implementation and disposal;
  • encourage a multidisciplinary approach to problem formulation so that through a dialogue with other subject specialists suitable solutions can be developed and wider constraints on engineering activity can be understood, including awareness of natural, business and social environments; and
  • encourage an appreciation of the trade-offs and conflicts inherent in decision making and the need to seek wider and alternative solutions to engineering problems so that graduates of the course can engage in strategic thinking during their future employment within industry, business or government.

Learning Outcomes

Graduates of the MPhil programme will be equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to meet the challenges of engineering work in a sustainable development context. By the end of the programme, they will have:

  • the ability to work with complex or ill-defined problems both systematically and creatively, including being equipped for dialogue with stakeholder groups;
  • a knowledge of current and potential engineering responses and specific technologies for moving to sustainable development, of both the technical and non-technical barriers to change, and of both good and bad sustainability practice in a range of engineering sectors;
  • well-developed teamwork and two-way communication skills;
  • the ability to evaluate, using a range of methodologies, the merits and demerits of options, taking into account environmental, economic, financial and political as well as technical factors;
  • a thorough understanding of the role of value-judgements in defining problems and implementing engineering solutions;
  • an understanding of how institutions, NGOs, public policy and regulation influence the rate of progress towards sustainable development;
  • the ability to act as a change-agent and to manage change effectively in an organisation, equipped with theories about and examples of organisational structure and change; and
  • experience of planning, executing and critically evaluating an original and investigative piece of work.


The MPhil is a professional practice programme and is not specifically designed to lead on to doctoral research. Nevertheless, students wishing to apply for continuation to a PhD in Engineering at Cambridge would normally be expected to attain an overall mark of at least 70 per cent.


The course is divided into three components, which students must pass independently: 

The first of these is a core programme of lectures which all students take, and this focuses on developing a breadth of skills and understanding which complement the technical background of participants.

The second component comprises four elective modules from a list of around 30 topics offered by the Centre for Sustainable Development, the Engineering Department and other departments within the University. Students also participate in weekly seminar discussions, practitioner viewpoint talks, role plays, simulation games, residential field courses, site visits and other active learning opportunities.

The final component is undertaken between April and August when students complete an individual piece of research for their Master’s dissertation.


Research for dissertations may take place in industry, NGOs, charities, or in other relevant bodies.


Students can expect to receive reports at least termly from their supervisor, via an online system. They will receive comments on items of coursework, and will have access to a University supervisor for their dissertation. All students will also have personal access to the course director and the other staff delivering the course.



All students must submit a dissertation of between 12,000 and 15,000 words. Planning for the dissertation begins in January, and students will work full-time on research between April and August. Five per cent of the dissertation marks will be assigned through a plan submitted in January; 15 per cent will be assigned through an oral presentation given at a dissertation conference in July; ten per cent will be assigned through the preparation of a research poster which will also be displayed in July. The remainder of the marks will be given for the final written report which is submitted by the last Friday of August.


Students take two compulsory "inner core" modules, at least two "outer core" modules, and four elective modules chosen from a broad list.

All core modules, and most elective modules, are assessed exclusively by coursework.

Written examination

A minority of the elective modules are assessed solely through written examination, or through a combination of written examination and coursework.


At the discretion of the examiners, candidates may be required to take an oral examination on the work submitted during the course and the general field of knowledge within which it falls.

Funding Opportunities

The programme has been supported by a range of organisations. Eligibility and availability of current bursaries can be found on the Funding Sources page on the programme website.

General Funding Opportunities

Apply using the Applicant Portal

The Apply Now button will take you to the Applicant Portal, where you can create and submit your application and supporting documents, and request references.

Further information on How To Apply

Visit the MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development page on the University of Cambridge website for more details!




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Recipient: University of Cambridge

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