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Transcript: Postgraduate study in Global Sustainable Development

Hello and thank you for your interest in our postgraduate programmes in Global Sustainable Development (GSD) at the University of Warwick. My name is Professor Mandy Sadan and I’m Co-Director of Graduate Programmes in GSD. This is a short information video to give you some background about the new programmes that we’re launching in September 2021. Applications for the programmes are now open, but if you’d like more information please contact us or you might also like to participate in one of our postgraduate live chat sessions.

Our team

In GSD we have a very collaborative and engaged team working to support the development of our new postgraduate programmes. We’ve got outstanding academics, but also outstanding and dedicated administrative support staff, including our own Employability and Placement Manager. This helps to ensure that all aspects of the programmes will work successfully and in tandem. Please do look at our personal web pages for more information about the main team, as well as the profiles of the academics who you’ll be working with.


In the rest of this short video, I’ll explain a little bit about our approach to GSD and the general structure of our programmes. At the end, I’ll also give you some sense of our community and the kinds of professional development support you can expect to receive.

What is global sustainable development?

Many of you might be wondering what our approach to global sustainable development is. Are we just dealing with the UN Sustainable Development Goals for example, or are we taking a broader and more critical approach?

Slide showing: ‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, 1987).

Here we have a quotation from the famous Brundtland Report of 1987, which helped to set the agenda for sustainable development as we tend to understand it today. The concept emerged of course from longer standing ideas about international development, which have all generally focused on how to improve human lived experience.

We want to go a little bit further than starting and ending with the Brundtland Report’s definition. In our School, we want to engage with the reality that we will need a new set of goals when we reach 2030, as we aren’t currently hitting the targets that we’ve set for ourselves. We’re not just taking the sustainable development agenda as it’s given, but are actively contributing towards it and taking a critical approach, and getting our students involved in this too is vital. We engage with a notion of global sustainable development in a critical and challenging way.

How are we different?

We’re able to take an innovative, creative, and critical approach because our programmes have emerged out of and are embedded in a unique academic structure. The School for Cross-faculty Studies is set up very differently in terms of our intellectual composition and in terms of our governance to most of the departments that deliver degree programmes on sustainable development around the world. Normally, sustainable development is housed in disciplinary departments, focused on for example Geography, or Politics, but we aren’t a disciplinary department in that way. Please do take some time to explore the web pages of the School, to get a clearer understanding of the constituent parts and our approach. Our institutional structure allows us to work deeply with perspectives from a wide range of approaches, in the arts and humanities, social sciences, and the natural sciences. We’re not confined to using one intellectual framework. This is because we believe that providing solutions to the world’s problems isn’t actually within the capacity of a single discipline.

We adopt a genuinely transdisciplinary approach. This is not just about moving from a mono-discipline into studying one or more. Transdisciplinarity is also about engaging with real-world actors and moving beyond academia, trying to break down a lot of the boundaries that exist between academic thinking and practical application, and seeing the complexity, nuance, and ambiguity of problems and solutions. We encourage students at every stage of their learning to be involved in producing change from the very first day of their enrolment and to be as creative as they can in how they create that change.

MASc in Global Sustainable Development

Let me tell you first about our taught graduate programme. As you will see, this is distinctive because it confers an MASc degree. The MASc degree captures the fact that your programme will include multiple approaches across the arts, humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. We’re one of the few universities in the UK to make this offering and it’s a route for transdisciplinary study that’s likely to expand in coming years as its value is recognised, especially for the way it trains creative thinkers who operate at a high intellectual level that are not constrained by disciplinary siloes.


At graduate level in particular we hope that this will enable students with prior training across a whole range of disciplinary and even interdisciplinary approaches, as well as a wide range of backgrounds including diverse work and life experience, to come together in our community to study our programmes. The main criteria is: intellectual curiosity, a desire to ask the right questions, and to navigate complexity, ambiguity, and nuance, and to have a willingness to adopt creatively open perspectives to help find solutions for the problems we all face. If you feel that this describes you, then please do think about coming to join us.

Teaching, learning, and assessment

A lot of our teaching techniques go beyond the traditional lecture/seminar format. Our lectures are interactive – they’re not a passive learning exercise. Our entire focus is on students thinking actively, trying to piece together bits of the puzzle for themselves. In the real world, you’ll never face a situation that’s just a carbon copy in which you can plug in certain knowledge and expect a predictable response. We use our teaching and our assessment strategies to help build ideas about how you will be able to develop responses in real-world situations for yourself.

We’ve focused our graduate degree on helping students develop real-world skills for research, as well as high-level academic training. You’ll use your real-world skills for analysis and for communication to engage other people in your agenda. Instead of just writing essays, we give students the opportunities to write professionally formatted policy briefings, exactly the type you’d use to engage with a policymaker or people in the corporate world. Both academic expertise and process skills are developed and assessed as equally important.


In Term 1 you’ll study three core modules and the aim of these is to equip students to be intellectual leaders within this new and defining context of how humans interact with the world and have changed it so significantly. This is not about leadership in the sense of what you might have in a business school, but it’s about intellectual leadership - to think about the world in different ways. We’ll be encouraging students to take a genuinely philosophically reflective understanding of what it is that they’re trying to do in terms of making change. Who they are, where they’re from, their experience - all of this matters when producing intellectual leadership in this context and we take it seriously.

You might like to stop the video at this point (07:41) to familiarise yourself with the basic structure and you can then look through our degree programme web page for further information about any of the modules.

In Term 2, the optional core modules develop both your theoretical methodological and praxis skills. In this term there’s quite a lot of flexibility as we’re developing a range of internal optional choices. You also have a wide range of choices available to you from the rest of the university, across the humanities and sciences, as well as interdisciplinary modules. With this, we hope that you can give your programme a bespoke orientation. If you would like more information about the module components of the MASc, please take a look at the programme pages on our website. We’re a brand new programme so we expect the range of offerings to expand quite dramatically in the coming months and years as we grow.

In the third term and into the summer, you’ll complete a unique capstone project that will genuinely draw together all the themes throughout the first two terms and bring together your learning. We have a traditional academic research option to write an extended dissertation. This might be appropriate if you want to go on to do further academic research. However, instead of writing a traditional dissertation, you can also seek to create an output that’s more along the lines of a policy briefing or a professional journal paper. In this way, you can start to hone your learning to demonstrate your suitability for a particular career trajectory within global sustainable development. We also allow students to develop a workplace project as their capstone. Students can identify an employer to go and spend a sustained amount of time with so that they’re actively developing work experience to build their CV, but it’s also academically supported, structured and framed.

Professional development support

You should already have a strong sense that we attach great significance to supporting your intellectual growth, but also your professional development. We’re extremely fortunate and quite unique in that we have a dedicated member of staff who oversees the provision of professional development support for all our students. Our Employability and Placement Manager gets to know all our students as individuals and works with them to develop links with employers from a range of sectors. This can be for internships and work placements for our undergraduates, but it might also be in supporting you to develop the link for your capstone workplace project if that is what you would like to do. The key issue is that this support is personalised, one-to-one and highly professional engagement with your professional and career needs.

MPhil/PhD in Global Sustainable Development

If you’ve already completed a Masters programme elsewhere, we’re also extremely excited to be able to offer you an MPhil/PhD route to advanced study. The Institue for Global Sustainable Development is also embedded in our School and we’re already able to offer a variety of doctoral consortium and prestigious training grants and partnerships.


The PhD programme is directed towards understanding global challenges and creating bespoke research designs and research solutions. It’s for people who want to do research that has a transformative impact. We also expect research projects at this level to be transdisciplinary and to connect to real-world problems. This means that we also attach a lot of significance to co-supervision – the collaboration of academics from different backgrounds will be critical to support your transformative research. We also support close collaboration with external organisations for our PhD students. We have a number of partners, for example, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat, and Doctors without Borders. We are very happy to consider high-quality research projects where non-academic partners work with PhD students as mentors to ensure that the outcomes of the research are oriented towards real-world problems, where this is appropriate.


We take your training and support needs very seriously throughout your PhD. In the first year we’ll work with you very closely to identify the core training and modules you’ll need to study to succeed in your project. For those coming from other disciplinary backgrounds, we’ll ensure that you develop competencies across more than one discipline so that you develop understanding and capacity for transdisciplinary research. You’ll also work with your supervisor and with your professional support manager to identify other areas of training need and development. You will of course have access to the wider opportunities of the university as a whole, and of the Doctoral College in particular.

Research clusters

We’ve developed a number of research clusters and these give you an idea about the themes we’re addressing in research. This is an area of growth, and intentionally flexible. More important in some respects is how we use these clusters to connect together as a community of researchers. The value of doing your research degree with us is that we prioritise having a community of researchers that think specifically about methods, working across and not bounded by disciplines, and who all see value in connecting research to important social and environmental challenges in a creative way.

Research environment

In summary, you’ll be joining a really active, dynamic, and new research environment, that you can also contribute to shaping and influencing. We have not only GSD but also our related Institute, we have the Global Research Priorities within the university as whole with which we engage with, and the various Global Challenges Research Fund projects that staff lead on and also promoted within the university, a range of conferences, reading groups, and other research centres where you can really grow your ideas.

Our community

One of the most important things about coming to study with us however is our sense of community which is truly inclusive. You’ll be expected to engage with our undergraduate students and they will want to engage with you. We feel that we can all learn together and we feel that this is really necessary if we’re to provide solutions to the challenges we face.

Our undergraduate programme has only been running for four years, but within that time our undergraduates have had a significant impact on the university. They’ve led to changes in the way that the estate is managed, they’ve introduced projects to encourage sustainable development, they’ve also encouraged the university to accept the climate emergency. You can see how dynamic, innovative, and creative GSD is. We hope that you will feel that you want to join us and help us to build this community further.

Further information

I do hope that’s given you some information about GSD that’s useful if you’re thinking about doing graduate study with us. If you have any further questions do please feel free to contact us: We do hope that you’ll think about joining us. Undertaking graduate study is a big decision, but it can also change your life. Please do get in touch if you have any questions and thank you very much for your attention.