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.

A growing global concern

Sustainable development, defined as "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"1, is now one of the key policy drivers in many societies. Sustainability pervades decision making at the global, national, regional and local levels and is becoming embedded politically in all layers of government. Both public agencies and private organisations need to appreciate the sustainability agenda and what it means for them and their employees.

Our MSc Sustainable Development is designed to respond to this emerging agenda, approaching the subject from a holistic and multi-disciplinary perspective. This approach is critical: sustainable development covers inter-related economic, environmental and social issues. Understanding the connections between issues is key to tackling complex sustainability challenges and developing the joined-up thinking required in today’s policy environment.

Relevant, research-informed foundations and practical applications

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. It is designed to provide a balance between theory and its application, which will enhance your career and employment prospects. Throughout the programme you will engage with external agencies and employers through, for example, field work, guest lectures and seminars and projects.

The University is ranked in the top 25 in the world and in the top 10 in the UK for Geography and Environmental Studies2 and you will be taught by experts in the field, staff who are active researchers in sustainability. You will gain insight into the latest research findings plus training in research methods for sustainability. You will develop a thorough grounding in the principles that underlie sustainability and the means by which to implement these in a range of settings across the globe.

We cover the outcomes of recent policy making, eg, the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development; specific policy areas such as biodiversity, climate change and forests; and social enterprise and sustainability. In addition, a range of option modules allow you to cover wider debates in fields of climate change, energy policy, risk management and the environment.

A perfect environment in which to study sustainable development

This Masters is based on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall, 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. As a student you will benefit from the programme’s close relationship with the Institute and exposure to its cutting-edge research. 

Cornwall is an exceptional place in which to study issues related to the environment and sustainability. The county is a perfect living laboratory which offers a diverse range of marine and terrestrial habitats, a wealth of natural resources and creative and resilient communities.

We also offer MSc Sustainable Development (Climate Change and Risk Management), which has a different emphasis of compulsory modules focusing more on the science of climate change and its influence on climate, environment and energy policy.

1World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987. Our Common Future

2QS World University Rankings 2014; Research Assessment Exercise 2008 based on percentage of research classified as 4*; The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2015.

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. Taught by experts in the field, staff who are active researchers in sustainability, you will gain insight into the latest research findings plus training in research methods for sustainability.

This 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, and 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 through, for example, field work, guest lectures and seminars, and projects. Organisations with which we have links include: Environment Agency; South West Water; National Trust; Natural England; Met Office; Eden; 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; Climate Vision.

At the start of the Dissertation module we will explore with you your interests and work to see if these match the interests of any of our external contacts with whom you may be able to undertake your Dissertation in partnership.


Assessment will be through a range of methods including: essays; oral, written and web presentations; project work; learning journals; and a 10,000 word dissertation.

If you opt to study the Independent Work-based Learning module, your performance on this module will be assessed by the partner organisation's evaluation.

Seminar series

Several seminar series are held which are of relevance to Sustainable Development Masters students and which you are very welcome to attend; attendance is not compulsory but is strongly encouraged. The Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), Geography and Biosciences series offer regular seminars, generally weekly during term time.


The University of Exeter has an excellent reputation with graduate recruiters and our students and graduates compete very successfully in the employment market. Whatever path you follow after graduating, we're here to help and support you with all your career and employability needs.

The MSc Sustainable Development, given its interdisciplinary and applied focus, enables you to pursue a range of career opportunities. 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. At the start of the Dissertation module we will explore with you your interests and work to see if these match the interests of any of our external contacts with whom you may be able to undertake your Dissertation in partnership.

During your studies you'll be able to access a range of training and events offered by the University's Career Zone, for example 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. Careers 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. Both emerging and re-developing communities require expertise to integrate sustainability into social aspects of development. This may be envisaged at the macro planning level or the micro community level.

Graduate destinations

Below are a few examples of initial jobs undertaken by graduates of University of Exeter Geography Masters programmes. This information has been taken from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) Survey 2012/13 and 2011/12. Please note that, due to data protection, the job titles and organisations are listed independently and do not necessarily correspond.

Job titleOrganisation
Sustainability Manager
Business Development and Marketing Executive
Financial Planning Technician
Marketing Manager
Energy Trader
Junior Researcher
Policy Officer
Green Deal Knowledge Transfer Associate
Sustainability Consultant
Seasonal Ranger
Sustainability Project Officer
Sustainability Specialist
Research Consultant
Sustainability Consultant
Project Coordinator
Regeneration and Energy Officer
Account Manager
Enterprise Projects Assistant
Officer for Town Planning
Earth Skills Network Manager
Water Resources Engineer
GIS Assistant
Social Researcher
Source Energy Ltd
Surrey County Council
Focal Research
Nuture Lakeland
E3G - Third Generation Environmentalism
Stover Country Park
University of Exeter
Lehigh Valley Health Network
Miller Research
Aran Services Ltd
Gestión Ambiental S.A.
Forum for the Future
Green Rewards
University of Nottingham
Devon County Council
Pod Talent
City Council Prijedor
Earthwatch Institute
City of Oslo
Delcan Corporation

Further study

Further study is a popular choice for a number of students following graduation from a University of Exeter Geography Masters programme. Below are a few examples of further study undertaken by recent graduates of our Masters programmes. This information has been taken from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) Survey 2012/13 and 2011/12. Please note that, due to data protection, the subjects of study and institutions are listed independently and do not necessarily correspond.

Subject areaInstitution
PhD Human Geography
PhD Geography
PhD Urban Climate and Health Stress
MSc by Research
MRes Environment, Energy and Resilience
University of Exeter
Humboldt University
Durham University
Oxford Brookes University
University of Nottingham

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

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 2016

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 2016/17

  • UK/EU: £9,300 full-time; £4,650 part-time
  • International: £18,600 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 £10,000 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.

Contact us

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

Tel: +44 (0)1326 371801

The Programme Director is Professor Katrina Brown.