MSc Sustainable Development

Graduate Taught (level 9 nfq, credits 90)

(Online Programme)

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In September 2015,  the United Nations adopted Agenda 2030, an ambitious agenda to promote people, planet, and prosperity. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted as part of Agenda 2030, setting forth an ambitious framework of action for countries around the world.

UCD has worked with the SDG Academy since its foundation.   Prof Patrick Paul Walsh has served on her Academic Oversight Committee since 2012.  UCD and  the SDG Academy  have identified a clear need and demand to offer a formal online Masters in Sustainable Development.  The SDG Academy is the online education platform of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative for the United Nations. UCD is ranked 14 in the Times Higher World Impact Ranking 2020 for SDG Partnerships (SDG 17) with clear focus on sustainability in the new strategic plan, rising to the future. 

The recent Covid-19 crisis has also brought to UCD’s attention, the clear need to offer a formal online Masters in Sustainable Development that brings together the best of online resources in the SDG Academy,  UN SDSN  academic  “stars” and experts, with her partner UCD, a leading University in the area of Sustainable Development.

This MSc programme will be the first online, affordable, global programme of its kind, drawing on the expertise, credibility and network of its host institution to offer cutting edge, global, multi-disciplinary learning for the SDGs.

The course has the unique ability to address the large range of issues covered by the SDG agenda that will equip students to solve some of the most pressing issues of our times. Both organizations, with mandates to support the UN system through consultative status , are well-suited to establish and administer such a programme and provide students with a unique experience in access to global taught leaders,   opportunities for excellent placements and  careers in Sustainable Development. 

Careers & Employability

Transforming our World,  the UN 2030Agenda for Sustainable Development  has defined stakeholders to implement the agenda in the following : Paragraph 52. "We the Peoples" are the celebrated opening words of the UN Charter. It is "We the Peoples" who are embarking today on the road to 2030. Our journey will involve Governments as well as Parliaments, the UN system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people. Millions have already engaged with, and will own, this Agenda. It is an Agenda of the people, by the people, and for the people – and this, we believe, will ensure its success.

Graduates can expect careers pathways in the academy, governments,  state agencies,  non-governmental organisations and  in the private sector.


Curricular information is subject to change

Full Time option suitable for:

Domestic(EEA) applicants: Yes
International (Non EEA) applicants currently residing outside of the EEA Region. Yes

Part Time option suitable for:

Domestic(EEA) applicants: Yes
International (Non EEA) applicants currently residing outside of the EEA Region. Yes

The applicants should have earned an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject  such as political science, international relations, social science, sociology, history, geography, economics, global studies, public policy, development studies, EU studies, law/international law , medicine,  planning, engineering ng   with at least Upper Second Class Honours, or its equivalent (an overall GPA of 3.0 (B) or higher in the American system). Relevant professional experience will also be taken into account.

The following schools teach modules on the degree-  

UCD College of Science

Emmanuel Reynaud,  School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science

UCD College of Social Sciences and Law

Patrick Paul Walsh, UCD School of Politics and International Relations

Conor Galvin, UCD School of Education

Ciara Whelan,  UCD School of Economics

Frank Walsh,  UCD School of Economics

Graham Finlay,  UCD School of Politics and International Relations

Andrew Jackson, UCD Sutherland School of Law

UCD College of Engineering and Architecture

Enda Murphy,  UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy

 UCD College of Health and Agricultural Sciences

 Paddy Mallon, School of Medicine

Cliona O’Sullivan,  School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science

Aifric O'Sullivan,  UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science

This programme aims to fulfill the following:

  1. Comprehensiveness: The program will need to teach the full range of issues that define Agenda 2030, drawing an explicit link with the global agenda; covering social, economic, environmental and governance pillars of Sustainable Development, grounded in the context of global, regional and local implementation.
  2. The Knowledge-Implementation Spectrum: the program will need to expose students to the latest global knowledge on issues related to the SDGs, but will also need to train them on how to move from knowledge to policy diagnosis and solutions for implementation on the ground. Knowledge will be grounded in dynamics of associated change theories, with a focus on using behavior change science to understand the knowledge-policy-practice continuum. Diagnostics and solutions will be a cornerstone of each course, ensuring the transfer from theory to practice. Thus, the program will need to balance academic, peer and practice learning as part of its core design.
  3. Interconnectivity: The SDGs define a framework of separate but deeply interconnected goals; understanding Agenda 2030 therefore requires the ability to both, get deep sectoral expertise on individual SDGs, but equally to have an analytical framework to understand the relationships, positive and negative, between the various SDGs. The Program will emphasize how to use systems thinking and other analytical tools to find integrated pathways of implementation that translate the individual goals into a cohesive program of implementation.
  4. Local and Global Relevance: The SDGs are a global agenda, and Agenda 2030 provides a universal framework for implementation. At the same time, the issues represented by the goals manifest in different ways in different parts of the world. A program of study of the SDGs needs to recognize this duality and provide a global perspective while also equipping learners to apply these perspectives in their immediate contexts.
  5. Flexibility: The SDGs are a rapidly evolving agenda; the fields of study that underpin the SDGs viz. natural and applied sciences (ecology, environmental studies, physics, material sciences, agronomy, public health), social studies (economics, sociology, political sciences), and fields of public management, finance, leadership, and administration, are continually evolving, and any program of study needs to be flexible enough to absorb these developments. Second, students of the SDGs are often working professionals, who will need to learn and update their skills while in their work environments- this requires the program to be available in different formats, with a focus on learning through different mediums and formats. Finally, the inter-disciplinarity of the fields of study will be a core pillar of the program design, allowing students also to specialize in fields of study through electives while absorbing the common underpinnings of sustainable development. The understanding of issues concerning peace and conflict is vital to the broader understanding of issues of war, peace and conflict resolution in the world.  This programme develops that understanding on the part of students and familiarises them with cutting edge debates on the issues from various parts of the world. The vision of this programme is to nurture people capable of constructively intervening on these debates - either as practicitooners or as academic/policy specialists.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understanding core concepts of sustainable development

  • Understand the role of sustainable development in the economy, society, environment and governance

  • Gain knowledge of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and relevance to public policy


Applying knowledge and understanding

  • Apply knowledge of the inter-connectedness of the SDG

  • Apply knowledge of sustainable development to policy diagnosis and associated solutions for practical implementation

  • Apply appropriate data analysis and scrutiny techniques for valid data-driven investigations for SDG implementation

  • Apply appropriate tools and techniques to inform evidence based sustainable development driven policy decision.


Making judgements

  • Compare methods, tools and models for developing effective sustainable development solutions

  • Evaluate the range of sustainable development solutions available for public policy implementation

  • Determining the appropriateness of different theoretic and/or analytic approaches to a variety of problems

  • Selecting appropriate concept/theories and empirical techniques to investigate sustainable development issues


Communication and working skills

  • Develop presentation, research and writing skills throughout their time on the programme

  • Enhance communication skills via the interaction with academics, peers and non-specialists

  • Develop a series of transferrable skills that will be important for future employability in the broad area of sustainable development practice

View All Modules Here

The MSc Sustainable Development is a 90-credit programme. Full time students must take two 10-credit core modules and 30 credit SDG Research Project along with four 10-credit option modules. 

SPIRe part time programmes run for 2 years and students normally do 1 - 2 modules per semester. The final 30-credit module is completed during the second year of the programme. 

Please note that our part-time programmes run during the day and are not timetabled in the evenings or at weekends.

Core and Option Modules for MSc Sustainable Development

These are the current modules for 2023/24 but are subject to change. Each of the following modules carries 10 credits unless otherwise specified. 

Core Modules

Option Modules


  • DEV40010 One Planet One Ocean (5 credits)
  • ECON42690 The Market for Labor, Land & SDGs
  • EDUC42940 Development & Societal Transition in complex, post-conflict situations
  • ENVB30130 Ecology & its Application (5 credits)
  • LAW42230 Natural Resources Law
  • MEEN40900 Energy, Climate and Sustainability (5 credits)
  • PLAN40550 Fundamentals of Sustainability (Autumn and Spring Module)
  • BSEN40480 Sustainable Energy & Environment
  • LAW40120 Foundations of Environmental Law 


  • BSEN40790 Carbon & Sustainability
  • ECON42680 Competition & Industrial Policy for Sustainable Development
  • ENVB40380 Managing the Interface between Science and Policy (5 credits)
  • LAW41090 Climate Change Law and Policy
  • PHTY41040 Health in A Global Society
  • MEDN40080 Global Health
  • PLAN40550 Fundamentals of Sustainability (Autumn and Spring Module)

NB: ENVB30130 and DEV40010 MUST be taken together & MEEN40900 and  ENVB40380 MUST be taken together 

Summer Trimester Core Module

  • POL42370 SDG Research Project (30 credits)

MSc Sustainable Development (W486) Part Time
EU/NONEU    fee per year - € 5630

***Fees are subject to change

Tuition fee information is available on the UCD Fees website. Please note that UCD offers a number of graduate scholarships for full-time, self-funding international students, holding an offer of a place on a UCD graduate degree programme. For further information please see International Scholarships.

There will be placement and Internship opportunities across the UN SDSN  

A primary degree with at least Second Class Honours Grade 1 (2H1) in a relevant subject such as environmental science, architecture, planning and environmental policy, education, business, public  health, physiotherapy, law, medicine , political science, international relations, social science, sociology, history, geography, economics, global studies, public policy, development studies, EU studies, law. 2H1 is equivalent to 60 per cent, B minus or 3.08 GPA - in American system: B or 3.00 GPA.


English language requirements: applicants whose first language is not English should have met TOEFL, IELTs, or computer-based TOEFL requirements (600, 6.5, or 250 respectively), or the Cambridge English Test (Certificate in Advanced English at a minimum of Grade B, or Certificate of Proficiency in English at Grade C). Applicants who obtained a previous degree from an English-speaking university may be exempted from this requirement.


Your application will be considered on its individual merits and relevant professional experience will also be taken into account.

Students meeting the programme’s academic entry requirements but not the English language requirements, may enter the programme upon successful completion of UCD’s International Pre-Master’s Pathway programmes. Please see the following link for further information:

These are the minimum entry requirements – additional criteria may be requested for some programmes

The following entry routes are available:

MSc Sustainable Development Jan PT (W490)
2 Years
Part Time
MSc Sustainable Development FT (W485)
1 Years
Full Time
MSc Sustainable Development PT (W486)
2 Years
Part Time

* Courses will remain open until such time as all places have been filled, therefore early application is advised

A comphrensive FAQ can be found here