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Top Masters in Sustainable Development

Last updated on 15 Sep 2019

Sustainability-Webspecs-No-Box.jpg By Jenny Egnér Lin


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Are you committed to making an impact in society? As sustainable development is such an important field of education and research, all top universities offer sustainability studies for graduate students, either as a full programme, or as a minor within another degree.

As the highest ranked universities offer the best programmes, professors, and leading research, we believe that those who truly wish to make an impact should study at institutions with the prime resources, and highest quality of education.

In this article, we have selected the top 10 universities in Europe, according to QS World University Ranking 2019 and Times Higher Education Ranking 2019, and for each university presented options for studies in sustainability.

What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable Development is the study of scientific solutions and societal interventions for an environmentally accountable society. There are a number of variations and specialisations within sustainable development.

Who is this programme for?

This programme is suitable for candidates who want to study and solve societal sustainability issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. The programme is of particular interest to students who are willing to broaden their perspectives through collaboration and interaction with students who bring to the programme knowledge of other natural and social science disciplines.

What are the career prospects?

As a graduate of this programme, you will be able to contribute to innovative environmental solutions and help build a sustainable society. With the current climate crisis slowly threatening the planet, all organisations with any form of impact incorporate sustainability in their practices.

Many large corporations and universities measure their sustainability performance against the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals, set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030.

With knowledge in sustainability, and sustainable development and management, you will have many great career opportunities where you can make a lasting impact on society.

Which are the Top Graduate Programmes in Sustainable Development?

1. University of Oxford, United Kingdom

MSc in Sustainable Urban Development

The two-year MSc in Sustainable Urban Development will provide a rigorous and critical introduction to the policy and practice of sustainable urban development. The course exposes students to sustainable urbanism as both an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary subject at global and local scales.

DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development

The Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Sustainable Urban Development is a part-time doctoral programme that provides outstanding students an opportunity to pursue in-depth and rigorous research about the pressing challenges of urban sustainability and the processes of environmental, economic, and social development in urban environments around the world.

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Photograph of University of Oxford by Delfi de la Rua via Unsplash.

2. ETH Zurich, Switzerland

ETH Sustainability Summer/Winter School

The ETH Sustainability Summer/Winter School offers students the opportunity to work on current topics related to sustainability in interdisciplinary and intercultural teams. In addition to acquiring theoretical knowledge, a premium is placed on real-life implementation and case studies. It is aimed at undergraduate and doctoral students at ETH Zurich and their partner universities.

Seed Sustainability

Seed Sustainability encourages student research in sustainability-related topics, promotes successful cooperation between scientific theory and practice, and unites the needs and expectations of research, education and industry. The students’ work is supervised by qualified academics and the partners from practice.

3. University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

University of Cambridge offers several programmes and courses related to sustainability. Below is a selection.

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

The MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development course is designed for graduates who want to help tackle pressing global problems by developing practical engineering solutions. The course is about recognising that engineers have to operate within an increasingly complex set of constraints, and therefore must be capable of dealing with a range of challenges.

MPhil in Energy Technologies

The world faces major challenges in meeting the current and future demand for sustainable and secure energy supply and use. The one-year MPhil in Energy Technologies programme is designed for graduates who want to help tackle these problems by developing practical engineering solutions, and who want to learn more about the fundamental science and the technologies involved in energy utilisation, electricity generation, energy efficiency, and alternative energy.

4. UCL, United Kingdom

UCL also provides a number of programmes and courses related to sustainability. Three of them are presented here.

MSc Environment and Sustainable Development

The MSc programme in Environment and Sustainable Development examines development planning in the context of environmental concerns in urban areas of the Global South. It challenges mainstream approaches to development, focusing instead upon transformative action for environmental justice. Many of the graduates from this programme go on to help shape future sustainable development agendas in local government, international agencies and civil society organisations.

MSc Sustainable Resources: Economics, Policy and Transitions

The sustainable extraction, supply, use and disposal/re-use of natural resources is increasingly critical to business, policymakers and civil society around the world. In this degree you will investigate the circular economy, resource efficiency and sustainable resource management and you will qualify with the skills and knowledge to become a leader in this field.

MRes Urban Sustainability and Resilience

The aim of this programme is to equip students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds with the research skills, knowledge and understanding required to tackle current and future real-world challenges faced by cities globally, including increasing the resilience of our urban systems, and the infrastructure that supports them, to shocks arising from natural, economic and technological hazards.

5. Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Two of the MSc programmes related to sustainable development studies at Imperial College London are presented here. There are several others listed on their course catalogue.

MSc Sustainable Energy Futures

The MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures aims to develop the next generation of leaders in the energy sector. This course provides a grounding in the major features of global energy issues, sustainable energy technologies, and their interactions with economics, the environment and policy.

MSc Advanced Materials for Sustainable Infrastructure

This new Master’s degree aims to train future leaders in the role of materials in resilient and sustainable built infrastructure. Huge volumes of materials are used to construct the buildings, bridges, roads, railways, airports, sea defences, power stations and other vital infrastructure that we need. Aimed at engineers and scientists, this degree will provide a deep understanding of the behaviour and characteristics of civil engineering materials, and the ability to develop sustainable designs for construction.

6. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland

EPFL offers a number of programmes and courses related to sustainability. We have selected the two presented below.

Environmental Sciences and Engineering

The major future challenges for planet earth are climate change, limited resources, pollution, human population growth and loss of biodiversity. The modern and competitive Environmental Engineering Programme at EPFL prepares students for the multidisciplinary nature of environmental engineering problems and educates future engineers to address the complexities and uncertainties of natural and engineered systems. The programme focuses on environmental engineering in natural systems where solutions must be developed under conditions of incomplete information, spatial heterogeneity, and uncertainty.

Energy Science and Technology

The EPFL master’s programme in Energy Science and Technology provides a world-class educational environment to train students in charge of developing future technologies in the field of energy engineering. With an expected growth of 150% of the energy engineering job market by 2030 and strong demand for individuals with diverse skill-sets, the programme tackles these challenges by training excellent students to become top professionals in this field with the objective of driving industry, science, and market innovations.

7. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), United Kingdom

London School of Economics and Political Science provides several leading and innovative MSc programmes within the intersection of business, management, environmental studies, human rights, international development, and urban studies. The following programmes are just a few of the many interesting courses for graduate students.

MSc Environmental Economics and Climate Change

This programme aims to deliver a well-developed understanding of the economics, science and policies associated with climate change, as well as a broad foundation in environmental and resource economics. Environmental and resource economics informs the design of new instruments for the conservation of ecosystem services and the efficient use of natural resources, such as water and forests, and for the promotion of renewable energy and electric vehicles.

MSc Human Rights and Politics

The MSc Human Rights and Politics provides a rigorous year-long academic engagement with critical political issues faced by international human rights today. The programme covers the multiple challenges that human rights theory, institutions and activism are facing in the current period, a period during which many states, movements and political figures are turning towards populist nationalism and anti-minority discrimination. It introduces key problems with the foundations of human rights and considers the possibilities for new political foundations for human rights in a period of accelerating economic inequality and technological change. Interdisciplinary in nature, it draws on sociology, political theory, political sociology and philosophy to investigate international human rights.

MSc Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This unique programme brings expertise from the latest insights in social innovation research with LSE’s tradition for academic excellence, alongside practical learnings from the network of socially-focused organisations worldwide, into the classroom. You will learn to think beyond current trends and fashions in the young and rapidly-developing field of social innovation, and develop critical academic views informed by cutting-edge research in management, psychology, sociology, economics and anthropology. Based on this, you will learn how to design, launch and scale-up successful entrepreneurial ventures with social goals.

MSc Environmental Policy and Regulation

The MSc Environmental Policy and Regulation analyses the nature and efficacy of different approaches to environmental policy and regulation. It considers the influence of different forms of environmental policy and regulation at the international, national and local levels and the role of environmental evaluation techniques. Issues are addressed within a distinctive social science framework that uses theory to understand practice, thereby equipping you with the skills you need to work on environmental policy and regulation in the public, private or NGO sectors.

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Photograph by Greg Jeanneau via Unsplash.

8. University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

University of Edinburgh also provides a number of programmes in the field of sustainability studies. Three of them are presented here, and you can find more in their course listings.

MSc Environmental Sustainability

In this programme, students are encouraged to think across different disciplines to blend scientific, socioeconomic and policy perspectives for a stronger understanding of sustainability and how it can be achieved. This wider perspective is attractive to organisations which promote sustainable development or seek to reduce humanity’s effect on the environment.

MSc Energy, Society and Sustainability

The world is facing an ‘energy trilemma’; how to achieve energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability. Whilst equipping students with an active understanding of low carbon technologies, policies and markets, this new MSc programme is focused squarely on analysing the social, societal and environmental dimensions of energy transitions. You will examine how citizens are involved in and are affected by changes in energy systems. On a more theoretical level, the programme will enable you to relate supply-side issues to geo-politics and political economy, whilst energy demand will be studied in relation to broader challenges of sustainable consumption.

MSc Sustainable Plant Health

Food production has tripled in the last forty years, but one billion people still go hungry every year. On average 30% of all food produced is wasted in the pathway from ‘field to fork’. With the global human population set to rise from seven to over nine billion by 2050, we urgently need sustainable solutions that will allow us to increase the global food supply while preserving the integrity of agricultural and non-agricultural ecosystems. The unique MSc Sustainable Plant Health will give you the opportunity to develop your understanding of the vital role of plant health.

9. King’s College London, United Kingdom

At King’s College London you will find several intriguing programmes related to sustainability. Three are presented here, and you can find more on their website.

MSc Climate Change: Environment, Science and Policy

The MSc degree in Climate Change: Environment, Science & Policy is an opportunity for graduates of geography, physical sciences, engineering and computer sciences to explore specific issues relating to climate and environmental change at an advanced level. You will explore a wide range of critical topics focusing on human-originated influences on the terrestrial, hydrological and atmospheric environments, and their biological, physical and societal consequences.

MSc Global Air Pollution & Health: Management and Science

The MSc Global Air Pollution & Health; Management & Science is a unique study course that combines research excellence with close links to business and policy makers. The course covers all aspects of air quality, from emissions, measurement and modelling to exposure science and the impacts of air pollutants on health.

MA/MSc Sustainable Cities

As the only course to explicitly address the topic of sustainable cities, the MA, MSc in Sustainable Cities is unique in the UK. It is an interdisciplinary course that focuses on the human and physical processes shaping urban ecologies and environments. We also offer the opportunity to gain practical experience through an internship.

MA/MSc Environment, Politics & Globalisation

The MA, MSc in Environment, Politics and Globalisation is an interdisciplinary course offering a unique combination of theoretical and relevant policy subjects to give you indepth knowledge and critical awareness of the politics and geographies shaping environments, both now and in the past. You will examine local case studies as well as global environmental issues, politics and policies from a variety of perspectives to gain a textured understanding of this contested and vital area of study.

10. Karolinska Institutet

Karolinska Institutet is a university purely dedicated to medical education and research. There are nine English programmes taught in English. Below is a selection.

Master's Programme in Global Health

The Master's Programme in Global Health focuses on the challenges that transcend national borders and has an impact on current as well as future generations. Global health integrates expertise and perspectives from the fields of public health, medicine, epidemiology, health economics, behavioural science, environmental sciences and anthropology, among others. It provides a new platform for research, education and information on health challenges faced by the world population.

Master's Programme in Health Economics, Policy and Management

The Master's Programme in Health Economics, Policy and Management provides a global perspective to the medical management field and has a multidisciplinary approach. Medical management addresses how resources in the form of competence, knowledge, material and other assets can best be used and developed to improve human health.

Master's Programme in Public Health Sciences

Public Health Sciences promotes evidence based practices in the field of health and quality of life, disease prevention and improvement of health systems. The Master's Programme in Public Health Sciences has a multidisciplinary approach and provides a global perspective. The programme offers two specialisations; Public Health Epidemiology and Health Promotion and Prevention.


About the author: Jenny Egnér Lin is a Swedish university graduate with a MSc in Strategic Market Creation from Copenhagen Business School, and a BSc in Business and Economics from Stockholm School of Economics. With firsthand experience from studying in Europe, she is sharing prime insights about life as a student at a European university.