MPhil in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance | University of Oxford
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MPhil in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance

About the course

The rate and complexity of environmental change poses profound economic, social and political challenges for contemporary society. Developing ways to address these challenges demands intellectual rigour, innovation and flexibility, as well as the capacity to think across existing disciplinary boundaries.

The MPhil in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance is grounded in the conviction that responses to global challenges requires researchers and practitioners trained in the social sciences, with the ability to think flexibly across disciplinary and sectorial boundaries. It will enable you to develop a theoretically sophisticated and empirically grounded understanding of the dynamic relations between environment, society and policy. 

This course intensively engages with ongoing theoretical debates in human geography, political geography, political ecology and science and technology studies. Students should expect to engage with theoretical material and deconstruct some of the basic assumptions underpinning terms like ‘society’, ‘governance’, ‘territory’, ‘politics’ and ‘nature’ in order to develop conceptual tools to understand contemporary global change. The focus on critical theory is complemented by modules covering foundational knowledge in economics of the environment, behavioural economics and environmental management in order to prepare you to think across traditional boundaries in the social sciences.

The course draws on the methods and approaches from across the social sciences, including fields such as human geography, anthropology, environmental economics, science and technology studies, and corporate environmental management. It also facilitates dialogue between researchers and practitioners concerning contemporary issues of environmental policy and politics.

The MPhil is a two-year course. In the first year, you will take the coursework and written examinations associated with the MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance. The second year is devoted to researching and writing a thesis of 30,000 words.

The specific objectives of the course are:

  • to provide broad and critical engagements with key debates in the environmental social sciences, focusing on the relations between nature and society, science and politics, and urban natures
  • to foster an understanding of the conceptual tools in human geography and learn to apply them to the challenges of real-world environmental governance
  • to develop your conceptions of, and skills in, research design and methods in the contemporary environmental social sciences, providing critical foundations for further study by research
  • to integrate you into world leading research in the School of Geography and the Environment by providing core teaching and supervision by research-active staff
  • to enhance your personal and professional development.

There are nine core modules organised under three themes: policy and governance, theory and analysis, and research skills. Teaching takes place through lectures, seminars and workshops which provide in-depth exploration of key environmental issues. The elective modules offer a seminar-style teaching and discussion environment within smaller groups, based on a suite of contemporary research themes that reflect the specific interests of core faculty and visiting research associates.

The teaching aim is to foster discussion and debate between academic staff and students to identify and explore theory, methods and practice in an academic space that encourages a critical dialogue. In the second year you will work on your thesis project with the support of a specialist supervisor.

Field trips and external visits are an important component of the teaching delivery and include an induction field course in the UK and a three-day European field course.

At the end of the first year you take the written examinations associated with the MSc in Nature Society and Environmental Governance. You will also complete an additional policy brief assignment and two assessed essays linked to elective courses. You must pass the examinations taken at the end of the first year in order to proceed into the second year. In the first year there are two assessed essays linked to elective courses.

The second year consists largely of independent study and is devoted to researching and writing a thesis of 30,000 words. The research topic will be devised in your first year and, once approved; a supervisor will be allocated to you. The thesis accounts for half the marks for the degree. In addition, in the second year you will take a further elective course, assessed by a submitted essay. 

Supervision

For graduate supervision the course team work carefully to match students with supervisors whose research expertise lies in the student's area of interest but please note that it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the School of Geography and the Environment.

Graduate destinations

NSEG alumni are pursuing careers with a wide range of organisations, with a third or more entering MPhil or doctoral programmes in Oxford and elsewhere.

Examples of the organisations include government departments (eg US Department of Energy, National Water Services Agency Singapore), non-governmental organisations (eg OXFAM, Birdlife International), business organisations (eg Confederation of British Industry, Financial Services Authority) and international agencies (eg Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations Environment Programme).

The department's Alumni Office helps alumni keep in touch with each other and organises alumni events.

Changes to this course and your supervision

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. In certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any discipline.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Applicants should demonstrate an interest in the interactions of society and nature. In particular, work and/or research experience around the areas of environmental and social sustainability are valued.
  • Applicants should demonstrate foundational knowledge of social theory, evidenced in transcripts or writing samples.
  • You are not required to submit any publications.

English language requirement

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement.

Detailed requirements - higher level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are:

IELTS Academic7.5Minimum 7.0 per component
TOEFL iBT110

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced191Minimum 185 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency191Minimum 185 per component

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. For more information about the English language test requirement, visit the Application Guide

Supporting documents 

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.

Supervision

Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Resources

The School of Geography and the Environment undertakes world-class interdisciplinary research, addresses societal and environmental problems, and advances knowledge within an intellectually vibrant, interdisciplinary research environment that combines natural and social sciences and has geography at its core. The department has six research clusters, in biodiversity, ecosystems and conservation; climate systems and policy; landscape dynamics; technological life; economy and society and political worlds, which hold seminars throughout term-time. Graduate students are encouraged to attend these seminars and most MSc courses also hold their own seminar series and practical workshops.

The course has an Academic Director and a Course Director who looks after the day to day running of the course. As an MPhil student you will also have a dissertation supervisor to oversee your individual research. 

The University of Oxford has an extensive library system and the Radcliffe Science Library is the main lending service within the University for the material required for the course. The Social Sciences Library also holds collections which are valuable for students pursuing geography programmes. A tutorial on using the library and IT facilities will be provided at induction by the Geography Subject Librarian.

The department has a computer room available for all graduate students. There are dedicated IT times each day when you can seek help from IT staff. There is a dedicated social space for MSc students where you can meet and discuss your studies. Where appropriate, you will be able to use the departmental laboratories for your dissertation research.

Research skills training is provided in preparation for your dissertation. Throughout the first year of the MPhil, field trips and visits to external organisations support the lectures and seminars and deliver valuable skills training

Funding

There are over 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£18,455
Overseas£24,910

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Most costs associated with compulsory fieldwork are paid for by the department. This excludes the costs associated with obtaining the appropriate visa required to attend the non-UK based field trips. Non-EEA nationals might require a visa in order to travel to the country where the field trip is being held and any costs associated with obtaining the appropriate travel visa is the responsibility of the student. Students will also have to pay for some meals during the field course. Furthermore, as part of your course requirements you need to develop and research a dissertation topic. Depending on your choice of topic and the field work research required to complete it, you may incur additional costs (eg relating to travel, accommodation, field assistants, lab fees and/or research visas). You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants/bursaries from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2020-21 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,135 and £1,650 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2020-21, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

You are not required to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Personal statement:
2,500 words

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.

Your statement of purpose should also cover your proposed research topic for the second year of the MPhil course, in order that the department can be certain that appropriate supervision can be offered. You should show that you have a reasonable idea of your research area with at least some grasp of the relevant literature and the major issues. 

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • evidence of your enthusiasm for the proposed area of study, over and above what would be expected from an undergraduate course of instruction
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

Your statement should focus on the subject area rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations. This might be demonstrated by, for example, having undertaken independent fieldwork or research, vacation employment in a relevant discipline, or having already made research publications or presentations.

If you have already graduated, at least some of the time since graduation should have been spent on activities related to the proposed course of study, or a sound reason why this is not the case should be given.

You should also show that you have a reasonable idea of your research area with at least some grasp of the relevant literature and the major issues. You should provide some information on the research topic you wish to study in your second year so that the department can ensure that the right staff expertise is available to supervise this.

It will be normal for your ideas subsequently to change in some ways as you investigate the evidence and develop your project. You should nevertheless make the best effort you can to demonstrate the extent of your research question, sources and method at this moment.

Written work:
One essay of 2,000 words 

The written work must be in English and can be either an essay you have written, a chapter(s) of a thesis, a published scholarly paper or even academic work written specifically to support your application.

This work should demonstrate your ability to write a good academic document though it does not need to be related to the proposed area of study.

An extract of the requisite length from longer work is permissible. Bibliography or brief footnotes are not included in the word count.

This will be assessed for evidence of good basic knowledge, understanding of problems, powers of analysis, ability to construct a coherent train of thought, and to shape an argument, and powers of expression. Evidence of prior knowledge of or engagement with social theory will be assessed. The quality of English expression and of presentation may also be part of the assessment. Students with disclosed disabilities will receive appropriate consideration according to their particular needs.

The written work does not need to relate to the subject matter of the course.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.


Your references will support your academic achievements, interests, and personal motivation. In order to assist assessors in their consideration of applications references should be from experienced scholars and teachers of graduate students. In view of this, it is recommended that at least two of the three references are from academics.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and plan your time to submit your application well in advance.

Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.

Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).

Application GuideApply

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