Focused on tackling discrimination, poverty and injustice, if you'd like to make the world a better place a career in international development is for you. Learn more about degree programmes

What is international development?

Those who work within the field of international development (also known as global development) engage with economically disadvantaged regions to empower people to improve their wellbeing. They focus on areas of need and interest such as health, education, democracy, and economics to make sure that individuals around the world have equal and greater opportunities.

'Now more than ever, we need international development practitioners with knowledge, skills, and foresight,' explains Dr Pete Howson, course leader, MSc International Development at Northumbria University. 'We need creative minds to solve global challenges, to make sure development projects lead to equitable outcomes for the most vulnerable people.'

Do I need a degree?

It's difficult for those without university qualifications to break into international development. However, in some circumstances it is possible with significant work experience.

To increase your chances of employment in this competitive sector it's wise to choose a relevant first degree. Useful subjects include:

  • international development
  • economics
  • human rights
  • languages
  • social policy
  • health-related programmes.

A variety of institutions offer undergraduate courses - you can either study straight international development or combine the subject with another such as economics, politics, anthropology, geography or languages.

For example, on the BA International Development at the University of Portsmouth you'll learn to address some of the major global challenges of our time such as poverty, hunger, environmental sustainability, universal education and healthcare. Taking three years to complete full time (four if you opt for a sandwich work placement) you'll need ABB-BBC at A-level for entry. You'll study core modules including 'Global development', 'Key themes in international relations', 'The making of the global south', 'Economics and politics of development', 'Global environmental issues and concerns' and 'Rethinking aid and development' as well as choosing from a variety of optional units. Tuition fees in the 2022/23 academic cost home students £9,250.

Other options include:

  • BA Global Development - University of York
  • BA International Development - Kings College London, Keele University, University of Leeds, University of Sussex
  • BSc International Development - University of Reading.

Applications to all undergraduate programmes are submitted through UCAS.

Can I study for a Masters in international development?  

'You don't need to do a Masters to have an impactful career, but satisfying and stable jobs in international development are competitive,' says Dr Howson.

Studying for a postgraduate qualification can help to advance your career in international development. Courses allow you to develop specialist skills and understanding about the complex challenges involved in international development. They can also provide invaluable work experience and networking opportunities. 

'What's more, development is always high stakes. It can involve making big decisions that, for better or worse, impact people's lives massively. Having a Masters in international development will give you the confidence and skills you need to ensure those decisions lead to positive and equitable outcomes,' adds Dr Howson.

Also, if your first degree was in an unrelated subject, a Masters in international development can bring your knowledge up to speed.

On the MSc International Development course at Northumbria University you'll engage with contemporary debates on issues currently defining the sector as well as critically examine key international development policies , theories, strategies and practices. For this 16-month, full-time programme you’ll need at least a 2:2 honours degree in any subject for entry. You'll study modules such as 'Critical development thinking', 'Contemporary development challenges' and 'Geopolitics of development'. Tuition fees for UK students in 2022/23 cost £7,950.

'The MSc in International Development at Northumbria includes work placements, overseas fieldtrips, and language learning options,' clarifies Dr Howson. 'The course is taught by staff who are at the cutting edge of their research areas. They all conduct world-leading research and policy-related practice across the Asia Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.'

You can also study an international development Masters at:

  • MSc Global Development - The University of Manchester
  • MSc International Development - University of Bristol, University of Edinburgh
  • Msc International Development (online) - SOAS University of London
  • MSc International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies - The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Search for postgraduate courses in international development.

Are short courses available?

Whatever your reason for studying a short course, be it to expand or further your knowledge in a particular area, widen your networks or for continuing professional development, a variety of institutions run programmes in international development.

Future Learn, in partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA) run a free, online, five-week course titled What is International Development? While The Open University, offers a free, online Understanding International Development course, which takes up to 20 hours of study time.

What jobs can I do?

The sector is highly competitive so it's a good idea to build up local and international volunteering experience during and after your studies. You could give your time to organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), arrange your own voluntary position with a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) or organise an internship at the head office of a development organisation.

Graduates of the BA International Development course at Portsmouth have gone on to work with organisations such as Save the Children, Street Doctors, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and British Chamber of Commerce, while graduates of the MSc International Development at Northumbria University now work for Barnardo’s, Leprosy Mission and International Service.

'Most of our graduates find rewarding careers doing what they love,' states Dr Howson. 'Most work as development practitioners in either policy-related or hands-on roles. Some work for big international NGOs, like the Red Cross or Oxfam. Some stay in research, and pursue a PhD.

We work with professional representative bodies, like the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), and the Institute of Fundraising (IoF), which often enable students to graduate with qualifications and certificates on top of their degree.'

Find out more

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