2022 start September 

International Development

Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences

Learn about social and environmental justice, rural and urban development, citizenship and sustainability and develop a global network of expertise through industry and sector specialists.
Student surveying the view from the top of a mountain as part of a field trip

Course description

This course engages with the challenges of international development in today’s complex world. You’ll develop skills and knowledge relating to development research and practice.

You'll go on a unique placement-based dissertation that combines work experience with academic research. You'll also carry out hands-on research during a field class.

Our graduates have gone on to work for a wide variety of organisations, including the World Bank, the British Red Cross, UNDP, WildAid, World Vision and Save the Children.

This MA draws on our research strengths and internationally-recognised expertise in the areas of social and environmental justice, rural and urban development, governance, citizenship and sustainability. Our teaching involves industry and sector specialists, which means you can make connections and contacts with a global network of expertise beyond the University.

Field class

The course typically includes a week-long field class. On all our trips you will learn how to interact with development partners, and experience first hand collecting data from local communities.

We take an ethical and sustainable approach to planning destinations and consider the impact on local communities and the environment.

Recent destinations have included Kenya, Tanzania, Ecuador, Peru, Sierra Leone, and Nepal. However, the destination for your field class will depend on the latest travel/safety conditions, government guidance and guidance from the University. This could mean your field class is delivered as a virtual field class (all online) or as a hybrid field class (online with a UK residential trip), working closely with an overseas partner.

The cost of the compulsory field class is included in your tuition fees.


The Nepal field class gave students the chance to work in small groups with a dedicated Nepali team member, taking part in community initiatives in Kathmandu before staying in Sindhupalchok District. Students pursued research projects around themes of gender, health, migration, earthquake disaster recovery, community forestry and climate change. This research had a direct impact through a final dissemination event which in recent years involved national political and media attention as well as regional and local stakeholders.

The field class is an amazing part of the masters programme, which allows you to consolidate the theory and ideas learnt in lectures, in the field. As well as preparing you for the dissertation it is also a great chance to meet and learn from students of different cultures in a new and interesting environment.


The Tanzania field class gave students practical experience of field research. Working with our NGO partner KEDA, students were based in rural communities around Mt Kilimanjaro.

They researched a range of issues that affect local communities such as health, environmental change and poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers. Each year students fed back to district officials and previously had even been interviewed for National TV.

The field class in Tanzania provided the incredible opportunity to bring case studies we had always read about in books and lectures to life through hands-on fieldwork. I was able to learn about issues in water, health and sanitation through the voices of local people. Conducting research in the rich and vibrant culture of Tanzania was an unforgettable experience.


The Ecuador field class gave students the opportunity to work closely with our local partner Intercultural Outreach Initiative, which is based on the Island Isabela in the Galapagos Islands. Our students gained experience in field research by exploring a range of issues that affect the local communities such as food security, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues and ocean plastic pollution. Each year students feed back to district officials and local stakeholders.

You can read a blog from one of our students about a virtual field class.

The virtual field class provided an opportunity to experience the challenges of international fieldwork, and allowed us to develop skills in adapting research to changing circumstances and using video interviews for data collection, which will be useful skills for the future! It was a great way to gain an understanding and insight into the situation around plastics in the Galapagos, despite not being able to visit!


The dissertation with placement gives you valuable practical experience of working in a development organisation and engaging with development issues.

You'll spend six to eight weeks in June or July based in a host organisation, where you'll carry out a research project identified by the organisation and approved by the University. Your project will have clear practical relevance and will generate findings that form the basis of your dissertation. Students may also spend time working directly on the organisation's core activities.

We currently work with over 30 host organisations in the UK and across the globe. Some have a wide remit, others have a specialist focus on issues such as conservation, education or health.

Placements to overseas destinations are subject to the same potential constraints imposed by travel conditions and health risks due to Covid-19.

The costs of the dissertation with placement module are not included in your tuition fees. A limited number of low-cost local placements are also available.

Recent topics for the dissertation with placement
  • Exploring the impact of land certification programmes on land tenure security and land conflicts for peasants in Indonesia
  • Inclusive education for students with visual, hearing and physical disabilities: Barriers and experiences in Gondar, Northern Ethiopia
  • Sustainable livelihoods and the urban poor: The importance of rural-urban connections for second generation rural-urban migrants in Kampala, Uganda
  • Shifting and negotiating identities: Shan refugees in Northern Thailand
  • Breaking dichotomies and the process of social reproduction: A case study of urban market women in El Alto
  • Life histories of giving: Individuals’ changing relationships with charities over time
  • Governance and livelihoods: The future of aquaculture on Lake Bunot, San Pablo, Philippines
  • Exploration of how recognised factors affect public perceptions of climate change within the North of England
  • Learning from international emergency responses: a critical assessment of how the British Red Cross learns from its international emergency responses


    The modules listed below are examples from the last academic year. There may be some changes before you start your course. For the very latest module information, check with the department directly.

    Core modules:

    Ideas and Practice in International Development

    This unit introduces students to key theoretical debates in international development. It explores how thinking about development has changed over time and why it has changed. The module also encourages students to think about the relationship between development theory and development practice. This is achieved by introducing key topics and issues areas in the field and having students think critically about the ways in which practitioners have approached development issues and defined development problems at various points in time, as well as the theoretical viewpoints that have informed their actions.

    15 credits
    Research Design and Methods for Development

    Research methods are a key part of international development research within academic and practitioner institutions. This module takes you through the research process, from designing a viable project, through to development issues in a range of research methods, forms of analysis, and approaches to writing and dissemination.
    The course covers both quantitative research methods, such as questionnaire surveys, and qualitative research methods, including the use of interviews and focus groups, as well as methods for critical reading. The course will also cover the analysis and formulation of research findings for academic and professional purposes.

    15 credits
    Professional Skills for Development

    In this module, students gain a critically-engaged understanding of professional practice in international development and develop a range of professional skills for future career paths. Students learn to apply academic training to real-world situations, such as stakeholder engagement and the design and progressing of development projects. There are a small number of guest sessions led by professional practitioners (when budget permits). The module also emphasises employability-related skills and familiarisation with approaches and techniques used in the workplace, as well as widely applicable communication skills

    15 credits

    Optional modules (full list TBC):

    Quantitative Analysis

    This module introduces students to powerful and commonly used statistical methods in the social sciences. It assumes no prior statistical knowledge and focuses on the practical research priorities of selecting, conducting and interpreting the most appropriate test with an eye to, rather than an obsession with, the underpinning statistical foundations. The module uses weekly seminar sessions and SPSS practicals to build practical software skills alongside conceptual understanding.

    15 credits
    Theory and Debates in Food Security and Food Justice

    Food Security and Food Justice are areas of increasing importance at local, national, transnational and global scales. While various political and non-political agents at various scales have recognised that Global Hunger and Food Security (of which Food Justice is a primary component) is a key challenge requiring urgent interdisciplinary investigation and problem solving, there remains limited agreement as to how best to approach these issues and at what scale. This unit provides students with a background to the problems encompassed within the food security/food justice nexus by drawing on academic and policy debates that focus on both the macro as well as the micro grassroots impacts. By drawing on country case studies, the unit also critically evaluates different strategies for mitigating the impacts of food insecurity and injustice.

    15 credits
    The Science of Environmental Change

    This module gives students a critical understanding of the science behind historical and recent environmental change. The module covers the core debates in environmental change, the science behind these changes, methods for detecting environmental change, and the impacts of these changes.

    15 credits
    Key Issues in Global Public Health

    This module introduces contemporary and historical public health discourses, policies and practices, before critically examining their practical and theoretical underpinnings. The module goes on to explore the role and actions of key global health players (e.g. individual governments, United Nations organisations, bilateral and multilateral partnerships, local and international non-governmental organisations and health care industries), and discusses the social determinants of health, considering how they might be tackled for improved health equity and social justice. The module then provides an introduction to major public health challenges in the contemporary world, illustrated through health issues (e.g. malnutrition, maternal and child health, mental health, sexual and reproductive health), socio-political issues (e.g. gender equity, trade, conflict, famine), and environmental issues (e.g. climate change, urbanisation, food security, waste management). Lastly, the module concludes by looking forward, in light of contemporary trends, whilst reflecting on lessons learnt, in order to sustainably improve global health in the future.

    15 credits
    Urban Development in the Global South

    This module looks at the challenges of urban planning and development in the global South: how are conflicting imperatives of ecological sustainability, social inclusion and economic competitiveness being balanced by practitioners, and what implications does this have for those living there? The unit will develop understanding of how urban planning systems are constructed and mediated by different actors. The unit will use a series of scenarios representing some of the diversity of conditions that exist in the global South to develop understandings of how planning systems shape and are shaped by the contexts in which they operate.

    15 credits
    Critical Digital Geography in Practice

    Digital geographies of GIS, spatial analysis methods and cartography are now widely used in a large variety of academic and professional settings, from urban planning and architecture to health care and social research. This module is focused on helping students understand the critical and conceptual considerations of GIS, cartography, and critical data studies in exploring the relationship between digital and social, political and economic geographies. The module is taught through a combination of case-study-based lectures and seminars.

    15 credits
    Principles of GIS

    This module introduces students to the core principles and skills of GIS. It covers the major sources of data used to study the lived environment and the variety of ways it can be displayed to aid both understanding and analysis. The module has a particular focus on techniques used in the analysis of socio-economic and demographic data and its potential applications. It is taught through a combination of lectures and practical workshops using ArcGIS software.

    15 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.


    1 year full-time


    There are seminars, lectures, workshops, reading groups and independent study.

    Due to the ongoing uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, plans for the advertised academic year have not yet been finalised. The delivery of our courses will continue to be guided by national guidelines for education which balance educational needs with the safety of our students and staff. During the pandemic, the international elements of our courses have been taught with a virtual field class. This approach was commended by the external examiner and received excellent feedback from students.

    The field class is integral and valuable to our programme. We intend to explore international destinations in the future. This will be determined by whether it is possible and responsible to do so in line with the coronavirus situation in the UK and our overseas destinations. 


    You'll be assessed on coursework assignments, project work and a dissertation.

      Student profiles

      Image of Oliver Bellamy, MA International Development student in the Department of Geography

      This particular course is exciting not just because I am studying the subject I am interested in, but also the opportunity to go on an international field trip and placement in order to experience the issues that I am learning about. Hopefully I can start to make a difference before I have even graduated. I did my undergraduate degree in Sheffield and loved it so much that I didn’t even consider studying anywhere else!

      Oliver Bellamy
      MA International Development

      Entry requirements

      You’ll need a 2:1 or first-class honours degree in an area of the social sciences or medicine.

      Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

      Pathway programme for international students

      If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Business, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

      We also accept a range of other UK qualifications and other EU/international qualifications.

      If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.

      Fees and funding

      There are various scholarships and bursaries available to support the dissertation with placement. Low-cost local placements are also available.

      Additional costs

      The cost of the compulsory field class is included in your tuition fees. The costs of the core dissertation with placement module are not included in your tuition fees.


      You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

      Apply now

      +44 114 222 7900

      Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

      Our student protection plan

      Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

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