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School of Social and Political Science: Undergraduate study


Ask the Programme Director

Helpful responses to Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Sustainable Development MA?

It is a 4 year Undergraduate honours degree. The degree is focused on exploring and understanding the social science aspects of sustainable development. We explore aspirations for the betterment of human existence, and how related actions interact with the environment and affect prospects for long-term improvement through future generations.

Are a lot of science topics, like biology, chemistry or physics taught during the course? / Do you need a science background to take the course?

The MA is a four year undergraduate degree, run from within the School of Social and Political Science (SSPS), and is a multi-disciplinary degree, taught by experts in the area of sustainable development from across the University.

Because it's run from SSPS, the required courses are interdisciplinary courses rooted mainly in social sciences. Students do not have to take science courses or have a science background to be able to take the degree, though they may take several technical disciplines as option courses throughout their four years, and may specialise in a discipline outside of SSPS, such as human geography, throughout their studies if they wish.

We do cover scientific topics in one of the core courses, where colleagues from the School of GeoSciences teach some of the key principles about the earth's resources, such as air quality, soil, quality, water quality - but this is a course taught to a wide range of students, who do not need to have a science background to be able to understand and benefit from it. In another core course, we think about science from a social science perspective; we think about how scientific controversies arise, and how to critically evaluate the science that is undertaken on sustainability topics.

For students who are interested in biophysical aspects of sustainability, as well as the social science dimensions, there is the option to take courses in physical geography throughout the degree - but none of these are compulsory.

What school subjects will be looked at while applying for the course? / What course options are there?

There are four core courses that students take during the first two years; the two above (on resources, and on thinking critically about knowledge); one in the first semester of first year, an interdisciplinary course which introduces the key issues about sustainability and the key principles of sustainable development; and another in the second year, which focuses on key topics such as energy, waste, food, housing, from an interdisciplinary perspective (but again predominantly social science, and geared to social science students).

In addition to these core courses, students have the flexibility to build their own degree choices and focus on topics and disciplines which interest them the most. Students can pick from courses in Business, Economics, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Politics and International Relations, Geography, Economic and Social History, Divinity and others. All of these subjects have relevant courses available, and provide students with the necessary pre-requisites to take relevant options from these disciplines in their honours years.
For example, taking Politics courses in the first and second year means that a student can take Politics courses in their third and fourth year, alongside their Sustainable Development honours courses: these are 'Case Studies in Sustainable Development' (a field based course in the third year), and a dissertation in sustainable development in their fourth year.

Are there many possibilities of finding a job after graduating?

Absolutely. Efforts to understand and promote the sustainability of development are growing in a wide variety of policy domains and kinds of organisation. Students are likely to be in demand for careers in private sector business, NGOs, consultancies, local government, and policy making. Many businesses and organisations are monitoring and reporting on social and environmental impacts. Some of this is reinforced by laws and taxes, so there will be a greater need for trained graduates who can understand and develop solutions for a range of social and environmental issues, in different contexts - which is precisely what we envisage that our students will be able to do.

Do other European countries acknowledge and approve of a degree in sustainable development?

The degree is a four year MA, so would be recognised in the same way as any other degree from the University

What makes the Edinburgh Sustainable Development degree different from others?

The degree is focused on exploring and understanding the social science aspects of sustainable development. We look at the relationships between society and the environment, the effect of human behaviour, the role of policy, and ways of developing solutions for a more sustainable future. While there are other Sustainable Development degrees available in the UK which focus on the science [biophysical/natural science] aspects of sustainability, the Edinburgh degree is different in that it takes this social science approach. It is a new and innovative approach giving an interdisciplinary degree, which is taught by experts in sustainable development from a range of different perspectives and disciplines.

The degree consists of a number of compulsory courses and then students select relevant courses from a range of options which include: Politics, Business, Sociology, Economics, International Relations, Social Anthropology, Divinity, and Geography. The first year of the degree does not contain any compulsory science courses or topics.

What qualifications do I need to get in?

The best people to talk to about specific admissions enquiries, which will depend on the qualifications and subjects that you are currently taking, would be the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Admissions team.

The email address for them is:

All requirements and decisions about admissions to this and all other degrees are made centrally by the College team, not the Programme Director.

There is more information about how to apply if you are a UK National or if you are an International or EU student, on the College webpages.

I am an International student, I would like know if I am eligible to apply for MA Sustainable Development.

The University very much welcomes applications from international students from across the world. Any student who applies needs to meet the entry requirements. You can find specialist advice for your home country on the Edinburgh Global webpages together with other helpful information for international students.

Are there any scholarships available?

There are no scholarships specifically associated with this degree programme, but there are University-wide scholarships for which students can apply, and which would be applicable to this degree. For details of these, please see:

Why is it called an MA? Is this a Masters degree?

The Sustainable Development MA is an Undergraduate Honours degree, not a Masters level postgraduate degree. Most four-year undergraduate degrees in Scotland are called 'MA' for historical reasons, distinguishing them as a fuller and more advanced degree than an a BA from an English University. However, if you are looking for a Masters degree course after you finish your current studies, there are certainly plenty of relevant Masters courses at Edinburgh, see the Graduate School webpage:

Have we answered your question? If not, please contact Dr Claire Haggett +44(0)131 650 3916

Sustainable Development