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Register your interest to hear about postgraduate study and events at the University of Sheffield
Environmental Change and International Development
Department of Geography,
Faculty of Social Sciences
Environmental considerations are central to international development theory, policy and practice. Our Environmental Change and International Development MSc gives you an in-depth understanding of the complexities of international development while exploring how society-environment interactions influence policy and practice. You'll acquire the theoretical and practical knowledge for careers in development research and practice in the public, private and third sectors.
The course is rooted in principles of interdisciplinary learning, decolonising knowledge, connecting theory with policy and practice. You'll also have the flexibility to tailor the course to you own interests.
Through this approach it offers a unique combination of academic excellence, tailored professional skills teaching, an optional field class, and a research-based dissertation based on placements, research collaborations or independent research.
Core modules will teach you about changing ideas of ‘development’ since the mid-twentieth century and how these have translated into different policy approaches and outcomes. You'll learn about poverty and how it has changed, about how development ideas and processes connect to questions of gender, culture and race, about how processes such as migration, urbanisation and technological evolution intersect with development, and about the global governance of international development.
You'll have the opportunity to build a range of professional skills and will be trained in core research methods in order to undertake an individual piece of original research. Our placement-based dissertation option also enables you to gain valuable work experience.
Optional modules from across the University are also available. These include subjects as diverse as food security, public health, urban development, and climate change.
An optional international field class in the Global South encourages you to engage with overseas development and community organisations through an intensive week of activities. We also offer a lower cost and more sustainable UK-based ‘hybrid’ field class as an alternative. International field class locations are subject to variation and subject to the number of students participating, but previous destinations have included Peru, Nepal and South Africa.
The costs of optional field classes modules and placements are not included in your tuition fees. A limited amount of funding, accessed through a competitive process, is available to students to help finance field classes.
Find out more about our past international field classes:
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!
- 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
- Ideas and Practice in International Development
This module 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 module covers both quantitative research methods, such as questionnaire surveys, and qualitative research methods, including the use of interviews and focus groups, and the analysis and formulation of research findings for academic and professional purposes.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
- 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. Planning an international development project for a tender bid is a core element. The module may also include guest sessions led by professional practitioners. There is a strong emphasis on employability-related skills and approaches and techniques used in the workplace, as well as widely applicable communication skills15 credits
Optional modules (full list TBC):
- 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. Political and non-political agents at multiple 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. This module 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 impacts. By looking across food systems, the module also critically evaluates different strategies for mitigating the impacts of food insecurity and injustice. In addition to academic, knowledge and critical thinking skills, the module will help students to develop the following attributes: Communication, Networking, Collaboration, Influencing, Inclusivity, Defining Purpose, and Growth Mindset.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
- 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
- Urban Development in the Global South
This module explores 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 module 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
- Environment, Society and Development: Key Issues, Debates and Concepts
This module engages critically with the key theoretical debates that shape the relationships between the environment, society and international development. By looking at current questions in development theory and their relationship to development practice in the context of the Anthropocene and environmental change, it encourages students to think critically about the ways in which interdisciplinary approaches define issues and problems, and the theoretical viewpoints that inform their actions. The module is taught primarily through seminars: these structure students’ learning, and provide an environment in which they can develop their skills in researching, presenting and debating arguments drawn from the academic literature on international development.15 credits
Optional modules (full list TBC):
- International Development Field class
The field class gives students the opportunity to explore and research development issues at first hand, and to enhance their understanding of grass-roots perspectives in countries of the Global South. The module provides students with hands-on experience of fieldwork, allowing them to practice and build on research skills learnt in Semester 1 through group fieldwork projects. The module contributes to students' transferable skills through teamwork, research design and implementation, and presentation skills.15 credits
- Managing Climate Change
This module aims to provide students with a strong understanding of the social and physical science of climate change with relevance to international development. This understanding is then applied to consider the challenge of living with climate change in the Global South. The module is taught through seminars and lectures. Lectures introduce and impart factual knowledge while seminars allow discussion and an emphasis on applying key concepts to practical situations. Together these structure students' learning, and provide an environment in which they can develop their skills in researching, presenting and debating arguments drawn from the wide ranging literature on climate change.15 credits
- Using Policy to Strengthen Health Systems
The module seeks to build on students' own experiences and knowledge of policy and public health systems. During the module, you will work individually and also in groups to develop a critical understanding of policy within particular public health systems. You will consider how policy to strengthen public health systems is developed and how improvements might be targeted at any combination of the regional, national, district, and community levels.15 credits
In the module, policy is interpreted broadly as 'purposeful and deliberate actions' through which efforts can be made to reshape or address issues within public health systems and is about power and politics (cf. Gilson, 2012). Public health systems are understood both as public health systems (covering, for example, health protection, health promotion and health care public health) and, more narrowly, as health care systems. The module is suitable for students with a broad public health and health care knowledge, but also for those with more limited experience.
- Cities of Diversity
Acknowledging diversity within cities is increasingly regarded as central to successful planning, urban development and city making and is a very hotly debated issue currently, particularly with #MeToo, Brexit and Trump! But what do we mean by diversity and what theories exist to help us understand it? This module will focus on various aspects of diversity in the form of differing social identities (such as age, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and gender – including focusing on masculinity within cities) but also critically explore the ways in which diversity is understood by policy makers and city managers. The module will focus on cities in both the global South and North and consider the significance of migration in relation to diversity in both contexts. The module will rely on a critical engagement with literature from the discipline of geography, planning, urban studies and development studies.15 credits
- Citizen Participation in Planning and Development
Recent decades have seen a proliferation of initiatives to involve citizens in policy-making, planning and urban governance. There is widespread agreement that 'citizen engagement' can play a positive role in democratizing urban development. However, public participation raises a range of significant challenges for urban professional practice. This module will draw on critical debates about the roles citizens and publics can and should play in shaping the city to reflect on the theory and practice of participation. The module is taught through seminars which structure learning, and help students to research case studies of participatory initiatives.15 credits
- Urban Informality
The overall aim of this module is to critically examine informality, with a particular but not exclusive focus on cities of the Global South. The module relies on a mixture of lectures, seminars and student-led group work, with the latter focusing on an in-depth case study of a selected city. It explores patterns and causes of informality and discusses the strengths and limitations of a range of theoretical approaches. It also analyses the success of different real-world urban planning responses (understood in broad terms), including government-led, donor-led and community-focused ones, in addressing key urban issues in the context of informality.15 credits
- Dissertation with Placement
The dissertation-with-placement module combines an independent research project with experience of working (in-person or virtually) with a development related organisation.60 credits
Students are required to make a detailed analysis of an issue, topic or problem agreed with their host organisation, develop a research proposal, carry out research while on placement, and produce both a Masters dissertation and a shorter consultancy-style report based on their dissertation findings. The dissertation is supported by lectures and one-to-one supervision. The module provides valuable experience of real-world development policy and practice, as well as fostering independent research skills.
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.
An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses. You'll find out what makes us special.
1 year full-time
You’ll be assessed on your coursework assignments and a dissertation.
The Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield is a world leader in teaching and research. We're ranked within the top 50 universities in the world for geography according to the QS Rankings 2022, top 10 in the world for geography by the ShanghaiRanking Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2022 and top 10 in the UK for geography by the Guardian University Guide 2023.
We are experts in the fields of social justice and environmental change. We explore our dynamic, diverse world to address humanity’s greatest problems, from food waste to melting ice sheets and sustainable international development. Our innovative research and practice-based learning will equip you with distinct, relevant professional skills.
We have over 30 full-time academic staff in the department. Our high staff-to-student ratio ensures that you receive excellent quality teaching and a high level of pastoral support throughout your studies.
There are so many opportunities to gain real work experiences through the field class and dissertation with placements. Not many masters courses offer this so it is definitely one of the strongest elements of the course. Eventually I would like to combine my background in economics with international development and work in policy.
Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in a social sciences or medical subject.
Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.
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.
You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.
+44 114 222 7900
Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.
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.