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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

Course Description

The MPhil course in Engineering for Sustainable Development 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.

See the website http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses/directory/egegmpesd

Course detail

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;
- develop strong business awareness in engineering graduates and foster an understanding of the foundations of management theory in the areas of strategy, organisation, marketing and finance, the connections between technology and management, and the introduction of change within organisations;
- 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 team-work 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 the pathways by which new technologies reach the marketplace and how management structures shape the evolution of technologies, and 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;
- experience of planning, executing and critically evaluating an original and investigative piece of work.


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. All students also study the Management of Technology and Innovation course led by the Judge Business School; this course comprises both evening lectures, and a group in-company consultancy project working on a real area of concern for the client.

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

Additionally, students participate in a number of residential field trips and site visits through the year, attend a distinguished lecture series, and will engage in role plays, weekly seminars, and a practitioner viewpoint 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 betwen April and August. 5% of the dissertation marks will be assigned through a plan submitted in January; 15% will be assigned through an oral presentation given at a Dissertation Conference in July; 10% will be assigned through the preparation of a research poster which will also be displayed in July.


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%.

Students take two compulsory 'inner core' modules, at least two 'outer core' modules, and four elective modules chosen from a broad list (this list includes the remaining outer core modules).

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

A minority of the elective modules are assessed solely through written examination, or through a combination of written examination and coursework. Some students will take no written examinations, but others may take up to four, depending upon module choice.

Students are expected to attend two residential field courses. These are important elements of the programme, but no numerical mark will be given.

At end of the project element of the Management of Technology and Innovation module, students are required to give a 20 minute presentation to the project client, followed by a 30 minute question-and-answer session.

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

Funding Opportunities

There are no specific funding opportunities advertised for this course. For information on more general funding opportunities, please follow the link below.

General Funding Opportunities http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/finance/funding

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

(Student Profile)

Anonymous (August 2013)

"Being part of the ESD MPhil has been a truly life-changing experience, and it has opened many doors to an exciting and rewarding career in sustainable development. I’d strongly recommend the programme to anyone who is passionate about making a positive impact on our society and our planet."

(Student Profile)

Anonymous (August 2012)

"Studying at Cambridge gave me the opportunity to combine my passions for problem solving and sustainable development on a unique MPhil programme. I was able to reflect on and contextualise my professional experience in an environment that challenged me academically and allowed me to explore a deep understanding of the role of engineering in global environmental change."

(Student Profile)

Anonymous (August 2007)

"This is not an engineering degree, but a course for engineers which fills in all the missing pieces."


Entry Requirements

Applicants for this course should have achieved a UK II.i Honours Degree. The course is a Professional Practice Programme designed for students preferably from an engineering background, and with some postgraduate work experience in the engineering industry. Students on the programme will have well-developed technical skills in engineering, science or other quantitative disciplines.

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