Study programme

The courses below are for cohort 2024 onward. If you are already a student at UU and are looking for information about cohort 2023 or earlier, please check our student website. 

The Bachelor’s programme lasts three years. In the first year, you essentially acquire a broad understanding of sustainability, which you then deepen in the two subsequent years. After the first year, you have the option of selecting one of five tracks, depending on the specific balance you’d like to have between the natural and the social sciences.

Course overview

The course overview below only includes the compulsory courses. You can also download complete overview, including track courses.

Year 1

You’ll study sustainability issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. In the first year, you’ll acquire a broad view of the key challenges in the field of sustainability, including the distribution of water, food and energy, urban and economic development, and the explosive growth of the world’s population. You will immediately start working on a team project with other students.

You will also examine the dynamics of the natural environment, the social processes and, perhaps most importantly, the interaction between the natural and social systems at a global, regional and local level. You’ll learn how to study and analyse such complex systems, and about all the elements involved in setting up and conducting a scientific research project.

You’ll conclude the year with a multidisciplinary research project on a regional question. You’ll be carrying out joint field work, and learn how to use computer models, conduct interviews, collect samples and write a research report. Over the course of the year you will also be defining the direction you’ll take in the track choice you’ll make in your second year.

Year 2

In the second year you’ll have fewer compulsory courses. Attention will be paid to a variety of statistical methods. You’ll learn more about the philosophy of science and ethics or on environmental communication and behaviour. How can one distinguish “good” science from pseudo science, and what moral and ethical questions play a role in sustainable development? What determines environmental behaviour and how can communication strategies stimulate pro-environmental behaviour? You will also seek to deepen your knowledge of a single sustainability science theme. You will be choosing one of the following tracks.

  • Water, Climate & Ecosystems
  • Energy & Resources
  • Sustainable & Healthy Food
  • Governance & Societal Transformation
  • Business & Innovation

At the end of this year, in your own team, you will write a report to the United Nations Environment Programme on how to achieve a specific Sustainable Development Goal and on how this goal relates to other SDGs. In this project you will also work together with the UNEP and with policy actors from around 45 different countries globally to develop integrated national-level reports on the SDGs.

Year 3

You’ll spend the first half of the third year deepening your knowledge of your track’s theme. With regard to your research project, in the third year you’ll be ready for real work. Working with a team, you’ll be advising a real client as a consultant on a specific practical sustainability issue. The client might, for instance, be a charitable organisation (NGO), a government entity or a company. It’s naturally super interesting to apply your knowledge and skills in practice. You’ll be amazed about how your professionalism is perceived. Interacting with a client involves a completely new dynamic!

You’ll conclude your studies by writing your Bachelor’s thesis. This is an individual research project about a current sustainability issue. You’ll be drawing on all the knowledge and experience you will have acquired in the programme. This project will allow you to show how you develop a plan of action, how you implement it and how you report and present it.

Working methods

Active education is important in this programme. There are lectures in large groups, but in almost all courses there are also activities in smaller groups, such as work lectures, projects, group assignments and computer practicals.

Study load

In total, you will spend approximately forty hours per week studying. Part of this consists of contact hours, such as lectures, tutorials and practicals. The rest consists of self-study, such as doing assignments individually or with fellow students, preparing for lectures and work and learning for exams.


After you first year, you’ll be deepening your knowledge through one of five tracks. The track you select will form the basis for the Master’s you’ll be able to take following your Bachelor’s. The five tracks are:

Optional course credits

In the Global Sustainability Science programme, 25% of your courses are electives. As electives, you can choose another track, do a minor or go abroad for a semester.


The courses you take include several tests. A test can consist of an exam, writing a paper, essay or report, working on a group project or giving a presentation.

Studying abroad

A period of study abroad can provide a huge stimulus for your academic and personal development. This programme allows you to conduct part of your studies (six months maximum) in a foreign country; for instance, through an exchange programme. Utrecht University collaborates with several partner universities all over the world. As an exchange student, you remain enrolled at Utrecht University and you pay no tuition fees to the foreign university. For Global Sustainability Science students there are exchange places at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg (amongst other destinations). Both universities offer a broad range of sustainability courses which fit well in your programme. Find out more on the Global Sustainability Science Study abroad website.

Group size

There are on average 220 first-year students Global Sustainability Science. In the lectures, all students are seated. In the first year there are between 20 and 25 fellow students in a work class.

Study guidance

You can count on good supervision and personal advice during your studies. You are assigned a tutor at the start of the programme: a lecturer within the programme who acts as a study guide. Your tutor is the first point of contact for all programme-specific questions relating to the Bachelor’s programme and your study progress.

Binding Study Advice (BSA)

Just like at all other Dutch universities, Utrecht has a Binding Study Advice (BSA) system. This means that you have to obtain a minimum number of credits in your first year of study to be allowed to continue your studies. At Global Sustainability Science this minimum is 45 credits (of the total of 60 credits to be obtained). If you do not achieve this, you must discontinue your studies. The study advisor or tutor will help you find a study that suits you better.