MPhil Degree in Environment, Society and Sustainability


MPhil Degree in Environment, Society and Sustainability

General Information

  • Please Note: Application deadline is: 31st August every year (This applies to both Local and International Applicants)


  1. Summary of Information for Applicants
  2. The Nature of the Discipline
  3. Career Opportunities
  4. Aims and Objectives of MPhil Programme
  5. EGS 5008H: Course Work Modules
  6. Curriculum for Degree
  7. EGS 5009W: Research Project and Mini-dissertation
  8. Entrance Requirements and the Selection Process
  9. Fees and Accommodation
  10. Scholarships and Bursaries
  11. Further Information
  12. Course Work Modules

Summary of Information for Applicants

This MPhil programme is designed for students with diverse backgrounds who have an interest in environment, society and sustainability. Problems pertaining to the environment, society and sustainability are interdisciplinary in nature and students with backgrounds in geography, natural and social science, planning, engineering, education, economics and law are encouraged to apply.

The MPhil degree is an eighteen month programme that accepts students from a wide range of disciplines who have achieved above average results in a 4 year degree. It provides education in theory relating to environment, society and sustainability. When qualified, you will join the environmental and geographical scientists who are shaping the future by addressing global and local environmental and developmental challenges.

Aims: To produce graduates with:

  • a broad understanding of major environmental issues as well as theoretical ideas underpinning sustainable development.
  • the ability to effectively analyse and manage environmental and developmental issues, with emphasis on the southern African situation.

Career opportunities: This interdisciplinary Masters programme attracts a broad range of students of varying ages and with different aspirations. Employment opportunities are found in local, provincial and national government; in parastatals; in the private sector (consulting firms and in industry), and in Non-Governmental Organisations.

The curriculum: Programme duration is 18 months full-time, from February each year to the end of July the following year. Four modules of course work are followed by a research project and mini-dissertation that applies theory and skills relating to the environment, society and sustainability, learnt in year one of the programme, to real life issues. Potential research areas are numerous and include aspects of environmental assessment and management, coastal zone and fisheries co-management, urban environmental management including monitoring and evaluation of water pollution in river systems, understanding and evaluating urban social ecological systems, and initiatives directed towards sustainable communities. This course is convened by Dr Pippin Anderson, who also serves as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department.

Scholarships and bursaries: Attractive bursaries are available, particularly for black South Africans. Applicants should contact UCT's Postgraduate Funding Office directly (

Entrance requirements and selection process: Applicants should have an Honours degree or equivalent 4 year professional degree, preferably with appropriate professional experience.

The Nature of the Discipline

In a rapidly shrinking yet globalizing world the pace of change is accelerating and society and its institutions are facing unprecedented challenges. Although there is an explosion of knowledge in both the natural and social sciences, this has been paralleled by an increasingly complex range of biophysical and socio-economic problems. There is, therefore, a need for an integrative discipline providing a holistic perspective, a broader understanding, and focused analysis and management of today's pressing environmental and developmental issues. The Department of Environmental and Geographical Science (ENGEO) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is dedicated to meeting these needs in an academic context.

Career Opportunities

South Africa has a dramatic set of developmental and environmental challenges and opportunities, which encompass issues pertaining to both developing and developed countries. Environmental scientists are playing an important role in shaping the future of South Africa.

The Master of Philosophy in Environment, Society and Sustainability programme attracts a broad range of students of varying ages with different aspirations. Some are in established career paths and are seeking to gain greater environmental knowledge and awareness to broaden their perspective or enhance their marketability. Others are seeking a new career path that will require specific environmentally-related skills.

Graduates find work in the public and private sectors, and in Non-Governmental Organisations. Public sector employment is found in local government (municipalities), regional government (provincial planning and environmental departments) and national government departments (such as Water and Environmental Affairs and parastatals (such as Eskom). Private sector work is found in consulting firms and in industry.

Aims And Objectives Of The MPHIL Programme

The general aims of the Environmental, Society and Sustainability Masters programme are to produce graduates who have:

  • a broad understanding of major environmental issues in Africa and around the world, as well as theoretical ideas underpinning sustainable development; and,
  • the ability to effectively analyse and manage environmental and developmental issues, with emphasis on the southern African situation.
  • The accomplishment of these aims requires exposure to the concepts and methods of a number of disciplines. The MPhil graduate is capable of integrative thinking and of synthesizing elements from diverse disciplines into a cohesive whole.

    Specific objectives of the programme are to produce graduates who can:

  • understand the intricate linkages within and between biophysical and social systems, and appreciate the principles and requirements that would facilitate the transition to sustainability within these systems;
  • communicate within and across the range of disciplines that contribute towards sustainable development;
  • respect differing perspectives on issues;
  • formulate and implement solutions to problems of sustainable development, through the use of theories, analytical methods and synthesising approaches, and oral presentation and report writing skills; and,
  • make meaningful contributions to improving legal/administrative structures and procedures relevant to the environment and sustainable development, primarily in South Africa but also more widely.

EGS 5008H: Course Work Modules

The MPhil curriculum entails course work and a research project. Students register full-time for a period of 18 months.

The course work component is grouped into four modules. Modules in the programme are designed to ensure that students become familiar with the basic theories and principles of disciplines relevant to the environment, society and sustainability, the major problems of sustainable development in southern Africa, the available methods and techniques for assessing and managing these problems, and different philosophical and ethical perspectives for interpreting environmental and developmental issues.

Modules run concurrently in each 12 week semester, with a student working week of 45 hours. The time spent on each module includes a range of activities such as preparatory reading, lectures and seminars, assignments, fieldwork and essays. Each module has its own methods of assessment. Most modules conclude with a written examination at the end of the semester. Each module counts 30 credits towards the degree total of 240 credits.

Curriculum for Master of Philosophy in Environment, Society and Sustainability

  • Expected completion of programme in 18 months: Mid-February of year one to end July of year two.
  • Descriptions of these modules, and where relevant entry requirements, are provided in Addendum 1.
  • Programme consists of four electives and compulsory programmatic elements.
Year 1: Semester 1 Year 1: Semester 2
February to June July to late Oct
(first semester): (30 credits)
  • EGS4039F - Urban Food Security
    (Dr Godfrey Tawodzera)
  • EGS4016F - Capital, Politics and Nature
    (Assoc Prof Ramutsindela)
  • EGS4025F - Geomorphology of southern Africa
    (Dr Frank Eckardt)
  • EGS5024F - Managing Complex Social-Ecological Systems
    (Assoc Prof Merle Sowman)
  • EGS4033F: Geography of Development and Environment
    (Assoc Prof Sophie Oldfield)
  • EGS4038F - Climate Change and Predictability
    (Prof Bruce Hewitson)
  • EGS4044F - Urban Ecology
    (Dr Pippin Anderson)
(second and recommended semester): (30 credits)
  • EGS4032S - Living with environmental change
    (Dr Gina Ziervogel)
  • PBL5045S - Environmental Law for Non-Lawyers
    (Dr Sandy Paterson)
  • EGS4025S: Climate Change and Variability Modeling
    (Dr Babatunde Abiodun)
  • EGS4049S: Tools and Topics in Earth System Science
    (Prof Mike Meadows and Dr Lesego Khomo)
  • EGS4048S - Alternative Economies
    (Dr Shari Daya)
  • EGS4011S: Theory and Practice of Environmental Management
    (Dr Richard Hill)
Programmatic elements (Dr Pippin Anderson)  

Through a series of programmatic sessions run primarily in the first semester students are assisted in selecting their research projects and writing up a research proposal.

Year 2: Semester 1   Year 2: Semester 2  
Mid-Nov to end July Mid-Nov to end July Up to end July Mid-August to November
EGS 5009W: 'Research project' (120 credits) EGS 5009W EGS 5009W (continued) Each student submits mini-dissertation by end July for December graduation Faculty sends mini- dissertations for external examination: successful students graduate in December

EGS 5009W: Research Project And Mini-Dissertation

In the first semester students are expected to develop research ideas and secure a supervisor who is appropriately placed in a research area to meet their supervisory needs. Finding a project can either be a process of negotiation where a student will have research ideas and find a supervisor to meet these interests. It is important to note that a student must settle on a project that can be supervised by a member of our academic staff. Alternatively staff may have project ideas which they can share with interested students. Through a series of programmatic sessions in the first semester on academic writing, posing research questions etc, students will prepare a research proposal which will be presented to the Department either at the end of the first semester or the start of the second semester of the first year. Depending on when students present their research proposal, they can either start their research in the July of the first year, or immediately following the completion of their exams in November at the end of the first year.

The mini-dissertations, of the order of 25 000 words, should indicate that the student has an adequate grasp of the theories, principles and methods appropriate to their topic. It should be a logical and coherent account of the topic, and should ideally demonstrate an ability to deal with problems of an interdisciplinary nature.

Each dissertation is submitted to internal and external examiners. Students will be encouraged to submit papers on their research for publication but this is not a requirement for the award of the degree. One way to facilitate this is for the academic supervisor to take responsibility for publication as a co-author.

Entrance Requirements and the Selection Process

Applicants must hold an Honours degree, or equivalent four year degree. Entry to all our postgraduate programmes is competitive. In special circumstances graduates who have shown by examination, or publication, or a record of appropriate training, that they have a reached a level equivalent to an Honours degree may be admitted, at the discretion of the Dean of Science. Such cases usually involve research, professional experience or publication that demonstrate competence in an appropriate field, usually considered to encompass approximately five years of experience in a relevant field subsequent to obtaining a first degree in that field. Please note that a Board selects students for the MPhil programme.

If you decide to apply for the programme, please complete the departmental application form, the University application form, and the MPhil Reference form. Applicants should be aware of early deadlines ranging from June to October for things such as student housing and postgraduate funding. These deadlines can be found on: UCT's website.

If you decide to apply for the Masters programme, please download and complete the following forms along with all of their requirements:

Please note that the deadline for applications is: 31st August every year

For further queries, please see: Further Information

Fees And Accommodation

Fees change a little every year, but presented below is an example of the fee structure for 2014. This serves only as an example, and you should check the fees for your proposed years of study by contacting the University Fees Office. Information on fees can be obtained on the University website at: (website link) where you can download the Fees handbook in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format. Alternately you may email the Fees Office and request a current fees handbook, (

Example fees for 2014 were:

  • For year one of study, a total of R40 970 (made up of two fees: R20 260 for EGS 5008H which is a fee for half a year of coursework (indicated in the fees booklet as ENVIRO, SOC & SUST C/WORK) plus a fee of R20 710 for EGS 5009W, which covers the fee for the course work in the second half of the year and the start of the research dissertation (indicated in the fees booklet as MPHIL IN ENVIRO, SOC & SUST DISS)
  • For the second year of study, a total of R 20 710 (MPHIL IN ENVIRO, SOC & SUST DISS), of which 50% is refundable if you submit your dissertation by the third week of July; if you submit by the beginning of the third term in early September, 25% of this fee is refunded (for exact submission dates for fee rebates please see the UCT website).

International students applying to do the MPhil programme should look carefully at section 5 of the Fees handbook.

International students from the South African Development Community region (SADC) pay the South African fee, while others are required to pay an annual additional International Term Fee. Taught Masters students in the Faculty of Science (which is the Faculty in which all MPhil Environment, Society and Sustainability students are registered, regardless of academic background) may apply for a Science Faculty scholarship towards a much reduced international fee. This international fee is over and above the tuition fees listed in the above example. In 2014 this fee was R27 955. Details on the exact fee can be obtained from the Faculty of Science. International students needing more information should contact the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO), Tel: +27 21 650 2822; Fax: +27 21 650 5667; E-mail: or see IAPO Website

Self-catering accommodation suitable for senior students is available in some University residences. Fees for University residences, houses and flats are determined in December every year. Approximately 60% of the total fee must be paid to the University in the first week of February each year. The balance must be paid by 30 June of that year. Applicants wishing to be accommodated in student housing should note that the application for student housing is included in the general application form sent to prospective students by the Admissions Office or downloaded from the website. Further information is contained in the Fees handbook, which is produced annually in December or January.

You can obtain more information by downloading the 'Postgraduate Prospectus' at: Website link. See section: Faculty of Science.

Scholarships And Bursaries

South African citizens and holders of permanent residence certificates should ensure that they apply for a Masters scholarship from the National Research Foundation (NRF) Website link. If an application to the NRF is unsuccessful, applicants are automatically considered for University of Cape Town (UCT) administered scholarships. If applicants do not apply to the NRF, they are not eligible for University scholarships. The internal closing date for NRF applications to be submitted to the University of Cape Town is 31 July each year; after processing the applications, UCT then forwards these to the NRF by the external closing date towards the end of August, so you are advised to submit an application to the NRF - via UCT - before you apply to this Department for the Masters programme. If you are not accepted on the Masters programme, you can then withdraw your NRF application.

The University administers other scholarships and need-based awards. Information concerning these sources of financial assistance can be obtained from The Postgraduate Centre and Funding Office; go to Website link and download 'Financial Assistance for Postgraduate Study and Postdoctoral Research Booklet' and Form 10a 'Application for financial assistance'. The closing date for applications for most of the University administered awards is usually 31 October each year. Applicants are advised to make timeous applications for funding, and ensure they have the most up to date deadline dates from the funding office.

Persons from outside of South Africa wishing to study at the University of Cape Town should apply to their own governments or national donor agencies for funding - this is not done by the University of Cape Town. The University administers an International and Refugee Student Scholarship, but funds are very limited: application forms are available from the Postgraduate Financial Office. The closing date for applications is 31 July each year.

Further Information

If you need further information about the programme, please contact The Postgraduate Administrator:
Tanya Basadien
Department of Environmental and Geographical Science
University of Cape Town
Private Bag X3
Telephone: +27 (21) 650-2874
Fax: (021) 650-3456