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. 

Sustainable Development is a two-year Master’s programme taught in English and consisting of both courses, projects, and research awarding a total of 120 points in the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). On this page you will find information concerning the curriculum, courses, educational methods, examinations and extracurricular opportunities.


You will be taking courses throughout the whole first year and the beginning of your second year. The remainder of the second year is devoted to Master Thesis research. The programme offers considerable scope to design your own personal ‘Master’s plan’ matching your interests and competences.


Following admission to this Master's programme you can choose one of four tracks. Tracks are recommended, coherent combinations of courses from the programme. They are meant to help you design your own curriculum based on your preferred specialisation based on your interests in the field. As well as working in your chosen track, you will work in research teams with fellow students from the other tracks.
The four tracks are:

  • Energy and Materials (EM)
    The transformation to the sustainable use of energy and materials.
  • Environmental Change and Ecosystems (ECE)
    The sustainable use of land and water.
  • Earth System Governance (ESG)
    Governing the transformations needed for a sustainable world.
  • Politics, Ecology and Society (PES)
    Exploring the political implications of ecology and the ecological basis of politics.
Read more about tracks


There are three kinds of courses in the programme: general courses, track courses, and elective courses.

Course overview

Bold = mandatory Sustainable Development programme
Normal = mandatory track course

Year 1



Period 1

Perspectives on Sustainable Development

EM: Tools for Energy & Materials Analysis
ECE: Global Environmental Change
ESG: Foundations of ESG Research
PES: Introduction to Political Ecology

Period 2

Systems thinking, Scenarios & Indicators for SD

EM: Squaring the Circular Economy
ECE: Integrated Assessment of Climate Change
ESG: Governance Theories
PES: Natural Resource Management and Society

Period 3

Research Design SD

EM: Energy Supply Technologies
ECE: Environmental Systems Analysis
ESG: Research Strategies ESG
PES: Research Methods for Politics, Ecology and Society

Period 4

Consultancy Project SUSD and WSM

EM: Policies for Energy & Materials Transitions 
ECE: Quantifying Ecosystem Resilience to Global Environmental Change
ESG: Analysing Governance Practices
PES: Social Innovation and Alternatives to Development


Year 2


Period 1/2/3/4

Electives (15 EC)
Master’s thesis SD (45 EC)


Besides the courses named above, you follow 15 EC of elective courses. This allows you to specialise in a field of your interest, possibly related to your graduation topic. You can find more information about this on the student website.

Educational Methods

  • Lectures and seminars
  • Case study (work in a small group on a project assigned by a real-life company)
  • Master’s thesis/Independent research
  • Optional internship 


  • Final research papers
  • Short papers or written exams
  • In-class presentations
  • Active participation and concluding reports
  • Thesis

Master's thesis

Students go to countries all over the world to do fieldwork for their Master’s thesis, see overview below. 


Click the image to enlarge

Extra opportunities

Utrecht University offers several honours programmes for students looking for an extra challenge. Honours education is followed on top of your regular Master’s programme and goes beyond the regular curriculum. Honours programmes are available at both faculty and interdisciplinary level and allow you to go deeper into subjects or work on projects that transcend your own discipline.

Read more about the honours programmes