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Addressing pressing issues of current times

Studying international development will equip students to analyse contemporary global challenges and help improve living standards worldwide.


The study of international development has never been so important in the interconnected world. Nations are affected by complex global problems and we are experiencing rapid social, political, economic and environmental change.

Studying international development will provide a better understanding of the pressing challenges of our time and will equip students to analyse contemporary issues pertaining to international development in an effort to find solutions and help institutions improve the living standards in broad geographical contexts.

International development is a truly interdisciplinary subject area that addresses some of the world’s biggest challenges, for example, poverty and inequality, social justice, the causes and consequences of environmental change and global health inequalities. Courses provide students with a specialist critical understanding of development theory alongside development policy and practice that are crucial to tackling these challenges in the Global South. Issues covered include economic development, poverty eradication, food security and food justice, climate change, global public health, disaster and emergency management among others.

An international development course provides students with both academic and professional skills. Students will be well equipped with the analytical and practical skills they need to engage critically in development issues and debates from an interdisciplinary perspective, and also enable them to work across broad areas of development policy, academic research and practice.

Most employers in the field of international development require applicants to have completed a relevant postgraduate qualification in the field. Courses typically draw a mix of students, of all ages and professional backgrounds from across the world, who are keen to work in the field, in order to engage communities, promote social welfare, and find global solutions to the world’s most complex problems or undertake research in the field of international development.

Fieldwork is an essential and enriching part of such courses. Many international development courses combine training in specialist research methods with international field classes providing students with valuable hands-on experience of fieldwork in the Global South across a range of destinations . These field classes prepare students for undertaking their Master’s dissertation research.

During their studies students will engage in real-world research and problem-solving, developing the practical skills which will help them to be more competitive in the professional world.

A few courses include professional and transferable skills training that place an emphasis on niche international development vocational skills as well as wider transferable skills that enhance employability. The opportunity to undertake internships with NGOs, INGOs and CBOs is offered on a few international development courses enabling students to practically experience the opportunities and challenges faced in the international development workplace.

A degree in international development can lead to many different and rewarding careers as skills in this sector are highly sought after. Many graduates of international development programmes often go into careers with international organisations such as the United Nations, World Bank, the World Health Organisation and UNDP. Others work for non-governmental organisations, media and journalism houses and private sector development consultancy firms. The nature of the work means that it is possible to be based overseas, and international travel is likely with most employers. Within these organisations students typically build on the experience of their Master’s to specialise in a particular aspect of international development that may be field base, such as a field officer or programme manager or in other fields such as fundraising, advocacy, research, policy, and consultancy. Each year some students also choose to stay on at university and undertake PhD research that often builds on a particular aspect of their Master’s dissertation research.

The writer is senior lecturer in international development, department of geography, University of Sheffield, UK.