Development Studies Courses

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Development Studies Courses overview

Development Studies (International Development or Global development) is a broad discipline which deals with the consequences of social, political, and economic change for people living in low income countries. It looks at the theory and practice of how ‘poor countries’ can transition to ‘rich countries’ while preserving culture and upholding human rights.

The field of development studies emerged after the second world war, when the international community became increasingly concerned with the economic and social wellbeing of people living recently decolonised countries, which became known as “the third world”. During this period, several major international development agencies were formed, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Bank, and USAID.

The field of development studies has evolved significantly over its brief history. It is also the subject of competing ideologies, such as neoliberalism versus social democracy, and needs versus rights based approaches.

In the year 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were published, which for the first time in history, set out the common development goals of all signatory nations over the next 15 years. In 2015, the the MDGs were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which took an increasingly rights based view of development.

Is development studies for me?

Development studies is for students who are passionate about making a difference for the world’s most vulnerable citizens, and want to learn the theory behind the practice. Postgraduate study is a prerequisite for most jobs in the sector.

Study pathway

Development Studies is most commonly offered as a postgraduate degree, but it can be studied at undergraduate level too. Graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, masters degrees, and doctorates are all offered by some universities.

Graduate certificates and diplomas in development studies are generally half a year to one year in length and provide good foundation knowledge in the field. They will often be a pathway to a related master’s degree or research program.

A Master’s degree in Development Studies is the key to a job in the international aid and development sector. Courses are typically 1-2 years in length and are offered by a number of Australian universities, both on-campus and online.

A doctoral degree (PhD) in development studies is for students who want to delve deeper into a particular specialty and add their own research to the existing literature. Research will often require international travel to low income countries, and may be partnered with an ongoing development project.

Employment options

A postgraduate degree in development studies will open the door to a number of employment opportunities. A master's level degree is a prerequisite for many jobs in the sector. Employment opportunities for development studies graduates can be summarised as follows:

Non-governmental aid & development organisations

You can work in ‘the field’ or ‘in-country’ for an NGO delivering projects, or work in a donor country running campaigns, lobbying, raising money, or doing research. You might find yourself working for an organisation like Oxfam, Amnesty International, or Care International.

Intergovernmental development organisations

The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and UNDP are all examples of multilateral development organisations which employ graduates of development studies. You can make a large impact by working at one of these organisations, but they are also notorious for being overly bureaucratic.

Government agencies

Most western country governments have a department for international aid & development. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) handles the policy, distribution and monitoring of Australia’s aid budget. The agency recruits a number of graduates every year, but is commonly regarded as the most competitive government graduate program in Australia.

Private development companies

Governments and large donors often engage private companies to design or deliver development projects on their behalf. Coffee International, for example, often implement development contracts on behalf of DFAT. Dalberg and Acumen consult to other organisation on development policy and projects.


Development studies is a broad field comprising many sub specialisations. Development studies coursework degrees commonly touch on many of these areas at some level, with further specialisation occurring at research level.

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Student Stories

University of New South Wales (UNSW)
Richard studied a Master of Development Studies (International Development stream) at UNSW
University of Sydney (USYD)
Angelica completed a Master of Development Studies at the University of Sydney.


Edith Cowan University (ECU)

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Edith Cowan University (ECU)

Discover courses, get advice from staff, watch demos and enjoy music, food and games.