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.
This course 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. This is not an ‘environmental policy’ programme - it is a programme that will prepare you to grapple with contemporary global challenges from the perspectives of critical social theory informed by a range of disciplines.
To this end, 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 environmental management. It also facilitates dialogue between researchers and practitioners concerning contemporary issues of environmental policy and politics.
The specific objectives of the course are:
- to provide broad and critical engagements with key debates in human geography, political ecology and the environmental social sciences, focussing on the relations between nature and society, science and politics, and urban natures
- to foster an understanding of conceptual tools in human geography and how to apply them to the challenges of real-world environmental governance
- to develop your conceptions of, and skills in, the 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.
The objectives are assessed through three themes: Policy and Governance, Theory and Analysis, and Research Skills, delivered through core modules covering: Governance, Politics & Policy; Science & Politics; Nature & Society; Environmental Justice; Business & the Environment; Urban Natures; Research Design; Research Methods & Practice.
You will also study two electives and write an individual dissertation of 15,000 words.
Teaching takes place through lectures, seminars and workshops which provide in-depth exploration of key environmental issues. The MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance also includes two core modules on research design and research methods, which prepare students well for research careers and PhDs. 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 residential field course.
These offer a 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.
An independent and original dissertation is an integral component of the course. In order to equip you with the necessary skills to undertake high quality research, a suite of training activities is offered to develop key transferable skills in order for you to be able to execute high quality independent and original research. The dissertation will expose you to applied research methods used widely in academic and professional research.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the School of Geography and the Environment and 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. Students will usually have 8 hours of supervision.
In addition to the dissertation, assessment is through written examination as well as an additional policy brief assignment for the core modules. The two electives are each assessed through an essay.
Nature, Science and Environmental Governance (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. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, 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 illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
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.
All graduate courses offered by the School of Geography and the Environment
Oxford 1+1 MBA programme
This course can be studied as a part of the Oxford 1+1 MBA programme. The Oxford 1+1 MBA programme is a unique, two-year graduate experience that combines the depth of a specialised, one-year master’s degree with the breadth of a top-ranking, one-year MBA.
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- 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 publications.
English language proficiency
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. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
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.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
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.
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. You will have a dissertation supervisor who is a member of the School’s academic staff.
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 course, fieldtrips and visits to external organisations support the lectures and seminars and deliver valuable skills training.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the school's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
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 changes 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 and Funding section of this website, which includes detailed fee status 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.
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 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 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 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. We recommend that you submit your application well in advance - two or three weeks earlier.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Contacting the department
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
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.
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.
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.
A maximum of 1,000 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.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
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.
One essay a maximum 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. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
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. 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.