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MSc Design Thinking for Sustainability

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Key facts

Overview

The UCD MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability is a unique masters programme that bridges sustainability knowledge and skills, ensuring students are ready to quickly transition to new roles and opportunities upon graduation.

Everything students learn is put into practice with real world projects and challenges. By the end of this MSc students are ready to reposition their career for the emerging green economy.

The deadline for applications is rolling. Courses will remain open until all places have been filled, therefore early application is advised.

 

UPCOMING ONLINE INFO SESSION

Our next online information session for this programme will take place on Friday, 1st March 2024 from 1:30- 2 pm. 

Sign up here.

Qualification

The MSc Design Thinking for Sustainability is a UCD accredited programme and a Level 9 MSc (90 ECTS).

How it's delivered

The MSc is delivered in-person at UCD. 

Exact timetables will be published in early 2024. 

Classes typically run in-person from 9.30am to 1.30pm Monday – Friday, in block weeks, i.e. five days in a row.

As the programme involves continuous assessment, participants must attend all class sessions.  

In addition to classes, students can expect 25+ hours of additional effort each week – including individual & team activities, tasks, project work, and self-study. Typically students are given the time from 1.30pm to 4.30pm for this work.

For the final module, IA40830: Applied Sustainability Project (30 ECTS), students will work individually, with a high level of autonomy, and closely with the organisation they partner with for their final module.

Duration

12 months total 

Fees and Funding

Please read the information below carefully as there are two entry options available to this programme. 

OPTION 1: If you are currently a full time resident in the Republic of Ireland you may be eligible for significant funding for this programme. You will need to meet the Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 1 funding eligibility requirements (view here). You will need to apply for a funded place to the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking in Sustainability directly via the Springboard+ website and on completion of the Grad Dip, apply for the MSc module pathway option.

100% or 90% funding is available for the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability component of this programme for eligible applicants through the Human Capital Initiative (Pillar 1).

Fees: MSc final module fees only €3,250 (EU) €6,500 (non EU).

There is currently no funding for the final MSc module for those students who choose to take it.

Please speak to a recruitment advisor if you think this option may apply to you.

OPTION 2: If you are currently not resident in the Republic of Ireland or you are resident in the Republic of Ireland but do not meet the HCI Pillar 1 funding eligibility requirements, you may apply directly to the MSc by submitting an application via UCD SISWeb. Please see the Entry Requirements section for application documents required.

Fees: Full MSc (8 modules 90 ECTS) €9750 (EU) €19,500 (non EU)

Please speak to a recruitment advisor if you think this option may apply to you.

2024 Brochure

Download the 2024 brochure here or you can view it online here.

Who is it for?

The MSc programme is for learners from a variety of backgrounds. The MSc deliberately cultivates diverse classes so that students learn from their peers as well as our expert facilitators. Participants in the Graduate Diploma programme have included recent university graduates, mid-career professionals seeking a career pivot, entrepreneurs considering a sustainability related enterprise and executives on a career break seeking to augment their existing experience with sustainability knowledge and skills. 

The MSc is for students who seek the following learning outcomes:

  • Apply the Design Thinking process to create innovative, human-centric, sustainable solutions to complex, real-world problems. The five-stage process includes skills in (a) insight gathering, (b) analysis, (c) ideation, (d) prototyping, (e) iterative design and testing.  
  • Develop a sustainability mindset through sustainability literacy including a working knowledge of sustainability systems, issues and tools, framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Identify sustainability challenges, opportunities, and needs, and design innovative implementation plans.
  • Apply and cultivate teamwork and leadership skills to support effective collaboration across diverse stakeholders and within multi-disciplinary teams practising design thinking.
  • Communicate persuasively, both individually and in teams, proposed solutions, ideas and concepts, using supporting evidence, insights and an awareness of assumptions, to influence different stakeholders, decision-makers and a wider general audience. 
  • Adopt and apply an entrepreneurial mindset – a way of thinking that creates value by recognising and acting on opportunities, making decisions with limited information, and remaining adaptable and resilient – in the design and implementation of sustainability solutions. 
  • Practise reflective techniques to enhance decision-making, draw insights to inform future approaches and enable self-directed learning into the future in the fast changing field of sustainability, among others.
  • Apply the Design Thinking methodology to design learners’ own careers and vocations, using practical career skills to identify and navigate relevant and possible career and life pathways. 
  • Lead a complex and ambitious sustainability project, managing multiple stakeholders and competing needs to deliver an actionable solution.

An open & collaborative environment in which to learn, reflect, grow, test new ideas and to push oneself...

2020 Graduate

All companies will have to focus on making a transition to a low carbon, resilient and sustainable...

Professor Richard Templer Director of Innovation, Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London

I see sustainability in the same space as IT 30 years ago – a rapidly emerging field that will become fundamental to business…

Sustainability Manager, Wholesale Sector
Read all stories

Course Structure

The course is split into 8 core modules, totalling 90 ECTS. Some modules are configured as ‘block weeks’ – five days in a row. Some modules are split over multiple weeks. 

*If you have completed and been awarded the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability and are applying for the MSc module, you will complete IA40830: Applied Sustainability Project (30 ECTS) module only. 

Exact dates of the MSc will be published in early 2024.

  • IA40610: Design for User-Centric, Sustainable Solutions (20 ECTS) Apply the skillset, toolkit, and mindset gained in the first trimester to solving a real-world sustainability problem for an organisation. The module ends with a showcase event.
  • IA40460: Design Your Purposeful Life (5 ECTS) This module provides an approach in which you will reflect upon your learning, consider your life and career goals, and make plans to reposition your career for the emerging green economy.
  • IA40830: Applied Sustainability Project (30 ECTS) This module is a problem-based project focused on solving a real sustainability problem. The project is led on an individual level to develop a students’ mastery of the methodology – Design Thinking for Sustainability. The module asks students to apply the cumulative knowledge and skills learned to date to help a specific organisation (enterprise, non-profit, start-up) integrate sustainability into their strategy, operations, and/or governance, ensuring that sustainability will be grounded as a source of innovation for driving environmental, social and economic change. Students will work individually, with a high level of autonomy, and closely with the relevant organisation, to apply the design thinking methodology to an organisation-wide sustainability need or opportunity.
  • Why choose us
  • Learning outcomes
  • How to apply
  • Assessment
  • Who leads this course?
  • Career opportunities

UCD Innovation Academy sits at the cutting-edge of education in Ireland, and the world. 

We’ve been challenging students to see the world differently since 2010, when we became one of the first universities to offer experiential learning experiences. 

Our team has been innovating ever since, shaping and refining our courses with input from some of the world’s best. Thousands of students have passed through the Academy, and each one has played their part in making our courses better and better. We have countless examples of our alumni accelerating their careers and changing the world from within organisations or as entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. 

UCD Innovation Academy is a part of UCD, ranked among the top 1% of higher education institutions in the world. We’re Ireland’s global university with 9,500 international students and a rich ecosystem to support our international community. UCD is ranked Ireland’s best university for graduate employability. Professor Sir Mark Welland​, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge acting as our External Examiner. 

 

Students at UCD Innovation Academy have access to the latest technology to support their creativity. The IA MakerSpace provides a playground for innovation, testing, and prototyping to bring your ideas to life. UCD Greenacre is UCD’s new experiential sustainability hub, located on an acre of UCD’s woodland campus in Belfield. A first of its kind in Ireland, it offers immersive, hands-on sustainability experiences for students to explore, experiment and learn how to take meaningful actions for a sustainable planet.

UCD Innovation Academy leverages its convening power in our programmes, regularly bringing together diverse stakeholders from across enterprise, policy and the third sector, and offering our students a richer learning experience as a result.

University College Dublin has been named in the top 50 in the QS World University Rankings for Sustainability, achieving the highest result in Ireland and ranking 24th in Europe.

UCD has a long-standing commitment to sustainability, and played a direct role in the development of the SDGs through the advocacy of Professor Patrick Paul Walsh, UCD School of Politics and International Relations.

Here at the Innovation Academy we have everything you need for a learning experience you’ll never forget.

Students who successfully completed the MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability will be able to: 

  1. Apply the Design Thinking process to create innovative, human-centric, sustainable solutions to complex, real-world problems. The five-stage process includes skills in (a) insight gathering, (b) analysis, (c) ideation, (d) prototyping, (e) iterative design and testing.  
  2. Develop a sustainability mindset through sustainability literacy including a working knowledge of sustainability systems, issues and tools, framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  3. Apply and cultivate teamwork and leadership skills to support effective collaboration across diverse stakeholders and within multi-disciplinary teams practising design thinking.
  4. Communicate persuasively, both individually and in teams, proposed solutions, ideas and concepts, using supporting evidence, insights and an awareness of assumptions, to influence different stakeholders, decision-makers and a wider general audience. 

5. Adopt and apply an entrepreneurial mindset – a way of thinking that creates value by recognising and acting on opportunities, making decisions with limited information, and remaining adaptable and resilient – in the design and implementation of sustainability solutions. 

6. Practise reflective techniques to enhance decision-making, draw insights to inform future approaches and enable self-directed learning into the future in the fast changing field of sustainability, among others.

7. Apply the Design Thinking methodology to design learners’ own careers and vocations, using practical career skills to identify and navigate relevant and possible career and life pathways. 

8. Identify sustainability challenges, opportunities, and needs, and design innovative implementation plans.

9. Lead a complex and ambitious sustainability project, managing multiple stakeholders and competing needs to deliver an actionable solution.

Please register your interest above to receive a call back where a member of our team will advise you on the best application route.

Option 1 – Pathway: If you are currently a full time resident in the Republic of Ireland and meet the Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 1 funding eligibility requirements (view here), you may apply for a funded place to the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking in Sustainability directly via the Springboard+ website and on completion, apply for the MSc module pathway option. Applicants taking this pathway option will upload all supporting documents directly to the Springboard+ portal. 

Option 2 – Full MSc: If you are currently not resident in the Republic of Ireland or you are resident in the Republic of Ireland but do not meet the HCI Pillar 1 funding eligibility requirements, you may apply for the full MSc via UCD SISWeb and upload the documents listed below.

*Applications are reviewed and places offered on a rolling basis until the course is full. We encourage you to apply early to secure a place on the programme.

Below is a summary of the application procedures for this course. These are subject to change. We recommend you speak to a recruitment advisor who will guide you with your application.

The full document requirements are listed below. Please read them carefully.

  1. Current CV and Letter of Motivation. 
  2. A copy of your academic transcript to show that you have a minimum of an Undergraduate Honours Bachelor’s Degree (NFQ Level 8). If you previously studied at UCD, please provide your UCD student number on a Word document/PDF.

3. Applicants who do not have a level 8 qualification can apply through Recognition of Prior Learning.

Under UCD’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policy, consideration will be given on a case by case basis to applicants who do not hold a primary degree but who can demonstrate extensive professional experience. Typically, such applicants would have five years or more experience where their role includes managing teams, leading projects, programmes or business units.

If you are applying under RPL, please review your CV to ensure that it clearly demonstrates the following-

  • Any experience of leadership and self-direction
  • Any experience of management or entrepreneurship
  • A description of employee, budget and client responsibilities

RPL applicants should also upload two recently dated professional/employment references. These should be on headed paper or from an official email address and including the referees name, role and email address.

4. If English is not your first language an English language qualification is required. Click HERE for full English Language Requirements for UCD.

Your success throughout this course will be assessed through a number of presentations, team projects, and your individual reflections and self-evaluation. 

With the help of the Academy’s educators, guest speakers and your fellow learners, you’ll receive constructive feedback to improve throughout the course.

Module after module, your learning will build iteratively as you progress through the course. You’ll carry forward the insights, mindset, and skills you’ve learned into the central module, ‘Design for User-Centric, Sustainable Solutions’. Here you’ll have the opportunity to apply everything you have learnt throughout the rest of the course. 

Learners will receive a pass/fail grade for each of the seven modules, and an overall grade for the Graduate Diploma qualification.

Assessment of IA40830 Applied Sustainability Project the final module of the MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability comprises of three parts:

35% – An individual reflective essay submitted at the end of the module.

30% – Final pitch/presentation

Presentation of work undertaken, results and recommendations presented to a panel of relevant experts including representatives from the partner organisation, experts from within the wider UCD community and UCD Innovation Academy.

30% – Project Report

A report to be submitted at the end of the project outlining the response to a real world organisation’s sustainability challenge, need and / or opportunity. The format of this report is flexible given the varying approaches students may want or need to adopt, however the output will be commensurate with the scope and complexity required.

As the course involves continuous assessment, students must attend all class sessions.

Dr Thomas Macagno, Education Innovation Lead and Programme Lead for the MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability

 

Dr Eileen Diskin, Education Innovation Lead and Programme Designer of the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability

“The Irish economy will need to fill more than 20,000 jobs by 2030 just to support green economy sectors.” IDA Ireland

“Key to guaranteeing a more sustainable and secure future is ensuring we have the right green skills to power the transition to net zero” Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment and Communications Eamon Ryan, TD

Decision makers in government, enterprise and civil society now recognise that learners must have not just the knowledge to act on sustainability, but also the skills to act quickly. The MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability is a unique programme that bridges knowledge and skills, ensuring students begin to affect change within the programme and are ready to quickly transition to new roles and opportunities upon graduation.

The MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability offers students an opportunity to apply, test and master their learnings individually with a high degree of autonomy in a high stakes, real world context. Students must design innovative implementation plans and individually lead a complex and ambitious sustainability project, managing multiple stakeholders and competing needs to deliver an actionable solution.

As a result of the highly applied nature of this MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability, students may leverage the project for future career opportunities.

Survey Findings from 2020-2021 Graduate Diploma Class:

  • 71% of respondents were employed, and 9% pursued further study or training. 7% were job seekers.
  •  Among those who were employed:
  • Most were working in Ireland (90%).
  • 60% worked under a permanent contract; 17.5% worked under a fixed-term contract, either lasting more than 12 months (10%) or shorter than 12 months (7.5%). 
  • In relation to occupation, 25% worked as associate professional (legal/business) or technical (science/IT). 52% worked at a more senior level as professionals; 10% held a manager or director position (e.g., chief executive, senior functional manager/proprietor).
  • Employers include different industries including consultancy, accountancy, education, innovation, creative culture and arts; sustainable construction. 
  • Graduates found employment in sustainability-related roles such as Sustainability Analyst, Sustainability Events and Festivals Lead, Sustainability Specialist.

Ireland’s ‘Second National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development – ESD to 2030: “Learners must acquire the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions needed to promote sustainable development.