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MSc Sustainability Science

Apply interdisciplinary research for sustainable futures

Year of entry: 2020/21


1 year full-time,
2 years part-time,
3 years part-time

Start date

September 2020 (term dates)

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With a rising human population, resource depletion and the current climate change and environment emergency, the need for a complex understanding of sustainability has never been more pressing.

Through interdisciplinary perspectives, you'll develop the skills and confidence to improve our understanding of the world around us and work towards developing sustainable solutions to today’s environmental and social problems, drawing on ecology, bio- and geo- science to understand earth-system processes, and the social sciences and humanities to understand societal impacts.

With a range of module options, you can explore your own interests and develop your career ambitions. Building your skills in the collation, analysis, synthesis and presentation of interdisciplinary data, you'll be well placed for a range of jobs or research paths.

An exciting collaboration between our Departments of Archaeology and Environment and Geography, you'll gain a fascinating insight into the sustainability of processes that take place over a few years to many thousands of years. Working across disciplines to address issues of current and future sustainability is both stimulating and challenging, requiring expertise from a range of subject areas. Our staff and students work together to create interdisciplinary teams, and our wide range of module options and guided independent research opportunities allow you to tailor your studies to your own interests and career ambitions.

Weekly seminars

Throughout the year, academic and industry speakers are invited to talk about current and policy-relevant areas of environmental and heritage research.

Course content

In this course, you'll acquire appropriate skills and knowledge through a mixture of science-based, humanities and social science modules.

You'll take three core 20-credit modules covering core sustainability concepts and research skills. In addition, you'll take 40 credits from a wide range of options and skill modules.

Finally, you will hone your research skills by producing a dissertation and presenting an assessed lecture on your dissertation topic (80 credits).


Core modules

Option modules

You can select option modules from the full range of options taught in the Department of Archaeology, allowing you to focus on a particular period, region on specialist area (eg sustainable building conservation or sustainable heritage), and from a wide range of relevant modules taught in the Department of Environment and Geography. Examples from both departments include:

Please note, modules may change to reflect the latest academic thinking and expertise of our staff.


You will carry out a piece of original independent research, using appropriate disciplinary skills and data. You will have regular meetings with your supervisor who will offer support, guidance and encouragement throughout the dissertation writing process.

Examples of recent dissertation topics have included:

  • Use of satellite images and aerial photographs to reconstruct landscape change over time
  • Reconstruction and impact of coastal erosion
  • Use of LiDAR data to examine the sustainability of ancient and modern irrigation systems
  • GIS analysis of changes to sacred groves in Africa/ efficacy of local forest conservation
  • Impact of climate change on preservation of archaeological remains
  • Assessments of behavioural/cultural factors on adoption of sustainable practices

The York approach

Every course at York is built on a distinctive set of learning outcomes. These will give you a clear understanding of what you will be able to accomplish at the end of the course and help you explain what you can offer employers. Our academics identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences you'll need upon graduation and then design the course to get you there.

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a systematic and in-depth understanding of the concept of sustainability and related terms such as resilience and degradation, and of the ways in which these can be assessed, quantified and valued, with a particular focus on the application of scientific techniques [Knowledgeable].
  • Engage critically with current debates and advanced scholarship regarding sustainability in order to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of opposing arguments, including through appropriate statistical techniques, recognising that competing interest groups may prioritise the sustainability of different factors [Critical thinker].
  • Combine data and methods from a range of academic disciplines, while acknowledging that different specialist techniques produce data at different spatial and temporal scales and with differing levels of precision and certainty [Interdisciplinary thinker].
  • Identify trade-offs relevant to issues of sustainability, ascertain existing knowledge gaps, and design experiments of syntheses to fill these gaps, demonstrating how the research design will help address the identified problems [Problem solver and creator of new perspectives].
  • Undertake analyses of a discrete quantitative or qualitative dataset using appropriate techniques, demonstrating what role the resulting conclusions play within questions of sustainability [Analytical].
  • Synthesise research findings and key scholarly debates, and communicate data, methods, conclusions and recommendations through a variety of oral, written, statistical, visual and digital media to academic, public, professional and policy-making audiences, demonstrating an ability to adapt to the respective needs of these audiences [Effective communicator].
  • Demonstrate originality in rigorous independent inquiry and show a clear contribution to the work of a team [Independent Researcher and Team player]

Fees and funding

Annual tuition fees for 2020/21

Study modeUK/EUInternational
Full-time (1 year) £8,040£18,240
Part-time (2 years)
This is the year 1 fee. Fees for future years are subject to confirmation.
Part-time (3 years)
This is the year 1 fee. Fees for future years are subject to confirmation.

Students on a Tier 4 Visa are not currently permitted to study part-time at York.

For courses which are longer than one year, the tuition fees quoted are for the first year of study. Fees for subsequent years are subject to increase (no more than 2% each year).

Additional costs

We don't anticipate there being any additional fees associated with this course. All books and resources you need will be available in the library or online and it isn't mandatory that you buy your own copies. You may wish to set aside a small budget for photocopying, depending on how you like to work.

Fees information

UK/EU or international fees? The level of fee that you will be asked to pay depends on whether you're classed as a UK/EU or international student.

Funding information

Discover your funding options to help with tuition fees and living costs.

If you've successfully completed an undergraduate degree at York you could be eligible for a 10% Masters fee discount.

Home/EU students

International students

The Department of Archaeology usually offers a £1000 discount to students coming through from its undergraduate BA/BSc programmes in the current year. This is in addition to the University Masters fee discount scheme.

Living costs

You can use our living costs guide to help plan your budget. It covers additional costs that are not included in your tuition fee such as expenses for accommodation and study materials.

Teaching and assessment

You’ll work with world‐leading academics who’ll challenge you to think independently and excel in all that you do. Our approach to teaching will provide you with the knowledge, opportunities, and support you need to grow and succeed in a global workplace.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

We're making changes to comply with rules on social distancing. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students

Teaching format

The core modules Sustainability I and Sustainability II are discussion and participant led. In addition to key texts and case-studies designed to highlight particular themes and issues, students suggest case-studies from their own areas of experience and expertise, or which relate to their career aspirations. Group discussions explore issues unique to these case-studies and highlight factors that are relevant to all areas of sustainability.

Depending on module choices, other teaching formats include lectures, seminars, workshops, fieldtrips and supervised laboratory and fieldwork.


Teaching location

Run jointly between the Department of Environment and Geography and the Department of Archaeology, you'll have access to a range of facilities including our state-of-the-art Environment Building on Campus West, and the beautiful and historic King’s Manor in the heart of York, which houses a specialist library, labs for soil, artefact and skeletal analyses, and computer labs with specialist mapping software.

About our campus

Our beautiful green campus offers a student-friendly setting in which to live and study, within easy reach of the action in the city centre. It's easy to get around campus - everything is within walking or pedalling distance, or you can always use the fast and frequent bus service.

Assessment and feedback

Types of assessment in this course include:

  • essays
  • exams
  • presentations and reports
  • lab reports
  • press releases, policy briefs and articles for a general audience
  • an 8000-word dissertation

Before completing assessments that count towards your final mark, you'll undertake 'formative' (ie non-assessed, practice) assessments that will give you useful feedback on your progress and understanding.

Environment Building
King's Manor

Working together

Our staff collaborate with a broad range of private and public organisations including UNEP, DEFRA, Forestry Commission, Natural England, English Heritage, and the Overseas Development Institute.

Feel at home

Informality is one of our distinctive qualities - the atmosphere in our departments is friendly, supportive and enthusiastic. We want you to develop your potential and thrive at York.

Careers and skills

Through the development of skills in the collation, analysis, synthesis and presentation of interdisciplinary data, and an ability to work as part of a team, you'll graduate well placed for a range of career paths, including progression to a PhD and research careers.

Career opportunities

  • Non-governmental conservation organisations
  • Government environmental, conservation or heritage agencies
  • Environmental consultancies
  • Universities and research

Transferable skills

  • Time management and people skills 
  • Critical thinking and evaluation
  • Analytical and technical research skills 
  • Comparison and correlation of disparate data
  • Theoretically/methodologically-informed decision making
  • Communication to multiple and distinct audiences
  • Teamwork

Entry requirements

Qualification Typical offer
Undergraduate degree 2:1 or equivalent in a relevant subject such as Archaeology, Anthropology, Biology, Conservation, Ecology, Geography or related fields.
Other qualifications and experience If you don’t have conventional qualifications, but do have appropriate, relevant experience, you are encouraged to apply. We carefully consider each application on its merits.
Other international qualifications Equivalent qualifications from your country

English language

If English isn't your first language you may need to provide evidence of your English language ability. We accept the following qualifications:

Qualification Minimum requirement
IELTS 6.5, minimum 6.5 in Writing and 6.0 in all other components
PTE Academic 61, minimum 61 in Writing and 55 in all other components
C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency 176, minimum 176 in Writing and 169 in all other components
TOEFL 87, minimum 23 in Writing and 21 in all other components
Trinity ISE III Merit in all components
Duolingo Minimum overall score of 115

For more information see our postgraduate English language requirements.

If you've not met our English language requirements

You may be eligible for one of our pre-sessional English language courses. These courses will provide you with the level of English needed to meet the conditions of your offer.

The length of course you need to take depends on your current IELTS scores and how much you need to improve to reach our English language requirements.

After you've accepted your offer to study at York, we'll confirm which pre-sessional course you should apply to via You@York.


You can apply and send all your documentation electronically through our online system. You don’t need to complete your application all at once: you can start it, save it and finish it later.

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Department of Archaeology, Department of Environment and Geography

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