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    International Development

    School of Geography and Planning, 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

    In the face of persistent global inequalities, a deepening climate crisis and polarised political debate on the role of overseas aid and investment, the challenges of international development have never been more pressing. Our MA International Development – taught collaboratively by the Departments of Geography, Politics and International Relations, Sociological Studies, and Urban Studies and Planning – provides you with the theoretical and practical knowledge to undertake 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 very different policy approaches and outcomes. You'll will 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 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.

    Field class

    An optional international field class 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 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!


    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


    We're revising the curriculum of this course for this year of entry and are in the process of confirming the modules. The information on this page gives you an idea of the areas we expect the course to cover. There may be changes before you start. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Core modules:

    Professional Skills for Development

    In this module, which is taught across several departments drawing in a range of multi-disciplinary expertise, students gain a critically engaged understanding of professional practice in international development and develop a range of professional skills for future career paths.  Through the module students will learn to apply academic training to real-world situations, with a strong focus on employability-related skills.

    Students will be taught about a set of key transferable and employability skills in keeping with the Sheffield Graduate Attributes before being given the option to choose between one of three specialist skill development tracks for hands-on group work.   The key transferable skills covered will include communications, project design and fundraising, policy analysis and consultancy work, ethics and cultural sensitivity.  Whichever of the specialist tracks they choose, students will work on a group-based project output and an individual written assessment.  While acquiring some specialist skills, all students will reflect on all key transferable skills offered in the first half of the module.

    15 credits
    Ideas and Practice in International Development

    This module introduces students to key theoretical debates in international development. Co-taught by the Departments of Geography, Politics, Urban Studies and Planning, and Sociological Studies, it takes an interdisciplinary approach to exploring 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.  It is spread over two semesters, in order to maximise the synergies between the core content of this module and the various other core and optional modules that students will take across the year.  The first semester focuses on the overarching questions of how development has been understood and conceptualised from the colonial period to the present. The changing development paradigms presented through weekly lectures are explored in depth through fortnightly seminars, each of which focuses on a set of key questions about changing theoretical perspectives and their implications for policy. The second semester then shifts focus onto a set of critical issues for policy and practice, including (for example) global health, migration, technology, urbanization and development finance.  The overall aim of the module is to build students' understanding of the origins of the idea of international development, changing debates about its meaning and purpose, and the implications of these for policy and practice.

    30 credits

    Optional modules:

    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
    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, and projected future changes.

    15 credits

    Epidemiology is the discipline underpinning both effective public health practice and research into the causes, control and prevention of disease. Knowledge and understanding of epidemiological concepts and methods is a basic requirement for effective public health practice.

    This module will provide an introduction to epidemiology covering key epidemiological concepts; measures of disease; association and causation; confounding and bias. It will also introduce research designs including cross-sectional, ecological, cohort, case-control and intervention studies and introduce population health measures such as screening.

    15 credits
    Critical Reflections in Global Health

    Global health has been described as the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organised efforts of society, with the goal being the attainment of biological, physical, and mental well-being of all members of society. In this module we take an inter-disciplinary approach to explore these themes.

    Aligned with the themes of our key reader (7th edition of the Oxford Textbook of Global Public Health) we will consider some of the key concepts of global health, explore some of the determinants of health, and consider some of the key function / methods applied to address global health issues. We will then reflect on these themes in relation to the practice of global health through the lens of specific health challenges. Throughout the module themes such as inequalities in health, complexities in our response, and the political, social, and economic context within which we work will be repeatedly raised and discussed. 

    In delivering this module we are excited to have secured the expertise of regional, national, and international leaders and experts who will share their learnings on a diverse range of subjects that include socioeconomic and health inequalities, health intelligence, and sexual and reproductive health. In relation to the sharing of experiences and expertise, and in stimulating engaged discussion, throughout the module you will be encouraged to develop and use a reflective learning approach to consider shifts in your perception and understanding of the issues raised.

    15 credits
    Global Health and Global Politics

    Situated within contemporary approaches to International Relations and International Political Economy, this module will introduce students to the global politics of health, addressing health as both a global issue, and also as a quintessentially political one. The module will: chart the recent rise of health as an issue of 'high politics'; examine the relationship between individual and population health and the global political economy; explore the ways in which and institutions by which health is governed at the global level; analyse some of the key contemporary issues and challenges in contemporary global health governance.

    30 credits
    Development and the State

    This module will explore and critically assess the political economy of development. It does so by focusing on the interplay between processes of economic transformation and the political strategies pursued by states in the name of national development. The module is interdisciplinary, drawing on development studies, the political economy of growth and transformation, and comparative capitalisms. Part one reviews the most salient theoretical themes in approaches to capitalist development. This will put students in a position to understand more specific theorisations of capitalist development as a state strategy in a world characterised by uneven and combined capitalist development. Part two focuses more specifically on the state. This section will bring the more generic issues reviewed in Part One into a focused 'developmental' framing. Part three will open up to more ambitious evaluative work in which normative questions are asked and the prospects for capitalist development are contested.

    30 credits
    Hate, Hope and Digital Misinformation

    The module explores contemporary issues that affect the relationship between digital media and society in the global context. It focuses on digital media and dis/misinformation (for example debates around fake news), the relationship between misinformation and online extremes (such as online hate, conspiracy theories, or online radicalisation), and attempts to counter these phenomena (including fact-checking and the creation of digital counter-narratives). These developments are contextualized in relation to longstanding debates about the ways that power, inequality and the political economy of the mainstream media shape the availability and visibility of information. The module takes examples from around the world and applies relevant theories to their analysis.

    15 credits
    Contemporary Challenges: Refugees and Asylum

    Contemporary Challenges explores a key contemporary challenge in depth and applies key concepts in Sociology (e.g. class, race, nationalism, democracy) in analysing it. The focus of the challenge will change on a 3-4 yearly basis.
    In its first iteration, the module focuses on Brexit: ideas of class and 'the left behind', English nationalism, nostalgia for empire, the media, and some of the impacts of Brexit in relation to everyday life. In doing so the module will develop a deeper understanding of the reasons behind the vote for the UK to leave the EU, as well as some of its consequences.

    15 credits
    Foundations 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.

    Open days

    An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses.

    You may also be able to pre-book a department visit as part of a campus tour.Open days and campus tours


    1 year full-time


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


    School of Geography and Planning

    Geography and Planning building
    Geography and Planning building

    The School of Geography and Planning at the University of Sheffield is a world leader in teaching and research. We're ranked in the top 10 in the UK for geography by the Guardian University Guide 2024.

    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.

    Our high staff-to-student ratio ensures that you receive excellent quality teaching and a high level of pastoral support throughout your studies.

    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

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in a social sciences, arts and humanities or medicine and public health subject.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    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.

    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 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 help finance field classes.

    You can also apply for one of our masters scholarships, for example to support your fieldwork, or if you are from a developing country.


    You can apply now 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.