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MSc in Sustainable Urban Development

Course Description

The two-year MSc in Sustainable Urban Development will provide you with a rigorous and critical introduction to the policy and practice of sustainable urban development. The course exposes students to sustainable urbanism as both an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary subject at global and local scales across cities of the Global North and South.


The programme attracts a lively and engaged group of students, who combine postgraduate study with their professional lives, and an active alumni network. Students on the course typically come from a wide international background and share a variety of work experiences in urban development and the built environment. The MSc is designed for those operating in a range of urban contexts worldwide - public, private or third sector organisations - and fosters collaboration, creativity, perspective-sharing and effective networking skills. The programme runs in partnership with the Prince's Foundation for Building Community, and is an accredited course within the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors University Partnership.

The course is delivered by tutors from institutes and departments across the University of Oxford, and in collaboration with comprehensive range of commercial, governmental and non-government organisations specialising in sustainable urban development.

Programme details

The course is delivered through a mix of tailored teaching and learning methods, including seminars, site visits, peer-review, research workshops and individual tutorials. Classes are seminar-based, encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other. You will prepare for sessions by reading a selection of recommended books, book chapters and articles. Typically, there are six to eight weeks between each teaching week, during which time you should expect to spend an average of 15 hours per week of independent study.

The course comprises four elements:

- core themes
- urban theory
- research methods
- the dissertation

You will attend eight intensive residential teaching weeks during the two years of study. Two of these eight teaching weeks are held at the offices of the Prince's Foundation for Building Community in London. The remaining six are held in Oxford at the Department for Continuing Education. Each teaching week addresses a core theme of the course.

During teaching weeks, you will also follow foundation courses in urban theory and research methods tailored to sustainable urban development, comprising sessions on the intellectual history of sustainable urbanism, paradigm shifts and challenges in sustainable development, urban economics, research design, research ethics and preparation, bibliography and library resources.

For each teaching week, you will complete an essay of up to 3,000 words on that theme. The first essay is formative and will provide you with valuable feedback at the start of your studies. The remaining seven essay assignments are summative.
You will spend the latter half of the second year working on a 15,000-word dissertation. You will choose the topic, with the guidance of your supervisor, and, in most cases, spend time doing fieldwork and gathering data during this period.

Visit the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development page on the University of Oxford website for more details!

All Available Videos:

(Student Profile)

Onur Ozlu

'A key aspect which I took away from the MSc is the inevitability of climate change and the association between urbanization and the environment. I have been fortunate enough to be able to incorporate various aspects of the ‘financing sustainability’, ‘smart urbanism’ and ‘climate change and the built environment’ modules of the MSc into my work in this area: First, following the MSc, I helped raise $1 million trust fund resources from the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund to valuate ecosystem goods and services which surround the rapidly expanding cities in Africa. This work, which is now under implementation, is valuating urban natural capital and interventions that alter the urban ecosystem in Kampala (Uganda), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Durban (South Africa) mainly by deploying the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) methodology, which I came to learn and understand on the MSc.

'We hope that this initiative, by valuing natural urban environmental assets, will help decision makers see that urban environmental degradation in rapid urbanizing contexts has significant downstream financial implications. Secondly, following the MSc, as part of the Tanzania strategic cities project which I lead, we were able to focus our support on cities’ efforts to widen their revenue base and increase their collection rate to increase their own source revenues, and to enhance their ability to finance sustainable urban practices. Even in the brief past two years, we saw a significant increase in own source revenues of cities. Additionally, I am in the process of raising trust funds from C20 resources, to help Arusha (the second largest city in Tanzania) develop a low-carbon, resilient city master-plan, which will largely be financed by the significantly increased own source revenues of the city.

'Lastly, but by no means least, another key area of the MSc which I use in my work is the notion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) not being a measure of welfare. GDP is like air for an economist (such as myself) and is an important economic measure. Through research on critical academic research and literature I was exposed to during the MSc, I became aware that this measure is being used as a panacea to measure welfare (rather than only economic growth); and the inaccuracies of this. Thanks to this exposure, I am much better equipped to steer discussions both within the Bank and with governments on the critical need for the use of additional welfare indicators.'

(Student Profile)

Anne Marie Sowder

'Working as a construction manager on commercial projects in New York City was challenging, even exhilarating, but something was missing. At a project interview in 2008 a client asked me to speak on the topic of sustainability and I realized that he and I were the only two people in the room who cared about the subject. My efforts to engage sustainability and urbanism at that time were sporadic and unfocused.'

'I originally learned about the MSc through INTBAU, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism, an organization connected to the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community. Earning another degree was not on my mind at the time, but the University of Oxford’s MSc was exactly what I didn’t yet know that I needed: a degree for professionals, conveniently scheduled, covering topics that allowed me to significantly alter the course of my career. I now teach full-time as an Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, New York City College of Technology.'

'In this capacity, I continue research what I began in my dissertation. My interest in institutional drivers for sustainable development led me to study the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, which led more generally to an interest in sustainability and sacred sites. Thankfully, this topic is not likely to be exhausted during my professional lifetime!'

'I was very grateful for the opportunity to study at Oxford with a talented pool of directors, lecturers, and fellow students. The format allowed for periods of intensive seminars and debates, followed by private reflection on the material, and a critical engagement through writing. This cycle kept us feeling very engaged in the university and college life while we were also working full time.'

'Returning to study among other mid-career professionals was a surprising bonus of the MSc. Their knowledge, curiosity, and frustrations made a big impact on me. Each member of our cohort seemed to be seeking a justification or refutation of something from their professional practice. Watching the group evolve over two years of study was a profound experience that changed the way I felt about the importance of community in urbanism.'

'I credit the MSc with changing the course of my career for the better and the creation of a new international community of friends and colleagues linked through a common passion - and rather severe jetlag.'


Oxford scholarships - No. of awards TBC

Key facts :
There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available for courses starting in 2016-17. Full scholarships will cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs.For over 70% of Oxford scholarships, nothing more than the standard course application is usually required. If you fulfil the eligibility criteria, you will be automatically considered.
The vast majority of Oxford scholarships are awarded to applicants who submit their course application by the January deadline. Oxford scholarships worth over £1,000 are advertised through the Fees, Funding and Scholarship Search. You should use this tool to find out whether you are eligible for scholarships which require an additional application. If you are, the tool will include links to full details of how to apply.In order to be considered for some scholarships offered by departments, you need to enter a scholarship reference code in the relevant section of the graduate application form. If this is the case, the code will be provided in the scholarship information given on department websites. When are Oxford scholarships awarded?:
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, as linked through the Fees, Funding and Scholarship Search.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.

Value of Scholarship(s)

worth over £1,000


See the website

Application Procedure

See the website

Further Information


Entry Requirements

Please see the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions website for entry requirements: View Website

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