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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental SciencePostgraduate study

MSc Sustainability (1 year)

Studying during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
This course is running in September 2020. Find out how we’re safeguarding our students and staff during coronavirus.

Social, technological and environmental change is forcing an urgent global reassessment of the way we live, how we consume the planet's resources, and how we best respond to changes driven by, for example, the climate, globalisation, conflict and demographic change. Within this complex context, inputs from the social, natural and physical sciences are needed to guide and shape sustainable responses to pressing problems.

Introducing your course

This MSc Sustainability programme is designed as a research-led, applied interdisciplinary programme that considers sustainability in both developed and developing societies, and addresses critical global challenges. These include: enabling population health and wellbeing in an increasingly stressed planet; delivering food and water to an urbanising world; understanding the present and future development impacts of patterns of settlement, land use and land cover change; understanding the inter-dependencies between people and the planet; preparing for the impact of climate change and weather extremes on people and places. Taught by research-active world-class academic experts from multidisciplinary backgrounds, the programme equips students with applied skills as well as specialised problem-solving and critical thinking skills in tackling sustainable development issues and offers a solid foundation for developing careers in the public, private and third sectors as well as national and international agencies such as the United Nations, FAO and DFID.

The programme brings together the key components that shape sustainability; applies sustainability research as an approach to achieve the objective and goals of sustainable development; teaches the theory and application of tools, methodologies and approaches that would typically be used in working towards sustainability. The core principles underpinning this programme relate to:

  • Centrality of global citizenship and environmental stewardship, social justice, ethics and wellbeing to sustainability. A sound understanding of these core themes is needed to identify, pursue and manage sustainable development issues.
  • Adoption of complex, adaptive social-ecological systems as a fundamental unit of study. This provides the appropriate framework for addressing dynamic aspects of sustainability, such as: tipping points, resilience, and long-term convergence of stresses.
  • Adoption of a future-facing approach that considers the consequences of today’s choices on future sustainability Future-thinking requires recognition of the temporal as well as spatial impacts of choices and actions.
  • Co-production of knowledge recognising the importance of participatory and integrative methods that enable complex problem solving, by working with multiple stakeholders

Unique features of the MSc include: the opportunity to work with organisations working on sustainability issues, ability to participate in fieldwork and research methods courses, interdisciplinary training, , applied modules giving opportunities to practice skills, the breadth of coverage and the wide disciplinary base.

Your contact hours will vary depending on your module/option choices. Full information about contact hours is provided in individual module profiles.

View the programme specification for this course for 2020/21 entrants

View the programme specification for this course for 2021/22 entrants

To Apply

We encourage prospective applicants to apply as early as possible. Limited places are available per academic year. Applications can be made using the University's on-line application form. Applications can be submitted at any time, although we would encourage applicants to apply before the end of May. Prospective applicants will be asked to write a personal statement to explain their motivation for wishing to take the course and to indicate their future career plans. For all applications, two academic references are required.

Programme Structure

The academic year for students on the MSc course is divided into three parts: two semesters of taught modules (which are a mix of compulsory and optional topics) followed by a period of self-directed study for the Advanced Research Project over the summer. We encourage you to conduct your research projects with external organisations and potential employers. A special feature of the programme is the replacement of the traditional dissertation with the MSc Research Project written as a journal article (7000 word limit). This is a challenging, real-world exercise and very rewarding for students whose work is of sufficient standard to be submitted to a real journal for potential to be published. Your MSc Research Project is completed during the summer vacation and is submitted towards the middle of September for full-time students.

Key Facts

The programme is unique in the field-based/applied nature of the degree programme. You will have the opportunity to be trained in the field (in research locations across the south of England as well as with the opportunity to conduct field work overseas) through dissertations, practical sessions and through the Water, People and Environment module (Cambodia Field Course). You will be trained in analytical skills to understand and evaluate sustainability challenges and futures. You will also be trained to work with stakeholders on complex problems, and in groups, to ensure that you are fully aware of the challenges of working in the sustainability field.

The programme will include occasional guest lectures from experts in particular academic topics or who are involved in the design and implementation of local, national or international sustainability policy, planning and implementation.
Other highlights of the programme include:

  • An optional two-week residential developing country-based field course

  • Opportunity to work directly with a leading sustainability institute, including competitive opportunities for consultancy-based dissertation, for example the GeoData Institute

  • Opportunity to compete for a partially funded overseas dissertation with long standing collaborators,

  • e.g. working with The Glacier Trust in Nepal, visits to leading sustainability initiatives such as Thames Barrier 2100, or in relation to: i) consultancy or, ii) geo-spatial technology, such as Ordnance Survey, National Trust

  • Opportunity to receive professional RGS-IBG accredited Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training through the GeoData Institute (awarded ‘Provider status’ from the RGS for all of its current GIS courses, and accredited by the Association of Geographic Information, the professional body for the discipline). Additional (but reduced) costs apply to attend these training courses.
Professor Craig Hutton
Professor Craig Hutton

Programme Director

Professor Craig Hutton is the programme director for this course.

Typical entry requirements

General requirements

An upper second-class honours degree in Environmental Sciences, Geography, Zoology, Oceanography, Biology, Geology or Physics or an equivalent standard in other qualifications approved by the University.

A first class honours degree or an equivalent standard in other qualifications approved by the University and/or interview are normally required for applicants with an Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering or Mathematics degree.

Applications are assessed on an individual basis and we encourage candidates with alternative qualifications plus relevant experience in the environmental sector to apply.

English language

Applicants whose first language is not English will be required to demonstrate that they have sufficient command of English to undertake the course, for example, through an overall IELTS test score of 6.5 (with a minimum of 6 in every component) or an equivalent standard in other qualifications approved by the University.


The usual entry requirement for the MSc programme is an honours degree (usually 2:1 or above) or equivalent qualification. Students with lower or not usual entry qualifications may be admitted on the basis of relevant work experience or professional qualifications with the requisite approval.

Selection process

Intake: 15-45

Average applications per place: 6

All individuals are selected and treated on their relative merits and abilities in line with the University's Equal Opportunities Policy. The University of Southampton welcomes applications from disabled students. We have extensive experience of supporting students with a wide range of disabilities and health conditions including sensory loss, mobility issues, mental health needs, long terms health conditions, autistic spectrum disorders and any specific learning difficulty. Applications from disabled applicants will be considered in the same way as any other application and a decision will be made that is based upon the candidate's academic merit and potential.

Mature students

Mature applicants without formal qualifications, or those who fail to meet minimum entry requirements, but with relevant experience are also welcomed. Such applications will be considered on an individual basis depending on experience and background and will be assessed by the Admission Team.

International Students

We welcome applications from international students.

  • Qualifications: Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent approved by NARIC [National Recognition Information Centre]
  • English requirements: IELTS or equivalent score [6.5 average, minimum of 6 in each individual component]

The University runs a number of English language courses to prepare international students for study.

This page contains specific entry requirements for this course. Find out about equivalent entry requirements and qualifications for your country.

Typical course content

An important feature of the Sustainability degree is the ability for students to tailor their program by selecting optional modules from an extensive cross-faculty list. Students work with their Personal Academic Tutors (PAT) to select these optional modules. They will work closely with their PAT to develop the topic for their sustainability dissertation. Students may exit earlier with a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainability [60 CATS] or a Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainability [120 CATS].

Year 1

Semester One

Part 1 (the taught programme) of the MSc Sustainability is made up of 60 ECTS/120 CATS points. Taught sessions take place over two semesters, running approximately from October to January and then from February to May each academic year. Full-time students must take 30 ECTS/60 CATS points in Semester 1 and 30 ECTS/60 CATS points in Semester 2.


You must choose three or four modules from the following list:

Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).

You must choose two or three modules from the following list:

Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Core [?]
A core module is a module which must be taken and passed.
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Semester Two

Part 2 consists of the MSc Research Project worth 30 ECTS/60 CATS points, making a total of 90 ECTS/180 CATS points for the MSc overall.

Core [?]
A core module is a module which must be taken and passed.
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).

Please note: This specification provides a concise summary of the main features of the programme and the learning outcomes that a typical student might reasonably be expected to achieve and demonstrate if s/he takes full advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided. More detailed information can be found in the programme handbook (or other appropriate guide or website).

Tuition fees

List of tuition fees for this course and it's variations
Course TitleAwardYear of entryMode of studyUK/EUInternational
SustainabilityMSc 2020Full-time£9,250£21,800
SustainabilityMSc 2020Part-time£4,625£10,900
View the full list of course fees


Scholarships, bursaries, sponsorships or grants may be available to support you through your course. Funding opportunities available to you are linked to your subject area and/or your country of origin. These can be from the University of Southampton or other sources. See the link at the bottom of this page to find out more about all funding opportunities.

Explore funding opportunities

Costs associated with this course

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

There will also be further costs for the following, not purchasable from the University:

ClothingYou will need to wear suitable clothing when attending field courses, e.g. waterproofs, walking boots. You can purchase these from any source.
OtherGeodata CPD GIS courses. Geodata offers RIS-IGB accredited CPD courses which can be taken in addition to MSc modules. These courses are offered to University of Southampton PGR and PGT students at significant discount. Courses cost between £200 and £350 depending on type and length
BooksWhere a module specifies core texts these should generally be available on the reserve list in the library. However due to demand, students may prefer to buy their own copies. These can be purchased from any source. Some modules suggest reading texts as optional background reading. The library may hold copies of such texts, or alternatively you may wish to purchase your own copies. Although not essential reading, you may benefit from the additional reading materials for the module.
EquipmentApproved Calculators: Candidates may use calculators in the examination room only as specified by the University and as permitted by the rubric of individual examination papers. The University approved model is Casio FX-570 This may be purchased from any source and no longer needs to carry the University logo.
FieldworkE.g. Accommodation, Insurance, Travel costs, Immunisation/vaccination costs. Any costs associated with conducting fieldwork as part of the dissertation research must be covered by the student
OtherField Trips- There is an optional two-week overseas residential field course module "Water, People and Environment". Costs apply-please see the GEOG6104 module handbook for more information.
Printing and copyingIn the majority of cases, coursework such as essays; projects; dissertations is likely to be submitted on line. However, there are some items where it is not possible to submit on line and students will be asked to provide a printed copy. A list of the University printing costs can be found here:

In some cases you'll be able to choose modules (which may have different costs associated with that module) which will change the overall cost of a programme to you. Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

Traditional methods of teaching and learning (i.e. lectures, seminars, small group meetings) will be supplemented with innovative teaching methods, notably case studies, stimulus activities, simulation, experiential project work, and problem-based learning.

Study locations

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