The course

Online learning
Course award
Entry date
September, January



Over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas and the sustainable development of our cities poses key challenges for urban management. There is a need to deliver sustainability while ensuring managed urban environments can adapt to a changing climate and changing economic and social conditions.

This course represents a new type of degree, focusing on analysing the issues of, and the tools used to address and deliver, sustainable development across the globe, from the scale of the building right up to the regional and national scale. It is designed to equip urban managers and leaders with an academically rigorous and professionally relevant postgraduate qualification relating to changing global circumstances.

Our students

This course is mainly designed both for those looking to begin a career in sustainable development, urban management and the built environment, and those with existing qualifications and relevant professional backgrounds who wish to improve their knowledge of sustainable development.

Professional recognition

The MSc is accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design

This course is delivered by the Royal Academy of Engineering Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design. This is one of four such Centres established at UK universities that jointly form a national network to demonstrate and exchange best practice in teaching and research for the sustainable built environment.

Flexible study options

This course can be studied via Online Learning, ideal for those in employment or with other commitments, providing flexible study options that fit around work or family. View our How online learning works pages to find out more. It can also be studied on-campus full-time or part-time.

Programme duration

Online Learning: 3-8 years

Register your interest

Course content

For a postgraduate diploma, the course consists of six mandatory taught courses and two optional taught courses. MSc students must also complete a research dissertation.

Semester 1 Semester 2
Mandatory courses: Mandatory courses:
  • Climate Change, Sustainability and Adaptation
  • Spatial Planning
  • Technical Networks and Urban Resilience
  • Urban Economy and Property Markets
  • Environmental Planning
  • UK and International Housing Policy
Optional courses: Optional courses (you must also choose two of these):
There are no optional courses in semester 1.  
  • Social Sustainability
  • Governance, Participation and Community Planning
  • People and Organisational Management in the Built Environment
  • Design of Low Carbon Buildings

Course descriptions

Please find below the course descriptions. For more information on courses, please contact the Programme Leader.

Climate Change, Sustainability and Adaptation

Semester 1 (mandatory)

This course introduces students to the concepts of sustainability in their widest definition – that of environmental, economic and social sustainability. The
course will introduce issues relating to climate science and future predictions, in addition to legislative requirements and government initiatives to combat climate change. Topics covered by the syllabus include:

Introduction to sustainability: environmental, economic and social; Sustainability and the built environment; History of climate science and future predictions; Carbon, energy and water footprints; Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), including Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); Energy reduction and carbon emissions mitigation; Adaptation/probability for future climate scenarios.

Spatial Planning

Semester 1 (mandatory)

Introduces concepts of spatial planning at different spatial scales and reflection on the implementation and impact of planning policies. Topics in the syllabus include:

Reasons for planning; Development Planning; Urbanisation and Urban development; Development and property rights; Development Management; Environmental Assessment; Conservation; Globalisation and urban transitions.

Technical Networks and Urban Resilience

Semester 1 (mandatory)

Students will develop a critical understanding of the governance of urban technical networks (water, energy, waste, transport, information) and their social, spatial and environmental impacts.

Topics covered by the syllabus include: How urban technical networks shape the social, economic, political and environmental dynamics of cities in the developed and developing worlds; Urban technical networks and the management of risk, vulnerability and catastrophic events; How the governance and structure of urban technical networks can evolve to make more sustainable/resilient urban areas for the 21st century.

Urban Economy and Property Markets

Semester 1 (mandatory)

This course aims to provide students with an understanding of the spatial dimensions of property markets, the interaction between the property market and the urban economy and the impact on local property markets on urban management policies. Topics covered in this course include:

Underlying dynamics of urban structural change within individual cities and within urban systems; Urban economic issues - population decline, urban public finance, sustainability, urban transport problems and solutions; Urban change and the property market local office market cycles, the influence of financial institutions and the local land market on urban change; Property-led local economic development policies.

Environmental Planning

Semester 2 (mandatory)

This course provides students with an understanding of environmental management within planning systems both in the UK and internationally, within a context of climate change and improving the environmental and social sustainability of cities. Topics in the syllabus include:

Theories of sustainable development, including “dark green” approaches and the Brundtland paradigm; The relationship between urban development and green space: the design and management of urban green space for people and nature, ownership and use rights to open space; Urban water management: introduces the concept of hydrological unit management and river basin management plans; Pollution and risk management in the urban context: pollution as a marginal social cost; understanding of pollution pathways and the different concepts of risk associated with pollutants.

UK and International Housing Policy

Semester 2 (mandatory)

This course is intended to allow students to develop a broad understanding of and ability to analyse the way that the contemporary housing system in the UK and internationally operates.

Topics covered by the syllabus include: History and development of housing policy in the UK; Market and State failure; Provision and supply of housing in UK; Welfare and housing regimes; Housing systems in the EU-15; Housing systems in post-socialist European countries; Housing system in USA; Housing system in China; Housing system in developing countries; Policy transfer.

Social Sustainability

Semester 2 (optional)

This course introduces a range of ways of thinking about sustainability and equity spatially and across economies.

Topics covered by the syllabus include: Social sustainability and relationship with overall sustainable development principles; Theories of social justice, equity and social capital; Access to services; Health and health inequalities; Shelter (housing and homelessness); Ethnicity and gender; Community and place; Travel and transport; Land use mix; Synthesis of social sustainability.

Governance, Participation and Community Planning

Semester 2 (optional)

This course aims to develop critical knowledge and understanding of contemporary governance and community planning and the advantages of user participation in the development and delivery of services.

Topics covered by the syllabus include: Contemporary governance issues; participation and planning/housing; community planning and local community engagement; service provision and stakeholder involvement.

People and Organisational Management in the Built Environment

Semester 2 (optional)

This course aims to develop a high level of interdisciplinary understanding about complex organisational and personal management processes and how important they are in underpinning technical skills to deliver high quality services as a professional. Students will learn about and explore management theory and practice and will have a chance to reflect on their own personal development in a synoptic way. This will be valuable in terms of career development, as management competences and self-reflection are increasingly sought in practice.

Topics covered by the syllabus include: What is management and why is it important for professional practice? Good and bad examples of management and their effect on individuals, organisations and service delivery. A critical evaluation of management theories. In depth understanding of the complexities of team building, organisational culture, recruitment and selection, staff appraisal, motivation, leadership, communication, co-ordination, and managing change and diversity.

Design of Low Carbon Buildings

Semester 2 (optional)

This course covers the key issues related to the direct and indirect emissions of carbon dioxide from the built environment. It covers a wide range of aspects of Sustainable Development in relation to Low Carbon Building Design and Evaluation. Subjects and topics covered include:

Global Carbon Politics, Policies and Accounting Practices; European Carbon Accounting legislation, methodologies and approaches; UK and Scottish Planning Policies and Practices for Low Carbon Communities; Low Carbon Buildings: Principles.


Our graduates are quickly able to make a positive and effective contribution to their working environment. Recent graduates have gone on to work in: private sector real estate development and management; private or public sector urban systems management; urban planning and development; and third sector global development organisations.

Industry links

The School has strong links with professional bodies including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Town Planning Institute. It prides itself on using these links and wider links with industry, to make teaching and research relevant and applied.

Staff within the Institute are actively engaged in a variety of research projects relating to building design, specification, management and operation.

Entry requirements

For MSc level entry applicants must have:

  • Minimum of 2:2 honours degree or equivalent academic qualification in cognate and semi-cognate subject area. For PG conversion courses, non-cognate degrees will be considered. Corporate (or chartered) membership of relevant professional institutions will also be considered.

For PG Diploma level entry applicants must have:

  • Third class honours degree in a cognate or semi-cognate subject area PLUS 2 years of relevant experience at an appropriate level completed post qualification.
  • Cognate or semi-cognate ordinary degree PLUS 3-4 years of relevant experience at an appropriate level following graduation.
  • Candidates who do not meet the above entry requirements or have no formal academic qualifications will be considered individually based on their CV and interview. Admission via this route will be at the discretion of the Director of Admissions and the number of successful applicants will be restricted.

There is no entry at PG Certificate level except through exceptional agreement with approved learning partners.

Non-graduating study at masters level:

  • Entry is based on CV or on formal academic qualifications or graduate (or incorporated) membership of a relevant professional institution.

Distance Learning January entry

Distance learning students can choose to start their studies in January or September. The January intake is not available to students studying on-campus.

Recognition of Prior Learning

We are committed to providing study opportunities to applicants who have a wide range of prior experiences through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). For more information on RPL, please contact the Online Admissions Team ( ahead of application. We can only consider requests for RPL at the time of application to a course of study. 

English language requirements

If English is not the applicant’s first language a minimum of IELTS 6.5 or equivalent is required with all elements passed at 6.0 or above.

Applicants who have previously successfully completed courses delivered in the medium of English language may be considered and will be required to provide documentary evidence of this. Examples would be secondary school education or undergraduate degree course. A minimum of at least one year of full time study (or equivalent) in the medium of English language will be required.

We offer a range of English language courses to help you meet the English language requirement prior to starting your masters course:

  • 14 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with no more than one skill at 4.5);
  • 10 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with minimum of 5.0 in all skills);
  • 6 weeks English (for IELTS 5.5 with minimum of 5.5 in reading & writing and minimum of 5.0 in speaking & listening)

Online Learning students

Please note that Online Learning students who access their studies online will be expected to have access to a PC/laptop and internet.


Tuition fees for 2020 entry
Status Per course Dissertation
UK / EU / Overseas £1400 £1800

Additional fees information

Students pay £1400 per course and £1800 for the Dissertation. This programme consists of 8 courses (modules). MSc students are also required to submit a Masters dissertation.

For questions about Heriot-Watt Online fees, please contact

Financial support

Tuition fee loans of £5,500 are available to Scottish distance learning students on taught postgraduate courses. Full-time distance learning postgraduate students can also access a £4,500 living cost loan. Find out more from the Students Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)

Scholarships and bursaries

We aim to encourage well-qualified, ambitious students to study with us and we offer a wide variety of scholarships and bursaries to achieve this. Over £6 million worth of opportunities are available in fee and stipend scholarships, and more than 400 students benefit from this support.

View our full range of postgraduate scholarships.