School of Social and Political Science

MSc International Development (Online Learning)


Venetia Rainey

Venetia graduated in 2020, and was awarded the 2020 prize for Best Overall Performance in MSc International Development (Online Learning). Here, she writes about her experience on the programme, her favourite courses - Displacement and Development, and Governance, Development and Poverty in Africa - and what studying an online programme looked like for her, while continuing to work as a journalist. 

MSc International Development (Online Learning)


Studying at the School of Social and Political Science

What made you choose to study at the University of Edinburgh?

I researched a lot of different universities offering online degrees across a few different subject areas. Edinburgh stood out for several reasons.

First, it has a fantastic international reputation, so I knew that a degree from there would stand out to employers.

Second, the degree is exactly the same as a taught degree that has been going for a while, so I knew it would be as rigorous as studying something in-person, as I was a bit suspicious of new online-only degrees and the quality of the content.

Third, the University is known for its Centre for African Studies, which is something I was especially interested in gaining more knowledge in.

Fourth, the degree was broad ranging enough to give me a solid background in several different areas, but also offered a number of more in-depth elective modules that appealed to me on displacement and development in Africa.

How have you enjoyed your programme?

I have absolutely loved it – I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It has been stimulating, challenging, enjoyable and fascinating. I had high expectations already but it really excelled beyond them.

What has been your favourite course?

I would have to say two: Displacement and Development, and what is now known as Governance, Development and Poverty in Africa.

The first tied in heavily with my professional experience, so was very interesting to me on a personal level. I also really enjoyed how we thought about different types of displacement, including non-physical displacement, which I ended up writing my end-of-term essay about.

The second was a bit of whirlwind tour of the major issues facing different African countries, but I really appreciated how we focused in on a number of places as well as learning about the history of African studies more generally. I learned a lot during that course that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

I also absolutely loved doing my dissertation! It was a really unique opportunity to sink my teeth into a bit of research that I was passionate about: the Windrush Scandal. I had an excellent supervisor, George Karekwaivanane, and learned a lot of difficult but important things by turning an academic development lens on my own country.

Aims for after University?

I continued to work as a journalist while completing my degree and am still doing so now. Part of the aim of doing the degree was to open up more work opportunities in the development world and that is something I will be looking into in the future.

For now, it has helped me to deepen my understanding of issues I report on every day and challenge my assumptions more rigorously.

What does a typical weekday look like for you as a student at SPS?

Online students have a slightly different rhythm from those on campus, and us lot studying part-time even more so!

I would try to do a few hours of reading every day, either before or after work, and spend a bit of time on the weekend finishing up anything left, posting comments in the chat forums, and completing any assignments.

I would say I spent about 15 hours a week on studying, rising to 20 to 25 if I was juggling two courses at the same time.

What are your highlights from your time at the School of Social and Political Science?

My highlights included getting into really genuinely engaging discussions on the chat forums some weeks (online students’ replacements for seminars), making a few good girl friends in the second year to chat with online about how it was all going (one based in Ecuador, one in Syria, and one in the US!), and writing my dissertation, which earned me a solid distinction.

I also won a prize for the best performance in my degree which was a very unexpected honour and something that has made me super proud of all the work I put in over the two years.

Knowing what you do now, what would you say to your past self before starting the course?

Do as much of the reading as you can humanly manage. Sometimes it doesn’t feel relevant or you might be tempted to skip it because it’s hard work – but it’s 100% worth putting in the effort and time as you will get so, so much more out of your courses.


University life

What has your University experience been like, in just three words?

Challenging, enlightening, rewarding.