MSc Sustainable Development

Duration Full time 1 year
Part time 2 years
  • Geography
LocationCornwall (Penryn)
Start date September


MSc Sustainable Development video

Staff and students discuss the MSc Sustainable Development programme at the University of Exeter. View full size.

Our MSc Sustainable Development takes a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to exploring the economic, environmental, and social issues surrounding sustainability policy. We take a practical and problem-based approach to learning, focusing on both the study of sustainable development and its implementation in a range of professional contexts. This balance between theory and its application is designed to enhance your career and employment prospects. You will discuss and analyse the outcomes of recent policy making; specific policy areas such as biodiversity, climate change, and forests; and social enterprise. Additionally, a range of optional modules will allow you to cover wider debates in fields of climate change, energy policy, risk management, and the environment.

This Masters is based on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall—an exceptional place in which to study issues related to the environment and sustainability. The duchy is a living laboratory offering a diverse range of marine and terrestrial habitats, a wealth of natural resources, and creative and resilient communities. The Penryn Campus is also home to the University's Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) – a £30 million centre leading cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research into solutions to problems of environmental change and enhancing people’s lives by improving their relationship with the environment.

After completing my undergraduate degree in Operational Engineering, which focused on specialisation dredging engineering and project management, I worked for a dredging company specializing in providing services for the gas and oil industry.

I had various roles worldwide, including as a Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE) manager. While carrying out this role, I felt that the environmental aspect was underdeveloped on an industry level, and was determined to try and improve my own knowledge by going back to university.

I chose the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus because it offers a high-ranking university experience based in a rural location. The lectures are well organized and interesting, and the interaction with fellow students added to the overall experience.

On completion, I returned to work for my previous employer as an internal consultant and environmental specialist. I hope to implement a sustainability program within the organisation.

Arjan Jager, MSc Sustainable Development graduate, QHSE Manager, Tideway BV.

Programme structure

The structure of the course has a good balance of theoretical and empirically-based work with a strong emphasis on 'real-world' problems and solutions. This is an excellent focus and training-ground for sustainability professionals (present and future).

There is an excellent range of topics for dissertations, showing innovation and creativity as well as societally-important areas for study.

Professor Anna Davies, External Examiner for the MSc Sustainable Development programmes.

The modules we outline here provide examples of what you can expect to learn on this degree course based on recent academic teaching. The precise modules available to you in future years may vary depending on staff availability and research interests, new topics of study, timetabling and student demand.

Learning and teaching

This Masters provides a practical and problem-based approach to learning focused on both the study of sustainable development and its implementation in a range of professional contexts. You will be taught by expert staff who are active researchers in sustainability and can give you invaluable insights into the latest research findings, plus training in research methods for sustainability.

Our vibrant learning environment combines traditional forms of delivery (lectures, seminars, and tutorials) with practice-based learning including work placements, expert guest speakers, and linked project work including, for example, an Environmental Impact Assessment. During the degree there are opportunities to apply your academic learning in a variety of real-world environmental contexts, including field work, consultancy, business, and social enterprise.

Throughout the programme you will engage with external agencies and employers such as Environment Agency, South West Water, National Trust, Natural England, Met Office, Eden Project, Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, Teignbridge District Council, Network Rail, farmers in Devon and Cornwall, Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve, RSPB, Riverford Organic, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, and Climate Vision.


We use a variety of assessment techniques, including essays; oral, written, and web presentations; project work; learning journals; and a written dissertation.

In the Independent Work-based Learning module, your performance will be assessed by the partner organisation.


The University of Exeter has an excellent reputation with graduate recruiters and our students and graduates compete very successfully in the employment market. The interdisciplinary and applied nature of the MSc Sustainable Development enables you to pursue a range of career opportunities once you have graduated. Through our practice-based approach to learning we aim to provide plentiful opportunities for you to engage and make professional contact with potential employers throughout the programme. You’ll also be able to access a range of training and events offered by the University's Career Zone, such as Enterprise Skills Workshops which are designed to further support you in developing enterprise skills and an entrepreneurial outlook.

In addition, the degree offers high-quality social science research training and applied expertise which could lead to careers that focus on:

  • Business and sustainability, such as those responsible for sustainable development policy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and responsible business management in a wide range of economic sectors
  • Planning for sustainability, such as professional planning careers examining the role of sustainability in the planning system and resource management; jobs aligned to this expertise would relate to energy consortia, utility companies, government departments, local planning departments, and government agencies
  • Community regeneration and development, including community support officers and community planners; at the macro planning level and micro community level, both emerging and re-developing communities require expertise to integrate sustainability into social aspects of development

Further information

Visit the employment and professional development pages for more information, including podcasts and profiles, about the range of support available.

Find out more about our career support schemes for postgraduate students.

One of the most valuable aspects of the MSc Sustainable Development programme, for me, was the opportunity to undertake work-based learning. My placement allowed me to apply many of the theories learnt on the course, as well as proving highly valued by potential employers.

It was brought up during a number of employment interviews and, I think, was a key factor behind securing an interview for my current job with a small research consultancy specialising in evaluation and sustainable regeneration.

So far my work has included a skills-needs analysis project for the Welsh renewable energy sector, developing a strategy for a wind farm community fund, developing with businesses a town economic regeneration plan and producing an economic impact evaluation of the outdoor activity tourism sector.

It is really well-suited to both my interests and my previous studies, and I continually apply the knowledge I gained at the University of Exeter in my workplace.

Mair Smith, MSc Sustainable Development graduate


A selection of the titles of projects undertaken by graduates of the MSc Sustainable Development programme is shown.

  • Forest Ownership and Sustainable Forest Management – A UK case study
  • Breaking down barriers between corporations and NGOs in Hong Kong
  • Sustainability of Low to Middle Income Housing in the Kingston Metropolitan Area. A preliminary review of the National Housing Trust.
  • Critically explore how teleworking could be a solution to fight rural depopulation and positively impact the environment.
  • A case study of the Côte d’Armor department in France
  • A Critical Assessment of Turkey’s Hydroelectric Energy Strategy and the Ilisu Dam in the Sustainability Framework
  • Opportunities and barriers for an alternative distribution model for domestic consumers of heating oil in Cornwall
  • More Than Ecological Citizens: the importance of the visceral in motivating action and participation in community food projects.
  • Coping and adaptation strategies to the shocks and hazards of the extreme poor in Bangladesh
  • Corporate sustainability at Dupont
  • Certified Sustainable Palm Oil: Are there consumers to buy it? A study into the labelling of products containing palm oil and how labelling information affects consumers’ willingness to pay for palm oil products.
  • An analysis of the drivers and barriers of growth and scaling up of social enterprises in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
  • Sustainable dredging: a paradox?
  • Community gardens and the social dimensions of Sustainable Development
  • The drivers of community opposition to shale gas developments in Balcombe


Research areas

Professor Katrina Brown and other academics from Exeter have played a crucial role in creating a comprehensive new report indicating that the global risk from extreme weather is set to intensify.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Our academics and research

A wide range of optional, research-led modules enables you to explore aspects of sustainable development from different disciplinary perspectives, with academics based in geography, politics, biosciences, health and the humanities. Find out more about the academic staff involved in delivering modules:

Your project work or Dissertation may be supported by staff teaching on the programme or academics from the wider Geography team who have expertise in your chosen area of interest:

Entry requirements

All applicants are considered individually on merit although we usually require a 2:1 honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline.

Requirements for international students

If you are an international student, please visit our international equivalency pages to enable you to see if your existing academic qualifications meet our entry requirements.

English language requirements

IELTS (Academic)

Overall score 6.5. No less than 6.0 in any section.


Overall score 90 with minimum scores of 21 for writing, 21 for listening, 22 for reading and 23 for speaking.

Pearson Test of English (Academic)

58 with no less than 55 in all communicative skills.

Other accepted tests

Information about other acceptable tests of linguistic ability can be found on our English language requirements page.

Pre-sessional English

Applicants with lower English language test scores may be able to take pre-sessional English at INTO University of Exeter prior to commencing their programme. See our English language requirements page for more information.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees per year 2019/20

  • UK/EU: £10,900 full-time; £5,450 part-time
  • International: £20,600 full-time

Fee information

Fees can normally be paid by two termly instalments and may be paid online. You will also be required to pay a tuition fee deposit to secure your offer of a place, unless you qualify for exemption. For further information about paying fees see our Student Fees pages.

UK government postgraduate loan scheme

Postgraduate loans of up to £10,609 are now available for Masters degrees. Find out more about eligibility and how to apply.


Find out about funding opportunities available to students on our taught Masters programmes.

University funding

The Scholarships, Bursaries and Studentships website has information on all available options for funding open to prospective students of taught Masters programmes. You can also use the searchable database of all Scholarships and Bursaries to find funding for which you are eligible.

HT Foundation Scholarship  

The HT Foundation Scholarship of up to £30,000 is available for an outstanding MSc Sustainable Development student currently resident in Hong Kong or mainland China, starting in September 2019.

Global Excellence Scholarship

We are delighted to offer Global Excellence Scholarships for students of outstanding academic quality applying to postgraduate Taught programmes starting in autumn 2019.

Contact us

If you have any queries about this programme, please contact:

Web: Enquire online
Tel: +44 (0)1326 371801

The Programme Director is Dr Caitlin DeSilvey.