As the issue of sustainable development climbs the political agenda, so universities are responding with master’s degrees to suit.
Courses vary: some are more scientific, while others are business focused or adopt a global view – but all give students a grounding in what environmental change is about, how it is measured and in research skills and methods.
At the University of East Anglia, students can sign up for an MSc in environmental sciences or an MSc in climate change. “Both allow students to take a hard-core subject like atmospheric change and combine it with the social sciences that you need for the real world,” says Dr Gill Seyfang, senior lecturer in sustainable consumption. “The knitting together of these two strands is what makes our MScs special.”
Another university with a good reputation in the field is Sussex where SPRU (Science and Technology Policy Research) runs two master’s programmes: an MSc in innovation and sustainability for international development; and an MSc in energy policy for sustainability.
These courses attract students from all over the world. Leanne Jones, 31, an Australian working at the Department for International Development in London as a climate and environment adviser, is enrolled on the university MSc in innovation and sustainability for international development part-time.
“I have been getting a more theoretical understanding and up-to-date information out of the course,” she says. “This has been really beneficial for my work.”
But, best of all, she is acquiring a master’s degree. “Having a master’s is the basic thing you need now for a decent job,” she says. “Not having one has held me back in terms of promotion.”
Exeter University’s MSc in sustainable development, based at its Falmouth Campus, is located within the geography department. “What distinguishes our master’s is its breadth,” says James Ryan, an associate professor who runs the course.
“In addition, students get out and about. This term they have been working with the Cornwall Flood Forum and looking at how local communities can help to address flooding.”
Three years ago Aston launched its MSc in social responsibility and sustainability in the business school aimed at people working in the private sector. “Most companies have sustainability policies and we’re interested in how we make those authoritative and not just green eyewash,” says Carole Parkes, who runs the course.
It appeals to business people such as management consultant Helen Ellison, 43, who wants to change her focus to give advice to companies on ethical and global supply chains. “I think this degree gives me the knowledge to do that,” she says. “Modules are taught in a practical way and we cover a lot of business case studies.”
Experience counts in your master’s application
Stuart Bodsworth believes that he would not have got the job he has with the Environment Agency without his MSc in environmental management and sustainable development from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
“I was a mature student of 42 when I embarked on the course two years ago. At the time I was working as an executive member on Stockport council with responsibility for the environment. I had been a keen environmentalist for many years and I thought it would be good to get more learning and more qualifications behind me. I didn’t have an undergraduate degree, so I applied to do one. One of the tutors spotted my application and suggested I applied for the Masters instead, which is what I did.
I loved it. It was my first experience of university and it fitted in well with my work on the council. There were a lot of late nights banging away at the computer but I learnt a lot. I did my dissertation on the impact of solar panels in the social housing sector.
All the hard work paid off and I did well, achieving a distinction, which was very gratifying.
As a result I now have a full-time job with the Environment Agency as an environment officer and am doing my council work part-time. I don’t think I would have got through the initial sift of applications without this master’s.”
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