Why choose this course
In the wake of the 2015 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, our MSc Sustainable Development provides you with the knowledge to help organisations move towards a greener future. This MSc examines the societal transformations required to tackle the climate emergency, protect the environment, and shift towards sustainable consumption and production.
This course is run by our Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES) – an inter-disciplinary centre for forward-thinking environmental and sustainability-related research and postgraduate teaching.
Sustainable development graduates are equipped to tackle the strategic challenges being faced by companies, individuals and governments and implement the changes required to protect our planet.
What you will study
Questioning what you thought you knew about sustainability and the environment, we’ll inspire you to face some of society’s biggest sustainability challenges.
We’ll provide insight into the latest thinking in numerous important areas, covering the essentials needed to analyse the relationship between environmental issues and human society. As part of this approach, you’ll evaluate political, socio-economic, ethical, cultural and regulatory frameworks, and acquire an understanding of the theory and application of sustainable development, while developing a sensitive appreciation of the issues surrounding it.
This course will enable you to hear from external speakers from industry, government and NGOs who are active in establishing sustainable development. It also provides a route to the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment graduate membership.
This course is normally completed in 12 months on a full-time basis, or between 24 and 60 months when completed on a part-time basis.
High-profile guest lecturers assist with the teaching of some of the modules. CES modules make maximum use of guest lecturers, drawing on the practical skills and experience of important experts from government and industry to complement the theoretical components of the modules offered.
For example, Jonathon Porritt, former chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, gives a guest lecture on the Sustainable Development Applications module, analysing the standing of sustainable development in business and policy making.
The extensive expertise of CES academics and researchers is also drawn upon in modules. Professor Tim Jackson, adviser to the government and international bodies and author of the seminal book Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, lectures on CES modules.
Some full-time students complete an industrial placement as one of their elective modules. This enables you to spend six to 12 weeks working for a company or a non-governmental organisation, doing the type of work you will aim to find after you graduate.
Examples of organisations at which recent industrial placements have taken place include:
- Minimise Solutions
- Portsmouth City Council
- Diocese of London
- The Radisson
- LC Energy
- Solar Aid
Equality and diversity
We welcome applications from LGBT+ students. At Surrey, we have an active LGBT+ student society￼ and we also participate in the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme.
If you have any queries or want to find out more about how we support our LGBT+ students, contact Jonathan Chenoweth, our CES LGBT+ representative.
Learning and disability
The University welcomes applications from students with disabilities. Teaching on the MSc courses takes place in a single large teaching room, on the same floor where the departmental academic staff offices, staff and student kitchen, and toilets are located. There is also direct lift access to the level from the ground floor. We support students with disabilities and encourage any considering studying in the department to contact our disability representative, Jonathan Chenoweth.
Study and work abroad
There may be opportunities to acquire valuable European experience by working or conducting research abroad during your degree or shortly afterwards. It is possible to do this in the summer period with an Erasmus+ grant working on your dissertation or as a recent graduate. In order to qualify your Erasmus+ traineeship must be a minimum of two months.
Careers and graduate prospects
We offer careers information, advice and guidance to all students whilst studying with us, which is extended to our alumni for three years after leaving the University.
Graduates of this course go on to pursue a diverse range of careers implementing sustainable development and dealing with the real environmental challenges facing humanity.
You could work as an energy efficiency officer for a local government or an environmental officer in a multi-national chemical company. Studying this course could also lead to you starting a career as a sustainability adviser for a national television or radio station, or working as an environmental consultant for an engineering consultancy. You could also become a programme officer with a sustainability charity.
Other graduates use the research skills they develop to study for PhDs.
Academic year structure
Both full-time and part-time students must complete five compulsory modules and four elective modules by the end of their MSc. The dissertation forms one of the compulsory modules.
Full-time students can start this MSc programme at the beginning of either the first semester in September or the second semester in February. Part-time students can start any time.
The academic year begins with an induction week when students are introduced to the university and full-time students choose their elective modules. Part-time students can enrol in modules close to the time they wish to take a module.
All students are allocated a personal tutor who acts as a liaison between the student and the University.
During the second semester, students begin to focus on their dissertations, with a series of seminar events held to help students refine their ideas and make a start. Students are free to choose their own dissertation topic, with most students choosing topics related to issues or ideas encountered in the taught modules or in a professional context which relates to environment or sustainability. Each student is allocated a dissertation supervisor to help guide them through the dissertation process.
Modules listed are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that modules may be subject to teaching availability, student demand and/or class size caps.
Important: In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the University has had to change the delivery (and in some cases the content) of its programmes, together with certain University services and facilities for the 2020/21 academic year. These changes include the implementation of a hybrid teaching approach. View detailed information on the changes.
The University operates a credit framework for all taught programmes based on a 15-credit tariff. Modules can be either 15, 30, 45 or 60, 75 and 120 credits, and additionally for some masters dissertations, 90 credits.
The structure of our programmes follows clear educational aims that are tailored to each programme. These are all outlined in the programme specifications which include further details such as the learning outcomes:
Each module on this course is taught on an intensive modular basis. There is pre-reading to do for each module and on occasion a pre-module assessment, followed by the intensive taught week where classes run from approximately 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday for one week. Post-module coursework is to be completed over the four-week period after the intensive week.
Course timetables are normally available one month before the start of the semester. View our Timetabling Policy (PDF).
A minimum of a 2:2 UK honours degree, or a recognised equivalent international qualification.
Relevant work experience may also be considered.
View entry requirements by country
English language requirements
IELTS Academic: 6.5 overall with 6.0 in Writing and 5.5 in each other element.
View the other English language qualifications that we accept.
If you do not currently meet the level required for your programme, we offer intensive pre-sessional English language courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.
The University of Surrey recognises that many students enter their higher education course with valuable knowledge and skills developed through a range of professional, vocational and community contexts. If this applies to you, a process called recognition of prior learning (RPL) may allow you to enter your course at a point appropriate to your previous learning and experience, or to join the start of a course without the formal entry requirements. This means that you may be exempt from certain elements of study in the course for which you have applied and be awarded credit based on your previous qualifications/experience. There are restrictions on RPL for some courses and fees may be payable for certain claims.
Please see the code of practice for recognition of prior learning and prior credit: taught programmes (PDF) for further information. Please email Admissions with any queries.
- *The dissertation module is charged as a 15 credit module for fee purposes.
- These fees apply to students commencing study in the academic year 2020-21 only. Fees for new starters are reviewed annually.
- If you are on an unstructured self-paced part-time course, the fee shown is per 15 credits for the 2020-21 academic year. The fee payable in subsequent years will be reviewed annually.
You may be able to borrow money to help pay your tuition fees and support you with your living costs. Find out more about postgraduate student finance.
Terms and conditions
When you accept an offer of a place at the University of Surrey, you are agreeing to comply with our policies and regulations, and our terms and conditions. These terms and conditions are provided in two stages: first when we make an offer and second when students who have accepted their offers register to study at the University. View an example of our offer terms and conditions and our generic registration terms and conditions (PDF) as a guide as to what to expect.
Please note: our offer terms and conditions will generally be available in the September of the calendar year prior to the year in which you begin your studies. Our registration terms and conditions will vary to take into account specifics of your course and changes for the specific academic year.
This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the academic year to which it applies. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read more.
Further, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has had to change the delivery (and in some cases the content) of its programmes, together with certain University services and facilities for the academic year 2020/21. These changes include the implementation of a hybrid teaching approach during 2020/21. Detailed information on all changes is available at our dedicated course changes webpage. This webpage sets out information relating to general University changes, and will also direct you to consider additional information relating to specific programmes.