Sustainable Development BSc (Hons)

UCAS code D453
Information line 01463 279190

What is special about this course?

The world is facing the prospect of a climate emergency, as decision-makers grapple with the need to understand and respond to increasing pressures on our environment and society.

Sustainable development, from a local level to a global scale, is essential if society is to tackle the challenges faced. The necessary changes will impact on every facet of society, culture and the economy: there has never been a more critical moment to engage with the process and contribute to the solution.

As part of the BSc (Hons) Sustainable Development* you will learn the facts about climate change, explore the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and consider potential and emerging solutions such as the Green New Deals, the concept of ‘degrowth’, and the transition to 'wellbeing economies', putting you in an ideal position to influence, or indeed become part of, the decision-makers.

The degree focuses on how communities, particularly those based rurally, can shape a more sustainable form of development. Most of our teaching team are located in the Western Isles, where 75% of people live on community-owned land, setting the context for you to study community-based development, land reform, community empowerment and community energy projects, all with the intention of contributing to a more sustainable future.

Sustainability is most often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. It has three main pillars: economic, environmental, and social. You will develop a critical understanding of all three, studying modules drawn from a range of social science disciplines such as geography, economics, politics, sociology and environmental studies, as well as developing practical skills in research and working with communities. The modules take a critical approach to examining historical context in relation to development, whilst also looking firmly to the future and drawing on examples of change in action around the globe.

Conducted entirely online and available to study from anywhere in the world, the course will provide you with opportunities for collaborative discussions and activities with colleagues from a range of diverse backgrounds and experiences, facilitated by tutors with many years of experience in delivering online education.

*this programme is subject to validation and various elements may change. Please check back on this page for updates.

Special features

  • Entirely online: this is an online, internationally-validated course that you can study from anywhere in the world, full-time or part-time, to suit your personal circumstances
  • Personal tutor support: to ensure a high-quality student experience, enrolment on the course is limited to a maximum of 25 students per year so you receive a high level of support during your studies
  • No exams: all assessment on core modules is in the form of coursework
  • High employability of graduates: recent graduates have pursued careers in community economic development, managing rural development initiatives, working for UN agencies, and working on international renewable energy projects
  • An optional residential weekend each year: usually taking place in the Highlands and Islands, our annual residential will give you the opportunity to meet practitioners, staff and other students in an informal setting
  • Continuing professional development (CPD): you may leave with a CertHE after completing 6 modules or with a DipHE after completing 12 modules; individual modules and groups of modules are also available to study as continuing professional development (CPD) awards

Entry requirements

  • 3 Scottish highers at grade C or above OR
  • 2 A levels at grade C or above
  • Applicants with other qualifications or experience will be considered on an individual basis.

Please note:

  • This course is not open to international students wishing to come to the UK to study who require a Student Route visa
  • You must have regular and reliable access to the internet and a computer for any online degree at UHI in order to take advantage of our full range of online learning services, which include support from your tutors and fellow UHI students as well as access to UHI’s Virtual Learning Environment and vast online learning library. More information on the minimum requirements can be found here:

Access routes

SWAP Access courses
If you are eligible to undertake Scottish Wider Access Programmes (SWAP), please visit our SWAP access list for further information on grade profiles and available subjects.

Year 1 - CertHE

Core modules may include:

  • Collecting and analysing data
  • Economics and the state
  • Introduction to global environmental issues
  • Introduction to sustainable development

Optional modules:

  • Climate, land and people
  • Introduction to land reform and community land ownership
  • The environment of mountain regions

Year 2 - DipHE

Core modules may include :

  • Community-based economic development
  • Economic development policy and theory
  • Empowering communities

Optional modules:

  • Community energy 
  • Environmental conservation
  • Introduction to GIS
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Urban-rural divide

Year 3 - BSc

Core modules may include :

  • Globalisation and sustainable development
  • Literature review
  • Research skills and project
  • Sustainable tourism and the environment

Optional modules:

  • Climate change
  • Sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry in Europe
  • Working with communities

Year 4 - BSc (Hons)

Core modules may include :

  • Social enterprise and small business management
  • The consumerist society

Optional modules:

  • Conservation of biodiversity
  • Engaging with external agencies
  • Geo-political development issues
  • Planning beyond growth for community projects
  • Sustainable energy and waste minimisation

You must also complete a dissertation.

How will I study my course?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update

As your course was designed to be fully online and has run successfully for many years in this way, we can confirm that there will be no change to how the course will be delivered this year. You will study through supported online learning using the university's virtual learning environment. You will also have an online induction at the start of the course and will be able to meet your fellow students, lecturers and personal academic tutor through video conferencing. Practical fieldwork will be planned in line with the developing Scottish Government public health measures and guidance, including social distancing, most likely in semester two, where this is not possible alternative options will be considered. Our priority is to provide a safe learning environment for all staff and students.
  • You will study through supported online learning using the university's virtual learning environment (VLE)
  • Full-time
  • Part-time (structured)
  • Part-time (unstructured)
  • You will have support from your tutors via email, video conferencing and online discussions
  • You can study this fully online programme from anywhere in the world, as long as you have a suitable PC and internet connection. You will be enrolled and supported by staff at Lews Castle College and taught by expert tutors from across the university
  • This course is not open to international students wishing to come to the UK to study who require a Student Route visa

How long will my course last?

  • Full-time: 4 years @ 40 hours per week
  • Part-time (structured): 8 years @ 20 hours per week
  • Part-time (unstructured): variable

Number of hours per week indicates the total number of hours you should dedicate to the course, which includes time spent in online tutor-supported study and your own time spent on individual study and research.

Where can I study my course?

  • Lews Castle College UHI - You can study this fully online programme from anywhere in the world. You will be enrolled and supported by staff at Lews Castle College.

Start date

  • September
  • January


For students normally domiciled in Scotland, including EU/EEA and Swiss nationals with settled or pre-settled status in the UK, with a term-time address in Scotland, the following fees apply:

Full-time (120 credit modules) per year £1,820 £1,820
Part-time (structured) (3 x 20 credit modules) per year £645 £645
Part-time (unstructured per module) (per 20 credit module) £215 £215

Note: The Scottish Government set this fee which has not yet been confirmed for 2021-22 so may be subject to change.

Rest of the UK students

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

Full-time online per year (120 credit modules) £6,120 £6,120
Part-time online (per 20 credit module)*** £1,020 £1,020

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

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

Full-time (120 credit modules) per year £7,080 £7,080
Part-time (structured) (3 x 20 credit modules) per year £3,540 £3,540
Part-time (unstructured per module) (per 20 credit module) £1,180 £1,180

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

Further information on international course fees.


External scholarships and financial support may be available. Contact your enrolling college for more information.

Additional costs

  • An optional residential weekend each year, usually in the Highlands and Islands, where you will have to opportunity to meet practitioners and other students

What can I do on completion of my course?

Once you have successfully completed your BSc (Hons) Sustainable Development course, you might like to consider careers in:

  • Community enterprises and community energy groups
  • Community land initiatives
  • European and Economic Development departments of local authorities
  • Government departments and agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage, National Trust, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Independent consultancy on sustainability
  • International non-governmental organisations
  • Natural and rural heritage organisations
  • Voluntary sector development posts

Can I progress into further study?

You can progress from the BSc (Hons) Sustainable Rural Development to:

Is there more information available online?

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What our students, graduates and staff say

My journey with the University of the Highlands and Islands began in 2014. At the time, I was homeless and working in a part-time job that offered little prospect of progression or opportunity to change my circumstances. Considering my future carefully, I applied to study Sustainable Development at Lews Castle College UHI in order to change careers.
I loved studying Sustainable Development. I was fortunate enough to be offered a job in my field midway through my third year! I hadn’t even graduated, and already had the opportunity to put my newly acquired skills into practice. In December 2018 I joined the Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust as Community Engagement Assistant, continuing my degree part-time.

I moved to the Highland Third Sector Interface (HTSI) in January 2019, having completed all of the academic modules of my degree. There I helped develop the Conon Bridge and Dingwall Locality Plans and facilitated several activities in response to community feedback.

I graduated in October 2019 and in November I joined Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) as a Development Manager working with community groups and social enterprises in the Inner Moray Firth area. When the pandemic struck in March 2020, although I was still new, I was working to identify community groups across the Inner Moray Firth area who were developing and delivering relief efforts to those in need in their communities so that we could direct Scottish Government funding to assist in these efforts.  As I write this now, it all still seems a bit of a blur, but I'm proud to know that I have played a key role in helping Highland communities during this time.

James Turner graduated from the  BSc Sustainable Development in 2019 and is now one of our alumni ambassadors

I really enjoyed my studies and found the degree programme very interesting due to the variety of topics covered. The best part was completing my dissertation on community energy projects in Scotland. During my graduation ceremony at Lews Castle College UHI I was head-hunted by a multi-national firm and have since been offered a job as an Energy and Environmental Manager. I cannot speak highly enough of the sustainable development team and all of the university staff who have helped me over the years; none of this would have been possible without the dedication and professionalism provided.’

Chris Miller, 2017 BSc (Hons) Sustainable Development graduate, who completed his studies online and part-time while serving abroad with the armed forces in Afghanistan and Cyprus

This is perfect for anyone hoping to work in development in the Highlands and Islands with varied modules giving a good grounding to move forward in the industry. The course results in a very good degree qualification, which I believe, is not offered by any other university in Scotland. Community Empowerment and Community Land Ownership are a hot topic these days in Scotland and so I would say that there will be plenty employment opportunities available to graduates.

Currently, I enjoy working at North Harris Trust as a Project Development Officer and would like to continue to work in, and for, my community. I have learned a lot in the last 5 years and look forward to taking on more roles and responsibilities in the future.

Karen MacRae, Graduate, Isle of Harris



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