MSc International Rural Development

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Rural communities face major challenges such as increasing population, increasing pressure for development, the depletion of natural resources including the impacts of peak oil production and climate change. They must therefore develop their management of natural resources and land to meet the challenges of sustainability whilst increasing food production. Any such development must meet the triple perspectives of economic viability, social acceptability and preservation of environmental quality.

About the Course

This MSc course meets the needs of recent graduates, those already working in rural development who wishes to further their career prospects, and those seeking a career change.  We are confident that this course will enable you to develop the skills and knowledge to significantly contribute to rural community development.

You will be encouraged to explore factors influencing sustainability, while at the same time reflecting on your own actions and attitudes and those of others.

The following themes underpin the course:

  • Human exploitation of the Earth's resources and the global implications of human development
  • The ecological basis for sustainable natural resource utilisation, including agriculture
  • The role and function of local, national and global institutions, policies and conventions in relation to development, resource exploitation, social, cultural, ethical and inter-generation considerations
  • The application of development paradigms, models and tools to build capacity within communities, institutions and individuals.

This is a full-time one year course, however you can choose to study part-time, studying 50% each year over two years. It is not available by distance learning. 

How is the course organised?

The taught modules run in 10 week blocks, there are two entry points to the programme, either in late September or in early January.  You will study 4 modules in each term.  The research project is introduced in January but mainly carried out over the summer period and submitted at the end of September regardless of start date. (see the term dates).

Those starting in September will study four modules in the autumn term, four modules in the spring term then complete their research project by the end of September

Those starting in January will study four modules in the spring term then complete their research project by the end of September and then study four modules in the autumn term to finish in December. 

Course Structure

You will study the following five core modules, and then choose three additional modules to determine the pathway. All students undertake an individual research investigation.

Development Project Management

Sets the scene for studies on sustainable development through the introduction of the key principles and concepts and their application to rural development issues, which are then used to evaluate a series of case studies from around the world. The module develops project management skills through a series of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) style workshops and exercises, that will explore the key skills required for being an effective project manager. Three team projects are developed: a competitive tendering project, production of a magazine and organisation of a national conference.

Poverty and Food Security

Examines the main drivers behind issues of poverty and food insecurity, such as population growth, aspirations for better diets, trends in production systems, and food chain management.  The module utilises various case studies to explore how different systems can solve problems of both food supply and food quality. 

Agricultural and Rural Policy

Evaluates the role of policy formulation, implementation, and review in providing a framework for sustainable development using examples from around the world. CPD workshops explore the integration of sustainability criteria into planning and policy, including Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), Environmental Due Diligence (EDD) and Agricultural and Rural Extension strategies. 

Economics of the Environment

This module examines the impact on the environment and the quality of life caused by failure of market prices to reflect social costs, monetary valuation of environmental costs and benefits, policy failures, planning failures in socialist countries and global environment problems.  Case studies for agriculture, natural resources management and development are included. 

Natural Resource Appraisal

This module explores the range of potential resources that might be available to a community, based on trends in past, present and possible future global resource use and develops skills in field survey techniques, analytical methods and systems for interpreting information. Both  physical resources (Oceans, geology, soil, water and climate) and biological resources (Forests, grasslands, crops, livestock, fisheries and wildlife) are studied. 

Research project

You will complete an independent research project on a topic related to one of the key themes of the course, presented as two journal papers, one a review of the topic, the other a research paper.

Choosing the right pathway

You can select up to 50% of the overall course according to your particular career aspirations by two more specialised modules, together with your research investigation.

You can choose from the specialist pathways listed below, or alternatively choose any three focus modules or, subject to agreement with the Programme Director and timetable availability, two focus modules and any one other postgraduate module.

Climate Change and Development (Pathway)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows an increasing consensus over the reality of climate change and the role of humans in causing such change. This opens up two lines of study; causes and impacts, both of which this pathway examines in the context of rural land use and development.

On this pathway, you will study the following focus module plus any two others (in addition to the five core modules) and carry out a research investigation within this theme:

Climate Change and Development

This is explored in relation to the causes of climate change, including GHG emissions from rural activities, and evaluates the mitigation options for land and community development. Using global circulation models and more local models, which give reasonably clear predictions of changes in climate, this module explores the potential adaptation strategies available for farming and natural land management.

Natural Resource Management (Pathway)

Increasing human activity, particularly in established economies, has created a severe strain on the natural environment resulting in the over use of renewable resources and the rapid consumption of finite resources. Such demands are now considered by many to be non-sustainable. Many problems of natural resource management relate to the limitations of institutional structures in developing strategic programmes which consider human social, cultural and economic needs allied to sustainable use and protection of natural resources.

This pathway builds on the Resource Appraisal module to explore the development of natural resource management plans and the strategic management linking biodiversity management at the local level to biodiversity action plans at regional, national and international levels is considered.

On this pathway, you will study the following focus module and any two others (in addition to the five core modules) and carry out a research investigation within this theme: 

Natural Resource Management

This module builds on the core module of Natural Resource Appraisal to evaluate the strategic approaches for the management of natural resources, including action plans for biodiversity and key natural resources such as soil, water, fisheries and forestry. The module reviews resource management from international conventions and their implementation, through national strategies, to the development of strategic action plans for natural resource utilisation and protection at regional, local and individual business levels.

Organic Agricultural Systems (Pathway)

This pathway starts from the increasing belief among consumers that intensive agriculture is leading to a worldwide degradation of natural resources whilst not producing food of the quality expected. Sustainable management of soil and water is key to the organic philosophy. It examines organic systems of production, market demand, the standards to be met and the business potential of such systems within the context of both financial and ecological sustainability.

The pathway will enable you to gain a good understanding of international organic markets and standards and how to meet these from a production management perspective, to address production methods from a temperate and tropical perspective and evaluate organic production as a strategy for poverty alleviation and food supply within developing economies.

On this pathway, you will study the following two focus modules plus any one other (in addition to the five core modules) and carry out a research investigation within this theme:

Organic Production and Marketing

Initially focusing on regulatory, market and consumer attitudes to organic food, it goes on to examine developed and emerging economies. This module explores organic philosophies in relation to ecological, social, and economic dimensions of sustainable development. Practical examples of farming systems and enterprise integration are then evaluated in relation to soil management and plant-soil relationships, animal health and nutrition, and enterprise performance, considering the actual and potential contribution of organic systems to food supply.

Sustainable Management of Soil and Water

This module evaluates the traditional management strategies for soil and water as factors in food production, and applies sustainable principles to their use and management in various agro-climatic zones and production systems. Soil is considered in terms of physical, chemical, and biological properties in relation to nutrient cycling processes, structural quality, risk of erosion, and contamination. Water in agriculture links climate and hydrology to water collection and use, crop requirements, potential evapotranspiration and water balances, water quality and salinisation, drainage and leaching, and water conservation techniques. 

Tourism and Development (Pathway)

Rural businesses and communities often consider tourism to be both a positive economic benefit for some and a potential threat to the local environment and communities. Such dual perspectives are evident in both developed and developing nations and lead us to ask how rural tourism could be measured in terms of social, environmental and economic sustainability. With increasing leisure time and disposable incomes, many ‘tourists’ are seeking increasingly unusual and exotic holiday experiences, leading to greater and more frequent travel. Some are beginning to question, however, the sustainability of globalised tourism and are looking to offset the impact of this.

Given these conflicting aspects of rural tourism, this pathway examines the importance of rural tourism in development and explores the sustainability of the sector from a range of perspectives including rural communities in developed and developing economies, tourist perspectives and the role of policy in delivering sustainability.

On this pathway, you will study the following focus module and any two others (in addition to the five core modules) and carry out a research investigation within this theme:

Sustainable Rural Tourism

This module explores the sustainability of tourism in terms of the potential contribution of this industry to development in the UK and overseas. The sustainability of tourism is evaluated in relation to policy frameworks such as the UN’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, and government policies; from business and market perspectives, including the adoption of international standards, and in relation to the impacts of tourists on communities and vice versa. The module then explores strategies for sustainable rural tourism development.

Fisheries and Aquaculture Management (Pathway)

On this pathway, you will study the following focus module and any two others (in addition to five core modules) and carry out a research investigation within this theme:

Fisheries and Aquaculture Management

The Fisheries and Aquaculture Management module explores the sustainability of fisheries management from international conventions and the UN Law of the Sea to national policies and strategies. Regional policies aimed at managing fisheries are then assessed using Europe as a case in point.

The module will also evaluate fisheries from a range of perspectives, including fishery systems (natural, human and management); marine and freshwater ecosystem dynamics; human demand for protein including fish; the evolution of sustainability standards linked to trade (including the Marine Stewardship Council); the Importance of fishing to communities; and, the increase in aquaculture and marine fish farming.

What is the learning style?

You will gain a broader understanding of relevant issues through knowledge acquisition, intellectual enquiry, debate, and team/individual research. The course will also provide a learning environment that encourages you to explore factors influencing sustainability while at the same time reflecting on your own actions and attitudes, and those of others. In addition to lectures, you will participate in case studies, seminars and management projects dependent on module selections. This approach fosters teamwork and complements individual study and student learning.

Entry Requirements

  • The normal minimum entry requirement will be an Honours degree at upper second level.
  • Mature candidates with significant relevant work experience and lower academic qualifications may also be considered for entry, following a personal interview with the Programme Director.
  • If your first language is not English, we will accept International English Language Test (IELTS) with a minimum score of 6.5 average with no element below 5.5. 
  • If you have other qualifications, including overseas awards and alternative English language qualifications, you are advised to contact Admissions to discuss the suitability of your award for entry onto the course.

Career Prospects

Graduates from this International Rural Development MSc have secured positions within the UNDP, IFAD and various national and regional departments of agriculture or natural resources. Others have joined international and national NGOs, have been recruited by international development consultancies or have entered further or higher education (teaching and research). Indeed, over 85% of our graduates are involved in work directly related to this course.

Recent surveys of 2014 graduates reveal that 92.9% of postgraduates are in employment or further study within six months of leaving the RAU. For more information click here.

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