Undergraduate study - 2025 entry
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

MA Sustainable Development

UCAS code: HL23

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: Social and Political Science

College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Study abroad

Introducing MA Sustainable Development

Sustainable development refers to the challenges involved in reducing global inequalities while also reducing threats to the planet's systems from industrialised production and consumption.

But what sustainable development do we have today? What is its history, how has it developed this way, and what are its possible futures?

The social sciences aim to offer insight on the underlying causes of the challenges of our time, including:

  • social
  • political
  • economic
  • technological
  • cultural

Understanding the origin of these problems can help us adapt and transform, leading to a more sustainable future. This is especially important as we seek to expand environmental care in relation to:

  • climate stability
  • biodiversity
  • the renewal of natural resources

This multidisciplinary programme addresses sustainable development (as an interrelated global and local issue) to examine:

  • how societies organise social, economic and political activity
  • the social and environmental consequences of current ways of living
  • how societies relate to the natural world
  • the relationship between current and future generations
  • patterns of development
  • opportunities for social, political, economic and technological change

Throughout our programme we address many different issues and concepts, including but not limited to:

  • social and environmental justice
  • sustainable consumption
  • economic structures
  • food systems
  • energy technologies and policies
  • governance and democracy

How the programme works

Students will take core courses in sustainable development alongside core courses in another chosen disciplinary pathway subject. You will also have access to a wide range of optional courses to complement and broaden your learning.

Our programme is primarily based on social science, although there are options for students wishing to pursue natural scientific perspectives on sustainable development. These are not compulsory.

Alongside sustainable development, you will choose one or two main subject areas.

Currently, these are:

  • geography
  • politics and international relations
  • science, technology and innovation studies
  • social anthropology
  • sociology

This provides you with substantive disciplinary training, theoretically and methodologically. This will empower you to critically engage with sustainable development and its future.

Year 1

You will study two compulsory courses:

  • The first will introduce you to the concept and principles of sustainable development.
  • The second will consider the way that science and technology shape the relationship between humans and the environment.

You will also choose a main subject area and take two courses from this subject:

  • geography
  • politics and international relations
  • science, technology and innovation studies
  • sociology
  • social anthropology

On top of this, you will select two further course options from a wide range from across the University.

Year 2

In Semester 1 you will study issues of international development planning, policy, and aid.

In Semester 2 you will explore key topics and theories of sustainable development from a multi-disciplinary perspective in the social sciences.

You will also continue to study courses from your main subject area, and two other courses from a wide choice.

Year 3

In the third year students are offered a choice of key sustainable development courses where they can focus on exploring a range of critical sustainability issues.

You will choose honours-level options as well as receiving research training in your main subject area. You will also study courses from other related disciplines.

Year 4

You will complete a dissertation on a real-world sustainable development issue within your main subject area, with guidance from a supervisor.

You will also choose honours-level optional courses relevant to sustainable development, your main subject area, and from other related disciplines.

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2024/25)

Our facilities

Teaching on this programme is mostly based at facilities in the central George Square campus. However, there will be opportunities to take courses in other parts of the University, including King's Buildings.

You will have access to the University's computer facilities and libraries.

Take a virtual tour

You can take a closer look at the School of Social and Political Science and explore our facilities and campus on the University's Virtual Visit site.

Take a virtual tour of the School of Social and Political Science

Study abroad

There are opportunities to study abroad during Year 3 through international exchange programmes.

What are my options for going abroad?

How will I learn?

You will be taught through a combination of:

  • lectures
  • tutorials
  • seminars
  • fieldwork

How will I be assessed?

The programme is assessed through:

  • exams
  • coursework
  • tutorial participation
  • project work

Graduates of this programme will be in demand in:

  • environmental research and management
  • environmental education and teaching
  • development and environment campaigning and NGO work
  • teaching careers
  • national, international and local government
  • environmental politics
  • environmental auditing
  • corporate social responsibility
  • risk management
  • sustainable citizenship

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: AABB by end of S5 or AAAB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAA.
  • IB: 37 points with 666 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 655 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: Highers: no specific Higher subjects required. National 5s: English at C.
  • A Levels: no specific A Level subjects required. GCSEs: English at C or 4.
  • IB: HL: no specific subjects required. SL: English at 5.

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

International Foundation Programme

If you are an international student and your school qualifications are not accepted for direct entry to the University you may be eligible for admission to this degree programme through our International Foundation Programme.

International Foundation Programme

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.


For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 at C
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 5.5 in each component.We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 162 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 65 with at least 54 in each component. We do not accept PTE Academic Online.*

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

Unless you are a national of a majority English speaking country, your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start of the month in which the degree you are applying to study begins. If you are using an IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Trinity ISE test, it must be no more than two years old on the first of the month in which the degree begins, regardless of your nationality.

English language requirements

(*Revised 24 May 2024 to change PTE Academic requirement from total 62 with at least 54 in each component, and to clarify that we do not accept PTE Academic online.)

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for MA Sustainable Development

Additional costs

You may have some small additional costs in Year 3 for compulsory field trips.

These costs will vary depending on the location of the trips. If applicable, these would be small transport costs for day trips in southeast Scotland.


For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding