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Sustainable Development (MSc)

Course Description

MSc in Sustainable Development

This programme is aimed at students interested in making a change to society, environment and economy with a background in politics, sociology, environmental sciences, biology, mathematics or economics.

Postgraduate community

The postgraduate programmes in Sustainable Development have been growing very rapidly. The original MSc programme started with nine students in the 2009-2010 academic year and currently 30 students are registered. On this programme you attend an average number of 24 lectures lasting for three hours each in Semester 1 and an additional 15 lectures in Semester 2. There are also a number of tutorials, seminar presentations, student-led workshops, as well as field trips and away days. There is also a dissertation conference where you can present your research findings before you submit your dissertation.

The double MSc in Sustainable Energy takes place in both St Andrews and Moscow. The first year involves taking similar modules in the one-year programme at St Andrews with a more specific focus on energy issues. The second year challenges students to complete study abroad on a wide range of energy modules.

Sustainable Development students are extremely well catered for in several aspects. Firstly, you have the use of a dedicated postgraduate space in the Observatory. There are ports for physical laptop internet access. The room is also served by high speed WiFi connections. You have access to the room on a 24/7 basis. It offers a location for group or individual work, classes, events, receptions and even relaxation. The building is primarily for the use of Sustainable Development postgraduate students. Secondly, you have a close relationship with staff on the course. Class sizes are limited to provide a one-to-one service for students. This is a unique aspect of undertaking Sustainable Development research and teaching at St Andrews. Thirdly, the interdisciplinary nature of Sustainable Development allows you to interact with a wide range of students in other disciplines. This allows for the creation of an extended group of student and staff contacts. Fourthly, Sustainable Development students have the benefit of a number of targeted field trips, including the Glen Tanar estate trip, pictured opposite, where students reflect on issues from ecology to landownership.

The University is working with a range of key stakeholders to promote sustainable development across the higher education sector. As an active member of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) the University shares learning across the higher education and further education sector.

Why does sustainable development matter?

Humanity faces enormous environmental and developmental challenges in the twenty-first century. The United Nations has identified five global issues of particular concern: the provision of clean water and adequate sanitation, energy generation and supply, human health, food production and distribution, and the continuing threat to biodiversity.

Sustainable development is now widely regarded as the most promising framework within which these challenges can be addressed, moving humanity towards the creation of a more just and environmentally sustainable ‘global village’.

There is no single description of what sustainable development means, but one commonly used definition can be found in the 1987 Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

We are living in a time of tremendous opportunity, as people are working together across the globe to address the serious challenges facing humankind. We must learn to live within environmental limits and embrace sustainability as the key concept that will allow us to develop in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Our postgraduate programmes in Sustainable Development, co-ordinated by the School of Geography & Geosciences, will enable you to develop the knowledge and understanding you need, not only to understand all these issues from multiple perspectives but also to utilise the knowledge you gain to tackle them and realise the opportunities they create.

Transition University of St Andrews

Transition University of St Andrews was launched in 2009 and is part of the UK-based Transition initiative, which has been expanding worldwide over the last five years. Transition operates within community groups on a grassroots level, founded and operated by the communities themselves, in response to the threats of climate change and peak oil. Through working on practical projects with different community groups, the initiative helps communities minimise their impact on the planet, become more self-sustaining, and strengthens community ties. It also benefits individuals by developing their skills and encouraging re-consideration of
the aspects of life that truly promote happiness and wellbeing. A number of MSc students in Sustainable Development have participated in Transition’s activities which complement a number of themes pursued in our programmes.


Your question should not be “What can I do with a degree in Sustainable Development?” but instead “Can you imagine a future where it could not be useful?” Sustainability impacts upon almost all aspects of life, so your future career could take you in one of many different directions. For example, you could:
• Work in industry addressing sustainability aspects of business management, engineering, planning, transport, project management, construction, waste, energy or environmental management.

• Make yourself heard as a sustainability researcher or policy adviser in local, regional or national government, NGOs and campaigning groups.

• Act as an adviser to supra-national bodies such as the United Nations, World Bank, European Union, and the OECD.

• Become a sustainability adviser and assessor working directly in private sector organisations, industry or as a consultant (in both mainstream and specialist businesses).

• Help others directly through development or aid work.

• Spread the word by outreach and education in sustainable living via public or third sector organisations (e.g. Councils or NGOs).

• Stay at university for a PhD, perhaps eventually going on to a teaching or research career.

• Recent graduates now work at: UNDP; the World Bank; Christian Aid in Africa; LCI consultancy; and at a global bank in Dubai.

Visit the Sustainable Development (MSc) page on the University of St Andrews website for more details!

(Student Profile)


Studying at St Andrews has allowed me to delve into the field of Sustainable Development through its interdisciplinary approach to learning. I have come out of this year with a deeper understanding of my academic and career interests as well as an international perspective. The sense of community within my cohort and the strong relationships between students and staff made this year’s journey a truly enjoyable and unique one.


Entry Requirements

Our minimum academic requirement for entry to most programmes is a 2:1 degree classification from a recognised UK university or the equivalent in a subject-related area.

Course Fees

2017/18: Home/EU £7,500; Overseas £20,370

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