Also known as global development, international development is all about tackling discrimination, poverty and injustice in order to make the world a better and more equitable place for everyone. It's a big task but if you're up for it discover the qualifications you'll need

International development explained

Those who work within the field of international 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.

'The study of international development is fundamental to understanding the moral, practical and political challenges that confront humanity today, such as climate change, education, health, poverty and inequality,' says Dr Alexander Beresford, member of the Centre for Global Development Research, School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds.

'Studying development enables us to interrogate whose voices, needs and desires are prioritised when tackling these challenges, as well as the implications this has for whose interests are served in the name of 'development'. Studying the subject offers students the opportunity to extend their understanding of the challenges we face, as well as provide them with the space to imagine and debate practical ways of overcoming them.'

Undergraduate programmes

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.

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

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. The majority of programmes take three years to complete full time (four if your course incorporates a placement year).

For example, on the BA International Development at King's College London you can opt to study a year abroad. The course concentrates on the middle-income countries responsible for driving changes in the global economy. During your first year you'll study modules including 'Introduction to Development Studies', 'History of the Global Economy' and 'Economic Analysis of Emerging Economies.' In your second year you'll cover 'Development Theory' and 'Approaches to Research Development', as well as choosing from a variety of optional units. In your final year you'll choose six optional modules and produce a dissertation. For entry onto the course you’ll need AAA at A-level.

For entry onto the BA Global Development at the University of York, you'll typically need to achieve AAB grades at A-level. Year one core modules include 'Foundational Issues in Global Development' and 'Research Methods in Global Development'. You'll then study three or four optional modules. In year two, you'll cover 'Issues and Skills in Global Development' and 'Politics of Development' as well as three optional units. Your final year will mostly be dedicated to producing a dissertation, but you'll also study core modules and two optional modules. Tuition fees in the 2022/23 academic year will cost home students £9,250.

Applications to all undergraduate programmes are submitted through UCAS.

Masters in international development

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. 

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

For entry onto a postgraduate programme you'll typical need a 2:1 or above. On the one-year, full time MA Global Development at the University of Leeds you'll examine political, economic and socio-cultural transformations in the Global South and explore the dynamics, challenges and opportunities confronting its societies. You'll study three compulsory units and will be able to choose from an extensive list of optional modules, which cover a range of areas including 'Global Politics of Health', 'Education in Development', 'Conflict, Complex Emergencies and Global Governance' and 'Terrorism'. Tuition fees for UK students in 2022/23 cost £10,250.

If you opt for the MSc International Development at the University of Portsmouth you'll explore the history, theory and practice of international development. You'll explore colonialism and globalisation, and unpack the tools, strategies and techniques used in the field. You'll also choose your own specialisation - such as health, education, gender, international relations or criminology - and produce a project based on your research. Tuition fees for UK and European Union (EU) students studying full-time in 2021 cost £7,450.

'The course is taught by staff who are actively undertaking international development research across the developing regions of South and East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America,’ explains Dr Lana Chikhungu, MSc International Development course leader, University of Portsmouth.

'It's offered as a distance-learning course and it largely attracts students that are already working in the NGO sector. All course materials are posted and regularly updated in our virtual learning environment,' adds Dr Chikhungu. The course is assessed via essays, reports, policy briefs, online discussion forums, a data analysis project and a social enterprise project.  

Search for postgraduate courses in international development.

Short courses

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 OpenLearn, part of the Open University, offers a free, online Understanding International Development course, which approximately takes up to 20 hours of study time.

International development jobs

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.

'Any work that is people centered, such as in charitable organisations, civil service, NGOs or UN institutions, provides students and graduates with relevant work experience to increase their job prospects,' reveals Dr Chikhungu.

You could work in an advisory, policy, outreach or support capacity for governmental organisations, such as the Department for International Development (DFID), NGOs like Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision, academic institutions or for organisations such as the United Nations.

Recent graduates of the MA Global Development at the University of Leeds have gone on to work for Greenpeace, Wateraid, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Italian Embassy.

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