Sign me up: 20 unique courses and programs in global development

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From university degrees to specialized online courses, there are many ways to learn new skills and enhance your knowledge in particular fields of development.

The Humanitarian Leadership Academy, for example, offers 350 free courses in up to 10 languages online, as well as in-person workshops to teach people how to prepare for and respond to crises in their own countries. Another online option is the SickKids Public Health Nutrition Course, which is designed for health professionals looking at nutrition-related health challenges, particularly in low-resource settings, with contributors from Harvard Medical School and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. University College London has several online short courses, such as development and planning in African cities.

While there are some excellent opportunities for furthering your education online or through short courses, a graduate degree can be a necessity for some global development careers. Some master’s programs are offering unique classes that break from the traditional classroom mold, such as the humanitarian crisis simulation certification offered by the University of Denver, or the M.S. Sustainability run by the Eden Project, which can be conducted online with field visits.

Here are some of the most interesting, unique, and new graduate degrees and modules.

Tech for development

M.A. in Applied International Studies
University of Washington, U.S.
Spotlight on: Technology, society, and the future

This elective module looks at the intersection of policy, technology, and society, and explores both technology’s potential for economic and social change and its potential dangers and downfalls. The course covers threats to civil liberties, national security, and data sovereignty, and considers new technologies and the policies needed to manage them.

Master's in informatics: design, use, interaction
University of Oslo, Norway
Spotlight on: ICT for Development: Building a Better World?

This master’s program offers five areas of specialization, including “health information systems in developing countries.” Within this specialization, the ICT for development module considers the application of information and communications technologies in different sectors, such as health, education, water and sanitation, and migration. It looks at both emerging technologies and development challenges and analyzes whether ICTs are helping to create a better world in a development context.

Joint master's in health informatics
University of Stockholm and Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

This joint program between Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet is designed to bridge the gap between students from health care and technical backgrounds, and then further advance their skills and knowledge in health informatics.  

M.S. in Computational Analysis and Public Policy
University of Chicago, U.S.

This two-year master’s course provides students with technological expertise in computer science and statistics, as well as an applicable understanding of public policy analysis. It aims to equip a much-needed cohort of individuals trained in the ethical application of computer science for public policy.

MPA in Development, Technology and Innovation Policy
University College London, U.K.

A unique master’s of public administration aimed at international development professionals, UCL courses cover the conceptual frameworks, policy analysis tools, and analytical methods for developing innovative policies centered around balanced growth, social well-being, and environmental protection. The master’s degree also includes an MPA group policy project, where students work with an external client on a real-world policy challenge and produce a 12,000-word analysis for the client.

Institutions and center-offered

M.S. in Sustainability
The Eden Project, U.K. with online options

The Eden Project is an innovative learning lab and visitor attraction in Cornwall, consisting of biomes that house the largest rainforest in captivity. The degree incorporates online learning and residential workshops at the project site and is co-run by the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. It covers systems-based and governance approaches and evaluate sustainability concepts and models impacting environmental, social, and economic change.

Master’s in climate change and development
International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Bangladesh

Located in one of the countries most affected by climate change, ICCCD is a leading research and capacity-building organization working on climate change in Bangladesh. Their master’s course — with full scholarship opportunities — offers four major concentrations: climate change and sustainable management, hazard and vulnerability analysis, climate change and disaster management, and flood mitigation and management.

Master’s in sustainable development
Acara Changemakers Lab, U.S.

This master's program is available for students concentrating in environmental engineering or water resources engineering at the University of Minnesota. Master’s students complete a nine-month international assignment, which can include projects with groups such as Engineers Without Borders or allows the option for students to pilot their own solutions to address social or environmental problems abroad.

M.A. in Food and Development
Institute of Development Studies in partnership with the University of Sussex, U.K.

The Institute of Development Studies, in partnership with the University of Sussex, was ranked number one for development studies in 2018 by the QS University Rankings. The MA in food and development launched in Sept. 2018 and explores hunger, food insecurity, malnutrition, power politics, and more, with the aim of understanding the complex relationship between food and development.

M.S. in Development Finance
Global Development Institute in partnership with the University of Manchester, U.K.

The Global Development Institute, formed by the University of Manchester, is the largest research and teaching institute dedicated to development in Europe, and offers a variety of specialisms in international development. The development finance master’s degree equips students with the skills to contribute to financial policy formulation and implementation in developing countries — including fieldwork opportunities.

Creative focus

Master of International Development Policy
Duke University, U.S.
Spotlight on: Strategic Storytelling: Narratives of Development

This master’s program is designed for mid-career professionals looking to further their career in policymaking and public service in middle- and low- income countries. The strategic storytelling module explores multiple forms and mediums of storytelling — including short stories, TED talks, film, and children’s stories — and how they can be used strategically to increase understanding and effectivity of development.

M.A. in International Development
University of Denver, U.S.
Spotlight on: Humanitarian Assistance Program

The Josef Korbel School of International Studies offers a few different graduate M.A. programs, which can be paired with a certificate program in humanitarian assistance. The program includes a two-day humanitarian crisis simulation which prepares students for the on-the-ground realities of working with people displaced by conflict and trains them on how to deal with the media. The program has limited space, and admission is extremely competitive.

M.A. in Applied Theatre and Intervention
University of Leeds, U.K.

This course looks at how theater can affect social change by exploring issues, debates, and theories of applied theater in the context of education, health, and international development. The university collaborates with local partners such as educational institutions, hospitals, and the city council, and offers opportunities to collaborate with external partners in projects focused on particular issues, such as asylum seeker integration.


M.A. in Middle East Studies
University of Washington, U.S.
Spotlight on: Comparative Multi-Sector Entrepreneurship: US & the Middle East 

This new module, launching in spring 2019, will consider the meaning and potential of multisector entrepreneurship in the U.S. and Middle East. Teams of students from the University of Washington and universities in Oman will work collaboratively to develop pilot projects in both regions while learning about local laws, business practices, and government initiatives.

Master of International Development Policy
Duke University, U.S.
Spotlight on: Innovation and Policy Entrepreneurship

This module aims to teach future policymakers and analysts the analytical tools and skills needed to craft policies that encourage innovation and entrepreneurship to solve global, country level and local challenges. This degree is designed for mid-career professionals and can be taken as part of the MIDP program.

M.S. in Bioeconomy
University of Hohenheim, Germany
Spotlight on: Entrepreneurial Finance

This master’s degree in bioeconomy considers the future economy of biological commodities and sustainable resources. It aims to equip students with an equal understanding of biology and economics, and how the two can work together. The module in entrepreneurial finance offers students an in-depth understanding of all stages of the entrepreneurial process.

M.A. in Development Studies
University of Malaya, Malaysia
Spotlight on: Entrepreneurship and Development

The master’s in development studies looks at contemporary challenges stemming from globalization through a multidisciplinary perspective. Elective courses focus on major issues in development including an entrepreneurship and development module.

A regional focus

M.A. in Economics in International Development
The American University in Cairo, Egypt
Spotlight on: Economic Development in Middle East Countries

This module looks at demographic transitions, the participation of women in the workforce, regional migration, and much more, across economic structures, institutions, and policy challenges in the Middle East and North Africa.

M.S. in International and Development Economics
Lingnan University, Hong Kong
Spotlight on: Belt and Road and Greater Bay Area economic initiatives

The master’s degree mainly focuses on development along the Belt and Road Initiative in China. It considers the latest economic, financial, social, political, and environmental developments, with a focus specifically on economics and finance. There are fieldwork opportunities in China and the course is mainly taught in Chinese, with some courses in English.  

Master of International and Development Economics
Australian National University, Australia; Nankai University, China
Spotlight on: Trade, Development and the Asia Pacific Economy

This module looks at the economic growth, international trade, and globalization of developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region — mainly through policy analysis — and offers an understanding of how international negotiations and agreements have promoted world trade.

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About the author

  • Lottie Watters

    Lottie Watters formerly covered career and hiring trends, tips, and insights. Lottie has a background in geography and journalism, taking a particular interest in grassroots international development projects. She has worked with organizations delivering clean water and sanitation projects globally.