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  MSc in Sustainable Urban Development

University of Oxford    Department for Continuing Education

Part time October MSc 2 years Award winner
Architecture, Building & Planning (3) Engineering (12) Geography (17)

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The MSc in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Oxford is a two-year programme designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of sustainable urban development policy and practice. With a multidisciplinary approach, the course explores the global and local aspects of sustainable urbanism. Students will delve into the intellectual history, current applications, and future implications of sustainable urban development. Key learning outcomes include the ability to critically evaluate empirical evidence, apply sound reasoning, and present arguments and solutions. The programme is suitable for professionals from various urban contexts and fosters collaboration, creativity, and effective networking skills. For entry requirements, please visit the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website.

About the course

Address the critical, urgent challenges we face to make our cities more liveable, just and sustainable in a challenging global environment. 

The MSc in Sustainable Urban Development is a transformative two-year part-time programme for working professionals across the globe. Taught by experienced faculty from Oxford University, known for its research excellence and impact, you will gain a greater understanding of the tools and methods available to develop solutions that address the critical, urgent challenges we face to make the urban environment more liveable, just and sustainable for the future.

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Student Profiles

Kate Fairlie

"First and foremost I realised that I needed a masters or other higher degree in order to progress in my current career path. But in searching for a suitable masters I realised I wanted to both further specialise as a land administration professional, yet gain a broader, interdisciplinary understanding of related fields. The MSc met this aim nicely, whilst providing the opportunity to work and study at the same time, and to ultimately gain a degree from Oxford.

Juggling the demands of full time work and part time study, along with other unexpected time demands, was undoubtedly the biggest challenge of the MSc.

These demands and challenges were ameliorated to some extent by the support and insights of fellow students. Every class brought new knowledge not simply through the lecturer but also through the perspectives of fellow students. I had not anticipated the strength of the relationships formed, nor the level of support that classmates would provide in going beyond lecture material to both complete assessments and relate material back to our individual fields.

The MSc is fundamentally a stepping stone - I think it is best suited to those who have already specialised to some extent and are looking for a more 'generalist' postgraduate degree to widen and question one's perspective, whilst providing a broader network of peers and experts to draw from. In the tradition of most further study, it provides solid tools to promote analysis and questioning - whilst the breadth of topics addressed in each week of lectures allows students to dive as deeply as they would like (or not at all) according to interest and relevance."

Edith Chin

"Embarking on this course, any reservations I initially held that came from not having a background in a planning, design or development related field, were easily overcome by the multidisciplinary nature of the content, and the strong emphasis placed on the theoretical underpinnings as a basis of understanding. The structure of the course allowed us the flexibility to pursue this as we continued with our other commitments. The weeks in Oxford were intense and equally enriching. Not only did we learn from the distinguished academic community, but we benefited from guest presenters who were leaders in their respective fields, as well as from the wealth of experience our diverse cohort brought. I found great value in presentations from a company in retail that is a global leader in incorporating sustainability practices in their operations, allowing a deeper understanding of how our core business could also be more sustainable.

I thoroughly enjoyed the dissertation process, where I explored the issues of livelihood along the themes of gender, housing and employment, by looking at cases of women operating home-based economic activities in housing schemes. I was very pleased with the guidance given in this regard, that led me along paths of discovery I never initially thought of taking.

Having completed the course, I continue to work in our family business with an enriched perspective, incorporating ways to be more sustainable in our core business and community. I have shared the findings of my dissertation with planners at both the national and local level, and am working to rally support to collaborate with planners, builders and community to adjust what is offered. This process has also ignited a desire for further research and has truly demonstrated that the more you come to know, the more you want to know.

To anyone contemplating taking this course, I would say the rigour involved requires serious commitment, but it is certainly worth the investment of time and resources. The benefits for me surpassed what I originally hoped to accomplish."

Karim Khwanda

"I found that the frequent travel and the considerable amount of reading and writing required me to manage my time and multi-task in a way that was different to what I was used to. It was certainly a good thing to get used to though! I really enjoyed (and needed) the flexibility that the part-time format offered because it meant that I was able to continue to meet my professional obligations in parallel with my studies at Oxford – that was very important to me.

I’m proud to say that my contributions as a director have been enriched significantly as a direct result of taking this course – they are more strategic, evidence-based, and confident.

In late 2017, I was extremely grateful to David Howard and the rest of the faculty to have been given the platform to address the Oxford MSUD network. I spoke about the absolutely transformative impact that the course had on me and my work. In two years, I transitioned from someone who had very little interest in (or knowledge of) the concept of sustainability, especially in the face of what Syria was going through and what I thought the country needed, to someone who understood the ways in which sustainability was central to urban development – whether post-conflict or not.

I also talked about how sustainability-thinking in the urban realm and beyond has to be the starting point of everything we do - whether it is conflict prevention and mitigation, or addressing climate change, or socio-economic inequality, or designing optimal accessibility into cities so that their inhabitants can live fuller lives.

The beauty of Oxford is that inspiration and learning is absolutely everywhere, and I would really encourage students to squeeze as much out of their experience here as possible beyond their course. For example, debating for the Oxford Union taught me how to quickly construct a structured argument and think critically under pressure and in front of an audience. Their on-going workshops every Sunday evening are a very welcoming environment that students can integrate into their week before the course module starts on Monday morning.

I would advise somebody who is considering undertaking the MSc not to hesitate in applying. Completing this degree at Oxford has been a transformative experience for me - it has changed the way I think, and has really added to my value system and my professional capacity and confidence."

Swati Janu

"I came to know about the Sustainable Urban Development course through the Prince’s Foundation and I found its inter-disciplinary nature appealing. A look at the course curriculum showed that there was a specific focus on the global South which most international courses fail to include. The part-time nature of the course enabled me to continue my work in India while offering the opportunity to expose myself to diverse critical themes with each module.

As a designer, I was not well versed with fields such as that of Economics but the module ‘Financing Sustainability’ dedicated to that helped me imbibe new facets of urbanism that I had not considered before. From critiquing the Sharing economy to understanding the implications of Digital economy in the Indian context, applying these perspectives to my work has been critical for me.

The rigorous essay writing following each module has been a great learning experience for me. The exposure to academic theories and international issues ranging from the politics of climate change to urban informality has enabled me to take up further research projects since the completion of the course. Each module generated a new, engaging discourse and the part-time nature allowed me to assimilate the insights gained each time, directly influencing my practical understanding in the field as well. With ‘Smart cities’ being a current debate in India, concepts introduced in the module on ‘Future Cities’ have been particularly relevant to my current work.

The MSc Programme Scholarship enabled me to attend the uniquely tailored course with peers from diverse backgrounds most of who I am still in touch with. It exposed me to critical theoretical concepts of urbanism while inculcating the habit of rigorous academic writing which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Its inter-disciplinary has encouraged a further diversification of my approach to my ongoing work in urban informality, through the mediums of public art, practice in the field and ethnographic research.

I would say that everyone takes something different from the course depending on what interests you, considering its varied content and flexible schedule. So, think about what you want from the course by the time you finish it and be prepared to design your own experience through its duration. The part-time nature of the course is also an important consideration in deciding on the relevance of the course for you."

Victoria Lee

Shortly before I applied to the programme, I was involved in an incredibly interesting and challenging project in Muscat, Oman. Madinat Al Irfan was set to be a new city in a dry, barren desert to the west of the city for 100,000+ people. New housing, civic and cultural buildings, and landscape were required in addition to transport, energy and digital infrastructure. I travelled to Oman for this project and better understood the enormity of the project and its ambition. The project highlighted complex city-scale issues that I had not yet encountered through my work in architecture, urban design and planning in the UK – how to develop the culture of sustainable transport in a car-reliant society, how to design for changing and extreme climatic conditions, and how to balance the need for water and the use of energy? These were just some of the many strategic design questions being asked. I pursued the MSc with these strategic questions, particularly in international contexts, in mind.

My research dissertation on the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) was the most rewarding and enjoyable aspect of the degree. It brought together three of my professional and academic interests – legacy, megaprojects and urban governance. I investigated the meaning of the term ‘legacy’ to LLDC, and how this meaning is interpreted through the planning process and realised in developments thereafter. This study also built upon my previous postgraduate thesis on the masterplan for the London 2012 Olympic Games and my work with another development corporation - Old Oak Park Royal Development Corporation – through the Design Council.Importantly, the degree has expanded my fervour and curiosity about design, planning, development and importantly governance in the UK and internationally.

Since completing the degree, I apply this mindset to my work in urban design, planning and development. The degree provides the opportunity to go beyond the status quo and deliver real change. It has expanded my knowledge, network and life experience. I trusted my instincts and applied, and now I feel truly grateful and fulfilled by the experience. I was supported by my family, friends, peers and tutors along this journey, and those who helped though Crowdfunding. Go for it!

Gavin Schaefer

Before I enrolled in the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development I was in Vancouver working on large-scale global projects as an architect. With this background, I was well-versed in progressive environmentally sustainable building techniques in dense cities. Through my volunteer experience in the community, I was slowly developing a more holistic understanding of how design fits into the bigger picture of the built environment, and that left me with quite a few questions that my training had not prepared me for.
By pursuing the MSc, my ambition was to broaden my foundation of sustainable practice in the built environment through interdisciplinary studies.The quality of the classes and readings were excellent, but if I were to focus on what I found most enjoyable it was the relationships built with my fellow classmates and tutors. I had not had the opportunity in my life to be exposed to so many intelligent people from a global background, so it was humbling to hear the expertise that my colleagues brought with them. Putting the problems that I faced into a broader context helped me achieve a level of distance, which provides an opportunity for a clear-headed analysis. I keep in touch with my colleagues, and it’s surprising how often our paths cross in the world

Jan Höhnk

The course was recommended to me by family friends, and since I had always enjoyed studying, it seemed like a great next step. I wanted to solidify knowledge from past courses, broaden my skillset, make new connections, and gain new perspectives. The course gives you access to an abundance of resources including tailored reading lists to indulge in multi directional research. With Oxford’s research databases at your fingertips, there is no end to the number of great things you will find.

'Studying at Oxford is delightful, growth inducing, enriching, inspiring, and so much more. However, like with most things worth pursuing, the course is challenging as well. Admittedly, architecture school had not prepared me to write good essays, or to read, comprehend and analyse complex academic papers. It was a steep learning curve, but honestly, everything turned out fine. The academic team helped me immensely and some might say: The harder it is at first, the greater the reward.

'There are many aspects of the course that completely transformed my life. The friends I made on the course and around Oxford are among the closest I have. It is a very special crowd and the two years as a student there were among the happiest, I can remember. I loved it very, very much.

'In addition to a bunch of new friends and great contacts, the course also transformed how I think, how I speak, how I view the world. One of the aims of the course is to challenge your thinking and I consider that the greatest opportunity to grow. And, spending time in Oxford is a reward in itself. You will be a member of the ancient institution that is the university. It is a magical place… and you will soon see what I mean.

'Having now finished the course, I have no doubt that I have access to opportunities I would not have had beforehand. Oxford is among the top universities and while that does make a difference, its the way we learn to think and the confidence we build that carries the most value for me.

'I highly recommend applying to the course. Give it a shot! I still smile every time I remember the day I got my offer.'

Paul Hackett CBE

I wanted an international perspective on real-world problems of sustainable urban development and the MSc’s mix of topics – from urban planning to urban economics, from transport to the funding of sustainable cities – really appealed. Having worked in the field for decades it was really refreshing to be able to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions and to hear the perspectives of classmates from around the world.

'Balancing a full-time job and family life with two years of intense part-time study was the biggest challenge of studying on the MSc. However, I was much more organised and disciplined with my time than I was as an undergraduate. Despite the time management challenges I loved the reading and essay writing and found it was manageable and very rewarding. As with most things in life, you get out what you put in.

'I was lucky to be part of an amazing cohort of MSUD students, all of whom brought different experiences and perspectives to class discussions. The quality of the students and the knowledge and insights of the tutors made for an exhilarating learning experience.

'I’d urge anyone who’s interested in gaining a solid theoretical understanding of the challenges of urbanisation to apply. The broad reading list, the interdisciplinary approach, the small class sizes, and the quality of the students and tutors makes MSUD a unique and rewarding experience.'

Rachel Meunier

'The most challenging aspect of the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development was, predictably, having to balance full-time work with part-time study over two years. If having the space and time to learn and engage with so many different ideas and speakers during the teaching weeks felt like a real privilege, the return to work with an essay deadline looming required real commitment and discipline. I was very grateful to my employers for supporting me on this journey by allowing me to attend the teaching weeks and generally looking favourably on me undertaking this course.

'The teaching weeks were undoubtedly the most enjoyable part of the master's, even if my cohort had to start fully online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. By the time we could all attend the first week in person in Oxford, the experience was all the more stimulating! Each week was carefully crafted by the course staff and took us on a journey of knowledge and discovery, often introducing us to fields we had no prior experience of. This was greatly enriched by the students themselves, who each brought their own experience and perspectives. The dissertation was also very rewarding as it allowed me to connect with a number of professionals in my field, who ordinarily I may not have had the opportunity to interact with, and provided me with a huge sense of achievement when I completed my final manuscript.

'To anyone thinking of applying for the course, I would say that it is a rewarding opportunity to gather a fresh perspective on professional practice and to engage with a wealth of urgent issues and topics in sustainable urban development. The course gives you lots of flexibility in pursuing your own interests and I made invaluable connections with my fellow class students. I was also immensely grateful to the Department for awarding me the Programme Scholarship which covered my course fees in full and without which I could not have attended the programme. It is an amazing opportunity so if you are thinking of applying for the programme, do it early to be considered for scholarships!'

Ed Steane

'My decision to pursue the MSc primarily came from a desire to increase my foundational knowledge of urban development theory. While I have worked in areas of cities policy for a number of years I was keen to better understand the theoretical landscape that my work was occurring in. The expertise of the teaching staff, the calibre of the fellow students selected for the course, and the University's overall reputation for academic excellence were key drawcards.

'Undertaking study (and having assignments due!) after a few years away from University education and while working full time was the most challenging aspect for me. Fortunately, both the teaching and administrative staff are very understanding and supportive of these challenges faced by 'life-long learners', particularly at the start of the course. The course work and assignments always felt like they were occurring for a purpose and were helpful in developing my understanding of topics being taught.

'I found the 'international' flavour of the MSc - in both the tuition and the student cohort - to be the most rewarding aspect of the MSc. While the course is taught in the United Kingdom, the course used case studies and information from around the world, reflecting the diverse origins of the student cohort. Being able to compare, in real-time, urban experiences from throughout the Global South and the Global North was a unique and inspiring academic experience.

'The MSc is a fantastic course and well worth applying for if you are interested in urban development and cities issues. The course provides a great grounding in urban development policy, and the teaching approach provides a unique opportunity to be part of an international cohort exploring city issues occurring around the world. Cities are going to play a pivotal role in our post-COVID recovery and this course provides critical tools and insights for practitioners involved in city-shaping processes.'


Funding for graduate courses is competitive, but the University of Oxford offers more support than you might think. For example, for the 2022-23 academic year, just over 48% of our new graduate students received full or partial funding from the University or other funders.

For the 2024-25 academic year, the University expects to be able to offer over 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships for new students.

Scholarships are usually awarded on the basis of academic excellence and potential, and will cover some or all of your course fees and/or provide a grant for living costs for your period of fee liability. The eligibility criteria for different scholarships vary, with some being open to the majority of new graduate students and others restricted by particular characteristics, for example by degree subject or country of ordinary residence. Some scholarship schemes offer additional benefits like events to support scholars, or membership of a scholar community or leadership programme.

For the majority of Oxford scholarships, all you need to do is submit your graduate application by the December or January deadline for your course. There’s no separate scholarship application process or extra supporting documentation required for funding. Based on the information supplied in your graduate application, you will be automatically considered for scholarships where you meet the eligibility criteria with most scholarships using academic merit and/or potential as the basis on which award decisions are made.

The vast majority of college scholarships do not require you to select that particular college as your preference on the graduate application form. They will consider all eligible applicants who apply by the relevant deadline. If you are selected for a college scholarship, we will move your place to the relevant college.

Most Oxford scholarships are awarded between late February and June. The approximate date by which decisions are expected to be made will normally be given in the scholarship information available from the A-Z of Scholarships.

A scholarship may be awarded either at the same time or after you are offered a place by your department. It may be awarded either before or after you have been offered a college place.

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