Developing more than academics

Field trips form an integral part of the curriculum at the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. (courtesy of UKZN)

Field trips form an integral part of the curriculum at the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. (courtesy of UKZN)

The School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) aims to be a world leader in the study of the political economy of development and demography.

The staff in the disciplines of development studies and population studies conduct cutting edge research, provide world class teaching and training, and engage in activism for social and economic justice locally and globally.

The School specialises in critical, interdisciplinary analysis of development and population theory, policy and practice and offers several post-graduate degrees — by coursework and research — with rigour, flexibility and currency that match any comparable programme.

The master's programme has been identified as one of the world's leading development studies programmes by Michael Woolcock of Harvard University. The master's degree on offer is in development studies or population studies. The courses are either one-year or two-year degrees.

The admission requirement for entry into the one-year degree is an honours degree in a related field.
Applicants with a three-year social science or equivalent degree, or with training in disciplines unrelated to development studies, register for the two-year programme. Students admitted to the master's programmes thus have diverse academic backgrounds.

The dissertation component often takes students into the exciting and varied world of Durban and surrounds. All modules in the master's programme make extensive use of interactive and student-led seminars; formal lectures are used for some of the foundational modules.

With expertise in political economy, political ecology, population studies, social policy and civil society, staff are positioned critically to engage in post-war debates and strategy over development theory and practice, and to provide critique and alternatives to current orthodoxies.

The School's orientation to engaging state agencies, non-governmental organisations, labour and social movements, business and international institutions makes it one of the world's strongest educational sites for development studies. This provides unprecedented opportunities for the professional and advocacy training required to engage the world's major development problems. In addition, the School has a thesis-based PhD programme.

As part of a larger re-organisation of academic schools at UKZN in 2012, the School of Development Studies was incorporated into the School of Built Environment and Development Studies (including community development, architecture planning and housing). Each of these, with the addition of population studies, operates as a discipline in the new school.

The Centre for Civil Society continues to be a part of the School.

As part of a leading centre for research and teaching on development and population studies in South Africa, the School's disciplines also hold an international reputation for the quality of their work and the intellectual rigour with which they apply academic skills to policy challenges.

They draw on the specialist knowledge of their researchers, who are nationally and internationally recognised experts in their fields, and many of whom hold doctorates from national and international universities.

A recent university review panel headed by an independent international academic reported that "both the quality and the quantity of the research outputs are impressively high".

The School has two prestigious National Research Foundation (NRF) South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) chairs in the discipline of development studies. These are in the areas of economic development and applied poverty reduction assessment.

Both are central to the School's research and teaching orientations.

Students also have the opportunity to step out of the classroom into the rich and diverse "research laboratory", which is Durban, in formal and informal ways throughout their stay here.

Students are from diverse backgrounds — either straight from undergraduate studies in South Africa or elsewhere in Africa or the world, or have already been working and are returning to study. The combination makes for a dynamic and rich exchange of ideas in the classroom.

Graduates land up working or studying further in far-flung parts of the world. Some of the School's top graduates have gone on to complete PhDs internationally.

"Development studies equipped me with the skills to understand both the hard and soft sides of our continent's complex set of macro, meso and micro economic challenges," said Justin Barnes, executive chairman of B&M Analysts SA Ltd, chair of industrial studies and adjunct associate professor in development studies, who is an alumnus of the School.

What students have to say

"Our population studies courses have offered me a firm foundation in understanding demographic change in society. I now have a deep understanding of how policy-makers can respond to this change." Preston Govindasamy, MA student "Our master's programme equips students with essential skills for global change, as they gain an understanding of social, economic and political problems associated with the notion of development. When I exit the programme I will be able to work to influence positive change at both community and policy level, regionally and globally." Makhosi Wiese, MA student

"The development studies programme at UKZN is the mecca of the study of development, not just in South Africa but in Africa. At UKZN I get to conduct cutting edge work with some world renowned scholars and researchers in development studies." Showers Mawowa, PhD Student.

Further information

For further information and an application pack please visit or contact the student administrator, Priya Konan at with any queries you may have.

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