Sustainable Rural Development MSc

Course code 93N2

What is special about this course?

If you want to progress into a managerial role in rural development and sustainability fields, this MSc Sustainable Rural Development* is for you. 

You will study social, environmental, economic development and professional development, and community engagement issues in the context of managing rural development.

The MSc Sustainable Rural Development can be studied online from anywhere in the world.

*subject to re-validation

Special features

  • Gain key theoretical knowledge in understanding current rural development and sustainability issues and how this may be applied to work effectively with communities and associated organisations
  • Develop key research and policy skills to enable you to progress your career to become an expert in rural sustainability issues
  • Study individual modules for personal or professional development, or work towards the PgCert, PgDip or full masters degree
  • Study online, full time or part time when and where it suits you, within the UK and internationally

Entry requirements

  • Honours degree or ordinary degree in a relevant subject
  • Postgraduate diploma or professional qualification in a relevant subject
  • Other qualifications will be considered if accompanied by a minimum of three years' relevant professional experience
  • A bridging module is available to people with substantial professional experience, but no undergraduate degree

Postgraduate Loans (SAAS) (Scottish domiciled students)

Loans for tuition fees are available from SAAS for eligible Scotland domiciled students, and loans for living costs for eligible Scottish students.

(see fees/funding tab for more information)

Access routes


Core modules are:

  • Communities and nature (S1)
  • Developing communities (S2)
  • Local economic development (S2)


Option modules, from which you must choose three, include:

  • Biodiversity management
  • Developing potential through placement
  • Environmental and Social issues in mountain areas
  • Policy analysis
  • Research methods and techniques (strongly recommended if you intend to continue to MSc)
  • Sustainable tourism
  • Sustainable land use and renewable energy in rural Scotland
  • Sustainable development
  • Water resources in a changing climate
  • An elective may also be taken from any of the university's masters programmes, e.g. other research skills, or modules such as Qualitative inquiry or Quantitative research and data management


To achieve the award of MSc Sustainable Rural Development you must complete a research dissertation.

How will I study my course?

  • Full-time
  • Part-time (structured)
  • Part-time (unstructured)
  • You will study through supported online learning using the university's virtual learning environment (VLE)
  • A fully online induction web resource is available to all new students and you are encouraged to refer to this during your first term in particular. An optional, two-day, live, online induction event is also available for all students

How long will my course last?

  • Full-time: 2 years @ 40 hours per week
  • Part-time (structured): 3-4 years @ 12 hours per week per module
  • Part-time (unstructured): 6 years (maximum) @ 6 hours per week per module

The number of hours per week indicates the total number of hours you should dedicate to the course, which includes time spent in studying the learning resources provided and your own time spent on individual study and research.

Where can I study my course?

  • North, West and Hebrides

Start date

  • September
  • January


For students normally domiciled in Scotland, with a term-time address in Scotland, the following fees apply:

This includes

  • EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status in the UK,
  • EEA/Swiss nationals with settled status in the UK
  • EEA/Swiss nationals with pre-settled status who are self-employed or migrant workers in the UK.
  2023-24 2024-25
Per module (20 credits) £584 £584
Postgraduate certificate (3 modules, 60 credits) £1,752 £1,752
Postgraduate diploma (6 modules, 120 credits) £3,504 £3,504
Masters degree (6 modules + dissertation) £5,256 £5,256

Rest of UK students

For students normally domiciled in the rest of the UK (England, Wales and N. Ireland) or assessed as rest of the UK for fee status, the following fees apply:

  2023-24 2024-25
Per module (20 credits) £720 £780
Postgraduate certificate (3 modules, 60 credits) £2,160 £2,340
Postgraduate diploma (6 modules, 120 credits) £4,320 £4,680
Masters degree (6 modules + dissertation, 180 credits) £6,480 £7,020

EU/EEA and Swiss nationals without settled or pre-settled status in the UK

Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the Scottish Government confirmed that EU/EEA and Swiss nationals, who do not have settled or pre-settled status, will be considered as international for fee purposes. These students will get an automatic fee scholarship.

This includes EEA/Swiss nationals with pre-settled status who are not self-employed or migrant workers in the UK.

  2023-24 With scholarship 2024-25 With scholarship
Per module (20 credits) £1,080 £810 £1,110 £833
Postgraduate certificate (3 modules, 60 credits) £3,240 £2,430 £3,330 £2,499
Postgraduate diploma (6 modules, 120 credits, 180 credits) £6,480 £4,860 £6,660 £4,998
Masters degree (6 modules + dissertation, 180 credits) £9,720 £7,290 £9,990 £7,497

International students

For students who do not normally reside in the UK or European Union, studying online from their home country, or assessed as international for fee status, the following fees apply:

  2023-24 2024-25
Per module (20 credits) £1,080 £1,110
Postgraduate certificate (3 modules, 60 credits) £3,240 £3,330
Postgraduate diploma (6 modules, 120 credits, 180 credits) £6,480 £6,660
Masters degree (6 modules + dissertation, 180 credits) £9,720 £9,990

This course is not available to international students requiring Student Route visa sponsorship to study in the UK.

A no fee increase guarantee is available for self-funding full-time and structured part-time rest of the UK, EU and international postgraduate students for continuous study for the same award, up to the permitted standard time limit for the relevant award.


Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) funded places:

  • Fully funded places may be available from the SAIC for eligible applicants
  • This scholarship funding is specifically targeted at enabling small-scale research in areas of interest to the SAIC via our Masters research dissertation process
  • All tuition fees are provided on the condition that the student’s final year dissertation is of interest to the aquaculture sector
  • Full-time and part-time students may benefit from this funding as study periods of up to 24 months can be funded
  • To be eligible to benefit from this fund, you must meet Scottish Funding Council (SFC) Scottish domicile requirements
  • The SAIC also hosts a series of workshops throughout the academic year, where participants have the option to get the perspective of sector professionals, make valuable connections to enhance future career opportunities, and forge useful ties with peers at other universities
  • For more information, please visit the SAIC website.


Additional funding options:

Eligible Scotland-domiciled students studying full-time can access loans up to £11,500 from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). This comprises a tuition fee loan up to £7,000 and a non-income assessed living cost loan of £4,500. 

Eligible Scotland-domiciled students studying part-time can apply for a tuition fee loan from SAAS.  You must be intending to complete the course in no longer than twice the length of time it would take for a full-time student. For example, if your course is available to full-time students as a one-year programme, you will be funded for a maximum of two years' part-time study. If your course does not have a full-time option, you must complete within three years. You can apply for a tuition fee loan up to £7,000, which will be paid pro-rata for each academic year of study. 

Full details can be found on the SAAS website. Applications for loans open in April.

Students from the rest of the UK who meet the eligibility requirements may be able to apply for a loan from the Student Loan Company.

What can I do on completion of my course?

On successful completion of the course, you will be equipped to take up management positions, both at home and abroad, in:

  • The public sector (e.g. local authorities, public utilities etc)
  • Non-governmental development organisations
  • International development agencies
  • Community trusts and community development organisations
  • Conservation agencies
  • Economic development consultants
  • Environmental consultants
  • Tourism heritage attractions
  • National parks and countryside parks
  • Secondary school teaching on completion of a PGDE
  • Research and development

Is there more information available online?

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I looked at several courses before deciding to undertake the MSc with the university. The course content has greatly increased my knowledge of sustainable economic development in rural areas. I was partly sponsored by my employer, HIE, and this allowed me to study and continue working at the same time. Gaining the MSc was a huge personal achievement and the structure of the course made it possible. It was hard work but a lot of fun!

Rona Campbell graduated from the MSc Sustainable Rural Development and is now one of our alumni ambassadors

For the last 25 years I have been involved with the development of rural communities from the agency and community perspective. Maintaining my involvement with the rural sector means I bring significant real-life experience and knowledge to the course.

Dr Michael Smith SFHEA, FRGS, MSc Sustainable Rural Development course leader

It’s incredible to think that I could access a world class masters programme from my own home, in a rural community, in another country! It really shows the potential that new technologies offer rural dwellers and communities if we are brave enough to utilise them.

The programme brought the practical application of rural development theory to life and I learned a huge amount about the design and implementation of rural development strategies, which I have already put to use within my working environment.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the programme was the opportunity to discuss and debate issues with students from all over the world and to learn about rural development from their country’s perspectives.
Seamus Doran, from County Wexford, Ireland, graduated from the MSc Sustainable Rural Development.

Apply for Sustainable Rural Development MSc

I want to start in Aug/Sep 2024 or Jan/Feb 2025

We are delighted that you are thinking about studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands. We operate a fair and open admissions system committed to equality of opportunity and non-discrimination. We consider all applications on merit and on the basis of ability to achieve, without discrimination on grounds of gender, age, disability, ethnicity and socio-economic background. We welcome applications from all prospective students and aim to provide appropriate and efficient services to students with disabilities.