Sustainable Development (MSc, PGDip and PGCert)


Study for a prestigious MSc in Sustainable Development by distance learning

The global community faces problems of poverty and profound environmental change that are interconnected in complex and dynamic ways. As the Sustainable Development Goals acknowledge, in an increasingly integrated world, any development agenda must be a global one with shared responsibilities for all countries. However, the idea of sustainable development, that underpins the post-2015 development agenda, is also a controversial concept that requires critical examination.

This programme provides a theoretical basis for understanding the evolution, meanings and use of the concept of sustainable development and it will help you to gain practical research experience. You will also acquire the skills needed to understand current environmental, development and sustainability issues and debates.

Programme aims

The rationale for this innovative programme of study lies in the global environmental and development challenges that have been articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals. It is clear that solutions to the challenge of sustainable development require holistic, integrated and co-ordinated actions across a very wide range of sectors, and will increasingly require a multidisciplinary approach. This programme aims to provide students with a broad grounding in the main concepts associated with sustainable development, but also provides the opportunity to specialise in one area in greater depth.

Programme summary

  You study Study period Cost (2018)
MSc 9 modules 2-5 years £9,450
Diploma 8 modules 2-5 years £8,400
Certificate 4 modules 1-5 years £4,200
Individual Professional Awards (IPA) Individual modules are ideal if you're keen to update your professional knowledge, enhance your career or sample the programme. Students who subsequently register for either the MSc or Postgraduate Diploma will be credited with any individual modules completed successfully. For 2018, the fee per module is £1,050. For further information on Individual Professional Awards, please see the CeDEP website.

Career progression

Graduates of this programme will have a wide range of backgrounds and will typically find work in:

  • government ministries and other public sector organisations concerned with policy analysis in the fields of sustainable development and environmental planning
  • international and non-governmental organisations concerned with the sustainable dimensions of economic change
  • public and private sector companies conducting analyses of the interface between environment and poverty
  • consultancies and development projects concerned with issues of sustainability
  • applied research and teaching in institutions of research and higher education.


MSc and Postgraduate Diploma students can choose elective modules within a particular specialism. This creates the opportunity for a clear focus in your studies, whereby you can develop understanding and skills relevant to specific professional interests. The name of the specialism will appear on the certificate awarded.

Comprehensive study materials and support

For each module we send you detailed study guides, textbooks and supplementary study materials which may include computer software. Most module study guides are now provided in electronic format, but may also be printed if required. Tutorial support is via an online learning environment and the study forum. This allows for a range of contacts and peer-learning possibilities that will help to enrich the distance learning experience.

Your time commitment

You can begin your studies for any of the CeDEP qualifications in either February or June. The examinations for all students are in October. The study periods are 30 weeks for students starting in February and 15 weeks for those starting in June. For the 30-week study period, you will need to allocate 5-6 hours of study time per module, per week. For students starting their studies in June with the shorter 15-week session, 10-12 hours per module, per week, is recommended. 

Summary of key dates

Sustainable Development
Application deadline 1 November 2017 31 March 2018 (TBC)
Enrolment deadline 30 November 2017 14 April 2018  (TBC)
Start of study session 12 February 2018 22 May 2018
End of study session 31 October 2018 11 September 2018



Structure and syllabus

MSc: 9 modules (3 core, 4* elective plus 2 research)
PG Dip: 8 modules (3 core plus 5* elective or 4 core plus 4* elective)
PG Cert: 4 modules (3 core plus up to 1** elective)

The core module, Understanding sustainable development, is compulory for all students. 

If you are taking a Masters degree or a Postgraduate Diploma you choose elective modules within a particular specialism. This creates the opportunity for a clear focus in your studies, whereby you can develop understanding and skills relevant to specific professional interests. The name of the specialism will appear on the certificate awarded.

* choose at least 3 electives from one specialism, plus 1 free choice from all specialisms

** 1 free choice from all specialisms

Core modules

Understanding sustainable development

Explains and critically evaluates the concept of sustainable development, its main principles, the evolution of ideas about sustainability, strategies for promoting sustainable development, resistances to the concept, and some alternative approaches. It also examines some important current issues and areas of debate in relation to sustainable development.

Note: this module is compulsory.


Environmental science and management

Provides an overview of the Earth system and its main subsystems and processes. It focuses on the science underlying the most prominent global environmental issues. Major approaches to, and principles of, environmental management are also examined.

Climate Change and Development

Provides a multi-disciplinary understanding of climate change processes and of their direct and indirect interactions with development. It describes the main climate change processes, scenarios and vulnerabilities, and international and national policy responses. Different sectors’ contributions and sensitivities to climate change (and to mitigation and adaptation responses) are identified, with their implications for policies and outcomes for different economies and for people’s livelihoods within them.

Ethics for environment and development

Considers environmental values in relation to ethical principles and cultural traditions, and outlines the development of an environmentalist movement, the interface of science and the environment, and the political impact of environmental concerns. It should provide insights to practitioners and policy makers for best practice and social and political sensitivities.

Elective modules

Development management
Economics and institutions for development

Examines the economic behaviour of people and firms, and interactions between these, institutions and national economies in development processes. It introduces development concepts and standard economic models and their relation with each other. The module explores the roles of institutions in economic exchange and resource allocation, and their contribution (or hindrance) to more efficient and equitable resource allocation and to development.

Managing knowledge and communication for development

Proven knowledge correctly applied can enhance poor people’s capabilities to participate in their own development and make choices about their lives. This module equips students to distinguish between different understandings of knowledge, evaluate alternative technologies for communication, and consider the implications for development policies and practice in the field of knowledge management and development.

Management in rural development

Considers the management and organisation of interventions to promote rural development. The course examines the scope and demands of rural development management, dimensions of rural development, the relevance of management theories of organisations and management, and the changing roles of the state, the private sector and civil society in rural development.

NGO management

Covers NGO growth trends, strategic planning, structures, systems, and management challenges. It explores these in relation to accountability, transparency, performance, monitoring and evaluation, and organisational learning.

Project planning and management

Considers the planning and management of public and private investment in the rural sector in the context of sectoral and national level programme support. Concepts of project identification, preparation, appraisal, and monitoring and evaluation are explored. Methods such as logical framework, financial and economic cost benefit analysis, and social and environmental assessment are presented.

Elective modules

Environmental economics
Economic principles

A rigorous introduction to microeconomic theory covering theories and applications of individual and market demand, as well as production economics. The final part focuses on welfare economics and its application to imperfect competition and factor markets.

Economics of environmental policy

Provides a theoretically rigorous coverage of the economic concepts and principles of environmental policy. It provides the knowledge and analytical tools needed to design and evaluate public policies towards the environment. It covers externalities such as pollution and public goods, exploitation of natural resources, trade and sustainable development.

Environmental valuation: theory, techniques and application

Develops the theory and techniques of the valuation of non-market goods and services. The module focuses on the techniques and methods for putting monetary values on the environment and shows how these can be incorporated in economic decision making at both the macro and project level.

Natural resource economics

Examines a number of economic models of natural resource allocation and demonstrates their application to policy making and natural resource management to provide useful insights to both policy makers and managers. The second part of the module considers the economic dimensions of sustainable economic growth and development.

Elective modules

Environmental management
Introduction to environmental economics and policy

Explains the essential economic concepts and theory relevant to environmental issues. It reviews economic theories of pollution and management of natural resources, and how these can inform environmental policy. The impact of macroeconomic policies on the environment and the role of international environmental agreements on transboundary issues are examined.

Environmental assessment

Provides an understanding of the processes and techniques for assessing the impacts of proposed actions on the environment, across a range of decision levels. It demonstrates the types of information required for assessing the impacts of a proposal on specific environmental parameters. It provides a basis for the practical application of environmental assessment skills; it also gives examples and case studies illustrating key aspects of professional practice for environmental managers.

Environmental auditing and environmental management systems

Provides an understanding of how to identify and evaluate the environmental impacts of an organisation or product/service. It explains how the environmental impacts of an organisation can be managed within the context of an environmental management system. It also explains the practical application of environmental auditing and environmental management systems, and it examines the range of available environmental management tools and techniques. It also considers ways in which corporate environmental management may respond to the challenge of sustainable development requirements.

International environmental law

Covers the principles and rules of international law which have as their primary objective the protection of the environment. It addresses how the international community has recognised and sought to deal with the interdependence of the global environment through regional and international agreements.

Elective modules

Natural resource management
Natural resource economics

Examines a number of economic models of natural resource allocation and demonstrates their application to policy making and natural resource management to provide useful insights to both policy makers and managers. The second part of the module considers the economic dimensions of sustainable economic growth and development.

Sustainable land management

Covers the physical and biological processes essential to understanding soil science and processes of land degradation. It explores the causes of land degradation and measures for mitigation and conservation in a range of agro-climatic zones. Emphasis is placed on the interaction of physical, economic, social, political and institutional factors in determining land management practices.

Water resources management

Explains the key themes, concepts, and tools associated with water management. The module covers determinants of availability and scarcity, assessment and management from basin to user, economics and governance, the management and sustainability of irrigated agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, and environmental, social and political dimensions of water use.

Elective modules

Rural development and change
Agricultural policy and trade

This module introduces the critical features of agriculture and food systems, trade and policy with theoretical understanding of resource use, production, consumption, trade and environmental impacts of different policies. The course also introduces standard agricultural policy analysis tools, examines processes of policy development and implementation, and reviews current agricultural policy and trade issues.

Food Security and Social Protection

Considers in a unified manner two highly topical policy areas that too often are treated in isolation: food security and social protection. The basic conceptual approach centres on the livelihoods of poor individuals and households and their management of risk and shocks. Policies to help households manage risk and accumulate assets are critically evaluated and particular attention is paid to how greater complementarity can be achieved across policies for agricultural development and social protection.

Rural development

Introduces rural development, looking at its history, key challenges, role in poverty reduction, the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, rural services (government and market roles in provision of infrastructure, finance, agricultural research and extension, and health and education) and natural resources (notably land and water policies).

Understanding Poverty

Introduces concepts and definitions of poverty. It explores trends in poverty (especially rural poverty) across and within continents, along with debates about the causes of these trends, and introduces the national and international policy architecture for poverty reduction.

Research modules (MSc only)

Research methods

Begins with a discussion of the nature and role of research and then seeks to provide a foundation of basic skills in research. The course covers sampling, data collection methods, basic statistical tests, an introduction to SPSS®, and procedures for qualitative data analysis.


The dissertation involves desk-based and/or field-based research. The report is assessed by submission of a research proposal (10%) and a 10,000 word written report (90% of final module mark). Students are individually assigned a research supervisor for support and advice. All research topics are subject to approval by the Senior Teaching Fellow.

If you are taking an MSc or a Postgraduate Diploma you choose elective modules within a particular specialism. This creates the opportunity for a clear focus in your studies, whereby you can develop understanding and skills relevant to specific professional interests. The name of the specialism will appear on the certificate awarded.

Individual Professional Awards
Modules can be taken as Individual Professional Awards (IPA) for professional development or as a taster of the full degree, diploma or certificate programme. To apply, please fill in the IPA application form available on the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (SOAS) website.

Study materials

How you study

Study is through distance and flexible learning.

The study year commences in February and modules are examined in October.

The study time required for each module is, on average, 5-6 hours per week over a period of 30 weeks (plus 4 weeks for revision). Some students may find that the study time required is longer than indicated, especially at the beginning, until they become more familiar with the subject matter and the mode of study.

Study materials

Once registered, you will be sent a comprehensive study package for each of your chosen modules. This includes:

  • A detailed study guide. Composed of ten units, this incorporates exercises, assignments and other activities into the study text, which will take you through your programme of self-directed study. Most module study guides are now provided in electronic format.
  • An indicative study calendar. This will assist you in planning your study, as well as highlighting deadlines such as those for Tutor Marked Assignments.
  • Books and other published materials. Generally textbooks, these are acquired on your behalf and should provide background as well as key extracts necessary for study of the module.
  • Integrated volumes of key readings. These are drawn from a wide range of sources and are provided as required readings. Information is also supplied regarding sources of further reading as well as weblinks, for students to look into should they so wish.
  • Supplementary study materials. These are included where appropriate, and include items
    such as computer software.

Library access

You will be issued with an Athens password to gain access to the University of London’s online library resources.

Study support

There are numerous opportunities for receiving support from tutors and CeDEP staff throughout the study year. Communication is increasingly carried out via email and the CeDEP's tailor-made Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

It is now easier than ever for students to contact tutors and their peers electronically to gain help and support. Tutors are allocated to each module and are available to answer queries, promote discussion and offer feedback during the study year (February to October).

CeDEP tutors also provide a monthly update, to summarise activity on the VLE, answer any frequently asked questions and draw attention to topical events which relate to their module. These are posted on the VLE and also emailed to all students to ensure they reach those with poor internet connectivity.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

The VLE provides you with the opportunity to extend your studies by discussing both academic and non-academic issues with tutors and fellow students through the Internet.

The VLE provides easy access to study resources, as well as to fast and efficient academic and administrative support. It also enables you to be part of a learning community in a way in which distance learners have seldom been accustomed in the past.

The VLE includes a number of learning support features:

  • student-student and student-tutor interaction
  • links to relevant resources
  • course-specific discussion rooms where you can debate and find solutions to queries about your course
  • assignment submission and tutor feedback area
  • administrative and technical help areas
  • electronic course documentation to download and print
  • notice boards where you will be informed of any important events, deadlines and new resources
  • student café where you can meet and talk to your fellow students socially
  • point of contact with the Study Director.


Fees may be paid in one of two ways:

Either, pay the total fee on registration by making a single payment for all module fees;

Or, if you prefer to spread out your payments, pay the fee for each module you want to take in the first year, and then in subsequent years pay the fee for each new module you take.

Fees are subject to annual revision. The 2018 fees take effect from 1 October 2017. 

Fee per module (for Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma and MSc)£ 1,050
Total Postgraduate Certificate (4 modules)£ 4,200
Total Postgraduate Diploma (8 modules)£ 8,400
Total MSc (9 modules)£ 9,450
Fee per individual module (IPA scheme*)£ 1,050
ConvertGBP x 1

Disclaimer: the currency conversion tool is provided to you for convenience only and does not constitute an endorsement or approval by the University of London; the exchange rates are provided dynamically via a third-party source, consequently, the University of London International Programmes is not responsible for their accuracy.

Other costs

In addition to the fees payable to the University, you should also budget for:

  • The fee charged to your local examination centre to cover its costs; this fee will vary.
  • Customs duties/taxes where these are payable on educational materials, including educational USB stick/CDs.
  • We recommend that you check the status of imported educational materials with your country’s customs authorities.


If you are a UK or EU national and you have lived in England for three years, you could be eligible to apply for a Postgraduate Loan.


Fees are subject to annual revision and typically may be increased by up to 5% per annum. For a full list fees that may be applicable, please see the fee schedule.

*Individual Professional Awards: Individual modules may be studied for professional updating or to sample distance learning before undertaking a postgraduate qualification. Successful IPA students are eligible to register for the MSc, Postgraduate Diploma or Postgraduate Certificate.



Each module, with the exception of Research Component of the MSc, will be examined by a two-hour unseen written paper and an Examined Assignment, worth 80% and 20% of the module mark respectively.

The Research Component of the MSc is composed of two modules, Research Methods and the Dissertation. The Research Methods module is examined by two Examined Assignments each worth 50% of the module mark. The Dissertation module is assessed by submission of a 10,000-word written research report


Academic Requirements

MSc degree

A good degree in an appropriate discipline acceptable to the University.

Postgraduate Diploma/Certificate

A degree or a technical or professional qualification and experience considered appropriate and relevant by the University.

Individual modules

Applicants may hold the qualifications specified above for entry to the Postgraduate Diploma/Certificate or to the MSc degree. Alternatively, if they do not hold such qualifications, the University may still consider the application but will require evidence of the student's ability to undertake an advanced course of study.


English language

For all of our modules you are required to have a high level of English language ability in reading and writing and in study skills.

If your first degree was not taught in English, you will need to provide evidence of language ability as tested by the British Council or another registered body. This is equivalent to a score of 7.0 overall in the IELTS test, or 7.0 in both reading and writing.

Computing requirements

Access to use of a computer is considered a requirement of studying with CeDEP*. The degree of access necessary can vary with the type of qualification being taken and the study modules involved. However, computer access for email communication with the CeDEP team, tutors and supervisors is essential.

Those studying for an MSc must be able to spend sufficient study time using a computer if they are to effectively complete the research methods module. This module is compulsory and requires the use of computer-based statistical software.

You should have access to a PC with the following capabilities:

  • Internet connection and an up-to-date web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari.
  • CD/DVD drive.
  • Access to email.
  • Software that can read Word and PDF files.
  • Sufficient capacity for downloading and use of any required software.
  • Access to a printer, if you choose to print your study materials.

*Prospective students are requested to contact us if the prerequisites for computer and printer access are likely to cause difficulties.

Academic leaders

CeDEP - Academic leadership

The Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP) is a centre within SOAS University of London. CeDEP aims to increase professional understanding of development, the environment, and related subjects by advanced research and by high quality postgraduate degree programmes.

A merging of the former Imperial College Distance Learning Programme at Wye with Public Policy and Management at CeFiMS (SOAS), CeDEP is now one of the largest international postgraduate distance learning programmes in the field. It currently has over 1,000 students working in a range of non-profit organisations [NGOs], governments, businesses and other organisations spread over more than 160 countries.

Most of these students are professionals already working in their field of study. They seek to deepen and broaden their understanding and skills to open up new opportunities and make them more effective in their careers.

The diversity within the student community and the networking facilitated by this programme provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from and share experiences with peers in many different countries. For further information please visit the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy website.

Academic leaders

CeDEP - Staff

The academic directors each have individual research interests and collaborations and manage the courses. They are responsible for the academic quality of the course materials as well as being involved in course development, teaching and examining.

With extensive international experience in research and postgraduate education, academic directors are supported by subject specialist tutors in offering six degree pathways created from over 30 course modules. For further information on the academic and administrative team, please visit the CeDEP website.