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Practising Sustainable Development MSc

UCAS code
Year of entry 2017
Course Length
1 year full time
2 years part time
Department Geography »

Interest in development, environment and issues of sustainable development has never been so intense. UN climate change summits, Sustainable Development Goals and the World Social Forum have brought environmental and development issues and problems long on local and national agendas, onto the international scene.

Study Practising Sustainable Development at Royal Holloway, University of London and you’ll address the complex, dynamic network of natural, social, political and economic processes, graduating with a range of transferable research skills to take into your chosen career.

This popular programme continues to evolve and expand in both scope and appeal, attracting student from more than 30 countries and a diverse range of backgrounds. You’ll learn from expert academics with experience in different developing regions and economies in transition, including Latin America, the Caribbean, South, East and South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

You’ll join a department that is consistently highly ranked for the international quality of its research, and contribute to this leading research culture with your own dissertation project.

The Politics, Development and Sustainability (PDS) research group consists of over 20 research-active staff, 35 PhD students and 50 Master’s students on four MSc programmes. We are committed to conducting collaborative research which seeks to understand and contribute to addressing problems of social inequality, environmental destruction and injustice. The breadth of its members’ research places it in an ideal position to contribute to theoretical and policy debates on key challenges facing Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean today.

Study Practising Sustainable Development at Royal Holloway and you’ll learn to tackle issues that are high on the national and international agenda, graduating with excellent employability prospects in the UK and abroad. This programme is also offered at Postgraduate Diploma level for those who do not have the academic background necessary to begin an advanced Masters degree.

  • Study in a department ranked 2nd in the UK for research by the Research Excellence Framework 2014.
  • Learn from expert academics with experience in a range of developing regions and economies in transition.
  • Graduate with excellent employability prospects or progress to doctoral study.
  • Follow a highly regarded programme, preparing you for a career in the environmental and developmental fields.

The course is divided into three compulsory elements; theory, policy and practice; research training; and a dissertation. Students studying for the Postgraduate Diploma do not undertake the dissertation.

Core modules

Sustainability, Development and Governance

This course will equip students with a detailed understanding of the development of sustainable development as a discourse. Students will explore key sustainability issues such as climate change, globalisation, and human responses with an emphasis on the emergence of environmental governance as a means to pursue sustainability.

Sustainability, Development and Society

You will develop a detailed understanding of key social / environmental relationships incorporating contemporary issues in the geographies of sustainability. These will include 'risk society', sustainable cities, and the impacts of corporate sector activities on the environment. You will also understand the challenges to sustainable development at household and community levels, with a focus on community-based approaches to sustainable development.

Technology and Development

This course provides you with an introduction to the role of technology in development, focusing particularly on mobile phone and computer technologies. The course combines an understanding of key theoretical debates and how technologies have been applied in diverse sectors such as health and education. The course also includes training in the use of GIS (geographical information systems) within a development context.

Participatory Methods

This course combines detailed understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of participatory research and methods with practical experience of using different participatory research techniques. These include participatory diagramming, participatory video and participatory environmental monitoring.

Research Training

You will be provided with training in a range of methods to enable you to plan, carry out and complete a piece of research. There are three modules in this element:

  • Social Research Methods Training - provides a range of social science methods for field research and analysis.
  • Quantitative Methods for Graduates - provides basic statistical concepts and procedures used in empirical research.
  • Development and Environment Research Training - provides guidance for planning, developing and undertaking research in a development and environment context.

Dissertation (MSc only)

The dissertation is of between 12,000 and 15,000 words, on a topic of your choice which has been approved by the supervisor. It requires both secondary and primary research, and the demonstration of originality in integrating theoretical and practical research methods in tackling a particular problem. You will be encouraged to carry out your dissertation in collaboration with an organisation in the field of development and environment.

Community Volunteer Project

You will undertake an independent volunteer project which will give you practical experience in gaining sustainability related work experience in a non-for profit organisation. The project will enhance your employability whilst and provide an opportunity to gain practical experience of third sector organisational objectives, cultures and practices.

Optional modules

Climate change, governance and the seas

Climate change and the governance of the seas are two defining and intersecting issues of our time. Together they raise governance questions, challenges, and opportunities to understandings of development, geopolitics and security. This course is designed to engage with these complexities through a number of key themes and perspectives over the course of 10 weeks. From the rationale and evolution of scholarship on both subject areas, to key spaces, such as small island states, where these issues intersect, through to climate change and sea futures, the course is designed to provide a novel and practical insight into both climate change and geographical engagements with the sea and the associated governance challenges that ensue.

Project Work for Managers – Sustainability and Societies

In this module you will develop an understanding of how ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) inform sustainability management issues in large, transnational organisations. You will look at issues such as consumption and sustainability, assessing the dichotomy of economic and environmental interests. You will also examine a range of ethical beliefs and expectations that underpin environmental and social sustainability.

Assessment is carried out by a variety of methods including coursework and a dissertation.

On completion of the course graduates will have:

  • an understanding at an advanced level of the relationships between, and complexities of, social, economic, political and environmental aspects of sustainable development and ICT4D

  • an understanding at an advanced level of how the key issues in sustainable development theory and ICT4D influence policy and impact on practice

  • the ability to critically analyse complex or contradictory areas of knowledge in aspects of sustainable development.

This programme is delivered in a single stage, equating to either one-year of full-time study or two years part-time, (or up to five years of part-time study by agreement with the Programme Director)

Entry criteria:

Applicants with UK, EU or overseas qualifications who have or are on track to obtain at least a 2.1 (or equivalent) in one of the following subjects:

  • Biology
  • Development Studies
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Studies
  • Geography
  • Politics

Computer Science Candidates with considerable professional experience in any agency involved in development and environment issues will also be considered.


English language requirements:

IELTS 6. 5 overall with 6.5 in writing and no subscore below 5.5

If you require Royal Holloway to sponsor your study in the UK, your IELTS must be a government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT)

International and EU entry requirements

Please select your country from the drop-down list below

Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.

Practising Sustainable Development at Royal Holloway, University of London is a highly-regarded programme that provides graduates with excellent employability prospects in the environmental and developmental sectors.  Our alumni have gone on to enjoy rewarding careers as environmental and development workers, activists, teachers and researchers in a variety of international institutions and agencies.

You’ll be equipped with a range of transferable skills, including research design, project development, environmental monitoring and geographic information systems, making you a highly attractive candidate for employers in a variety of sectors. The programme can also be used as part of an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) research training pathway for PhD study.

  • 90% of Royal Holloway graduates in work or further education within six months of graduating.
  • Programme can be used towards an ESRC research training pathway for PhD study.
  • Graduate with a Masters degree from one of the UK’s leading geography departments. 

Home and EU students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £7,000

Overseas students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £14,500

Other essential costs**: There are no single associated costs greater than £50 per item on this course

Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

*The tuition fees given above apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis.  Students studying part-time are charged a pro-rata tuition fee and information is available from the Royal Holloway Student Fees Office on Student-Fees@rhul.ac.uk. All fees are likely to rise annually in line with inflation but no more than 5 per cent per year.

For further information, please see Royal Holloway’s Terms & Conditions.

** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing etc., have not been included.

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