About the course
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.
Attention is paid to the intellectual history of sustainable urban development, its current and future applications and practice, and the contemporary relevance of research to sustainable urban policy and practice across cities of the Global North and South.
The programme attracts a lively and engaged group of students, who combine postgraduate study with their professional lives, and an active alumni network. Students on the course typically come from a wide international background and share a variety of work experiences in urban development and the built environment.
The MSc is designed for those operating in a range of urban contexts worldwide - public, private or third sector organisations - and fosters collaboration, creativity, perspective-sharing and effective networking skills. The MSc is an accredited course within the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors University Partnership.
The course is delivered by University academics, industry experts, urban researchers and practitioners in the built environment. Regular contributors include the International Institute for Environment and Development and the University’s Transport Studies Unit.
You will attend eight intensive residential teaching weeks during the two years of study, primarily held in Oxford at the Department for Continuing Education. Each teaching week addresses a core theme of the course.
In the first year, you will study five interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teaching weeks:
- Concepts of the City and Environmental Change
- Climate Change and the Built Environment
- Place-making and Urban Design
- Financing Sustainability
- Sustainable Transport
During teaching weeks, you will also follow foundation courses in urban theory and research methods tailored to sustainable urban development, comprising sessions on the intellectual history of sustainable urbanism, paradigm shifts and challenges in sustainable development, urban economics, research design, research ethics and preparation, bibliography and library resources.
In the second year, you will study three interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teaching weeks:
- Urbanism, Community and City-Building
- Urbanisation in the Global South
- Leadership, Governance and Future Cities
You will spend the latter half of the second year working on a 15,000-word dissertation. You will choose the topic, with the guidance of your supervisor, and, in most cases, spend time doing fieldwork and gathering data during this period. More information can be found in the Course Handbook.
The course is delivered through a mix of tailored teaching and learning methods, including seminars, site visits, peer-review, research workshops and individual tutorials. Classes are seminar-based, encouraging active participation and enabling students to learn from each other. You will prepare for sessions by reading a selection of recommended books, book chapters and articles. Typically, there are six to eight weeks between each teaching week, during which time you should expect to spend an average of 15 hours per week of independent study.
You will be allocated a course tutor who will support your academic development, and with whom you will meet during each teaching week for a tutorial. In the second year, you will be allocated a dissertation supervisor. You will also have a college advisor whom you may consult on issues concerning your personal wellbeing.
For each teaching week, you will complete an essay of up to 3,000 words on that theme. The first essay is formative and will provide you with valuable feedback at the start of your studies. The remaining seven essay assignments are summative.
You will also submit a research dissertation of up to 15,000 words. It is expected that you will define your own dissertation topic in consultation with your allocated supervisor. Training in research skills is built into the course delivery, in order to help you make the most of this opportunity.
Students are usually already working as professionals in an urban context. Participation in the MSc course has helped to boost professional practice, enhanced career prospects, and secured promotions and new career paths.
The alumni network forms an active and key part of the professional and international outreach of the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development programme at Oxford. Throughout your period of study, you will be able to attend course-related dinners and other opportunities for professional networking.
- DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development
- MSc in Economics for Development
- MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance
- DPhil in International Development
- MPhil in Development Studies
Changes to the course
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. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.
Entry requirements for entry in 2018-19
Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:
1. Academic ability
Proven and potential academic excellence
Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in a social science or science subject.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.
If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other appropriate indicators will include:
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(s)
Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.
Interviews will be arranged using Skype with video or by telephone. The interview will normally last around 20 minutes and will be conducted by a minimum of two academics.
The interview will assess your understanding of the subject area; understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; and powers of critical analysis and expression.
Publications are not expected or required for admission, but any can be listed on the CV.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
At least two years’ research or professional work experience in urban development is normally required.
An ability to work both independently and in groups is essential.
2. English language requirement
Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.
3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places
The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- The ability of the Department for Continuing Education to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work
- Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.
The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:
- The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department for Continuing Education 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 Department for Continuing Education.
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, maternity leave or change in employment.
4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties
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.
Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.
Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
6. Other information
Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.
It is essential to apply as early as possible and to submit all required materials by the advertised deadlines.
A number of the department's master’s students apply to continue doctoral research both at the department and in other departments of the University. Entry requirements and deadlines will differ slightly in each department and details will be available on departmental websites.
The department is committed to supporting you to pursue your academic goals.
The Rewley House Continuing Education Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries, is situated in Rewley House. The department aims to support the wide variety of subjects covered by departmental courses at many academic levels. The department also has a collection of around 73,000 books together with periodicals. PCs in the library give access to the internet and the full range of electronic resources subscribed to by the University of Oxford. Wifi is also available. The Jessop Reading Room adjoining the library is available for study. You will have access to the Central Bodleian and other Bodleian Libraries.
The Graduate School provides a stimulating and enriching learning and research environment for the department's graduate students, fostering intellectual and social interaction between graduates of different disciplines and professions from the UK and around the globe. The Graduate School will help you make the most of the wealth of resources and opportunities available, paying particular regard to the support and guidance needed if you are following a part-time graduate programme. The department’s graduate community comprises over 700 members following taught programmes and more than 80 undertaking doctoral research.
The department provides various IT facilities, including the Student Computing Facility which provides individual PCs for your use. Many of the department's courses are delivered through blended learning or have a website to support face-to-face study. In most cases, online support is delivered through a virtual learning environment.
Depending on the programme you are taking with the department, you may requireaccommodation at some point in your student career. Rewley House is ideally located in central Oxford; the city's historic sites, colleges, museums, shops and restaurants are only a few minutes’ walk away. The department has 35 en-suite study bedrooms, all with high quality amenities, including internet access.
The Rewley House dining room has seating for up to 132 people. A full meal service is available daily. The department operates a Common Room with bar for students.
The MSc in Sustainable Urban Development provides an interactive, course-specific virtual learning environment, with a repository of all course materials.
There are over 1,100 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.
A range of scholarships are available to students on the programmes offered by the department, along with bursary funds to assist students on low incomes. Full information on these opportunities can be found on the departmental funding pages.
Modular course fees
The fees for this course are charged on a modular basis. You will pay an annual course fee and an additional fee for each module studied. A minimum of two annual course fees are payable for this course. If this course includes a dissertation, three module fees will be charged for the dissertation.
Fees for the 2018-19 academic year
Annual course fee
Fee per module
Total estimated fees
|£8,115||£1,785||Please see the department’s website for further details|
The fees shown above include college 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.
For more information about tuition 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.
This course has residential sessions in Oxford. You will need to meet your travel and accommodation costs in attending these sessions. Further, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. 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.
In addition to your fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2018-19 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,015 and £1,555 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. If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.
How to apply
You are not required to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply. If you have any queries regarding the course, please use the contact details provided on this page.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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.
500 to 1,000 words
The personal statement must be written in English. You should state in what way you believe the MSc might contribute to your career development plans. You must also indicate an awareness of the structure of the degree, and you should also indicate, very briefly, what your thesis topic might be.
This will be assessed for your motivation for and understanding of the area of sustainable urban development.
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.
Two essays of 3,000 words each
You should submit written work addressing topics relevant to urban studies and written in English. Extracts from longer pieces of work are acceptable, but should not come from the same piece of work; and should each be prefaced by a note which puts it in context.
Your work should be written in English and the word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes. Please note that multi-authored works are not acceptable.
This will be assessed for:
- comprehensive understanding of the subject area
- understanding of problems in the area
- ability to construct an defend an argument
- powers of analysis
- powers of expression.
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.
Whilst it is recommended that all references be from experienced scholars and teachers of students, one professional reference is acceptable.
Your references will support your intellectual ability, academic achievement, academic writing ability, suitability for this course and motivation, in addition to any other information that is considered to be relevant.