Higher Education for Sustainability and Peace: A QuickLook at PhD Programs


April 1, 2022

This QuickLook on Higher Education for Sustainability and Peace presents a list of PhD opportunities covering areas of one or more UN Sustainable Development Goals. Information is derived from institution websites. The first part consists of 27 institutions with programs in sustainability and environment studies in Europe (1-8), USA (9-18), Canada (19-24), Australia (25), South Korea (26), and Japan (27).

The second part, on peace and security, identifies 13 PhD opportunities in Europe (28-30), Dominica (31), USA (32-35), Canada (36), Japan (37), Africa (38-39), and New Zealand (40). Two institutions offers three PhDs each (13-14) and one offers eight (39).

None of the various 53 doctoral programs listed here cover all of the SDGs, or even mention the SDGs!  But two institutions (37, 39) offer PhDs in security or sustainability. Long run integration is needed between sustainability and peace programs, because we cannot have security without sustainability, nor sustainability without security.


Part I: Sustainable Development and Environment Studies


1. Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (Augsburg-Munich, Germany, International PhD in Rethinking Environment)

The PhD program “Rethinking Environment: The Environmental Humanities and the Ecological Transformation of Society,” funded by the Elite Network of Bavaria, is based at the Environmental Science Center WZU (Augsburg) and the Rachel Carson Center (Munich). It offers a unique opportunity to pursue a PhD degree examining the ecological transformation of society from an interdisciplinary perspective within an intellectually inspiring environment that brings together the international and regional expertise of its many partners and networks.

2. European School of Sustainability Science and Research (Hamburg, Germany; ESSSR Cooperative PhD on Sustainable Development Research)

The program is free of charge and aimed at students already enrolled for a PhD at an accredited higher education institution, undertaking research on sustainable development issues. The cooperation with ESSSR consists of offering the students complementary training (e.g. seminars on research ethics, statistics, methodology) and opportunities for contributing to ESSSR publications.

3. Queen’s University of Belfast, The School of Biological Sciences (Belfast, Ireland; PhD in Ecology, Evolution, Behaviour and Environmental Economics)

The primary focus of the Ecology, Evolution, Behaviour, and Environmental Economics research cluster is fundamental and involves applied aspects of ecology, environmental economics, conservation, aquaculture, animal behaviour, molecular taxonomy and molecular genetics, particularly involving links between these aspects. The cluster has a high level of research activity involving academic staff, postdoctoral scientists, and postgraduate research students.

4. Universidad Loyola (Cordoba/Sevilla/Grenada, Spain; PhD in Inclusive and Sustainable Development Doctorado en Desarrollo Inclusivo y Sostenible) [2016]

Seeks to train researchers to develop a research career in the field of sustainable development. It is expected that, upon completing the program, students will be able to face, in a scientific way, the analysis, planning and resolution of specific problems in the areas of development in countries and territories.

5. Lund University, Centre for Sustainability Studies (Lund, Sweden; PhD in Sustainability Science) [2008]

Educates PhD graduates from different disciplinary backgrounds within the field of sustainability. The aim is to develop scientific competence and interdisciplinary research in order to comprehend and address various sustainability challenges such as climate change, climate adaptation, biodiversity loss, and land use change.

6. Maastricht University (Netherlands; PhD in Sustainability Science and Policy)

A program “designed to educate researchers, university teachers, and world leaders in the social, economic and natural science disciplines that underpin sustainable development”. Its focus is on integrative and interdisciplinary research needed to explore science and policy issues in sustainable development. It is based on the premise that integrated assessment methods and concepts, such as transitions, modeling and scenario analysis, are instrumental in providing answers to the central questions of sustainable development.

7. Institute for Sustainable Resources (London, UK; MPhil/PhD in Sustainable Resources)

Institute programs aim to equip graduates to become leaders in energy and sustainability related industry, academia, and policy making.  Themes include: sustainability at the water-food-land nexus, energy system transitions to achieve net-zero, financing the low carbon transition, improving energy access and resource use in the developing world, resource-efficient economies and societies and directing innovation for sustainable development.

8. University of Reading, Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (Reading, UK; PhD in Agriculture, Policy and Development Researc) [2000]

Aims to bring together a wide range of disciplines necessary to address issues related to sustainable agriculture in the 21st Century. The Centre developed partnerships with researchers, funding agencies, industry, policy makers, users and stakeholders to apply knowledge and expertise to the design of sustainable agricultural landscapes, and reconcile the often-conflicting demands of agricultural production and environmental protection.

9. Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs (New York City, USA; PhD in Sustainable Development) [2004]

The PhD is based on an interdisciplinary approach involving the social, natural, engineering, and health sciences. The program includes a set of core requirements in the social and natural sciences designed to provide a deep understanding of the interaction between natural and social systems, and provides students with the flexibility to pursue in-depth research in critical policy areas.

10. Rochester Institute of Technology, The Golisano Institute for Sustainability (Rochester, New York, USA; PhD in Sustainability)[2008]

A practically-based program that fosters innovation and creativity in solving real-world challenges within social, economic, technological, and business realms. In this interdisciplinary program, students are supposed to become part of a network of academics from across RIT who are working to optimize sustainable systems and practices in engineering, manufacturing, energy, education, and more.

11. University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland, USA; PhD in Environmental Science and Technology)

The Department of Environmental Science and Technology is “a world-class center of discovery and teaching that will innovate and educate to deal with increasingly complex environmental conditions”. It focuses on four main areas of research: Ecological Technology Design and Engineering, Environmental and Ecological Health, Soil Science, and Wetland Science and Engineering.

12. University of Michigan, Graham Sustainability Institute (Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; PhD and post-doctoral fellowships in Sustainability) [2013]

The common goal of U-M’s co-curricular doctoral and post-doctoral programs in sustainability has been to create a lifelong community of scholars devoted to developing and implementing innovative ideas in pursuit of sustainability.

13. Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan, USA; PhD degrees in Community Sustainability, Sustainable Tourism, and Protected Areas Management)

Interdisciplinary department that addresses contemporary issues of sustainability in agriculture, recreation, natural resources, and environment. Addresses social choices within specific environmental, economic and cultural contexts that advance or conflict with sustainability goals.

14. Arizona State University, School of Sustainability (Phoenix, Arizona, USA; PhD in Sustainability, PhD in Sustainable Energy, and PhD with CASS Concentration)

The PhD in Sustainability offers a flexible, interdisciplinary approach to the investigation of the urgent sustainability challenges. The PhD in Sustainable Energy transcends the boundaries of traditional methodologies and disciplinary viewpoints and prepares students to navigate interwoven technical, societal and environmental challenges. As a collaborative project between the School of Sustainability, the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and the School of Life Science, the University offers a unique PhD program with a Complex Adaptive Systems Science (CASS) concentration, i.e. the study of interactive and dynamic systems that change over time. The overall education program encompasses online and offline undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as continuing education through executive and professional certificate programs.

15. University of California-Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, California, USU; PhD in Global Studies)

Interdisciplinary program aiming to bridge social science and humanistic approaches in analyzing the contemporary transnational social problems in the areas of conflict, human rights, environment, and sustainable development. The program offers three related areas of specialization: Global Political Economy and Development, Global Cultures and Ideology, and Global Governance.

16. University of California-Los Angeles, Institute of Environment and Sustainability (Los Angeles, California, USA; PhD in Environment and Sustainability)

Aims to equip students with “deep understanding of how fundamental principles of environmental science and sustainability can be applied to research and address key environmental challenges that require skills in multiple disciplines”. To promote interdisciplinarity, each PhD candidate is guided by two advisors from distinct areas of research and scholarship.

17. University of Alaska-Fairbanks (PhD in Natural Resources and Sustainability)

Aims to equip students with knowledge and skills necessary to explore and understand natural resources management and how the related issues are linked to broader cultural, ecological and geopolitical contexts. This joint PhD program “prepares future leaders as academic researchers, agency professionals and analysts of nongovernmental organizations and communities for careers at the frontiers of the science of sustainability and natural resources management.” Three research areas are in focus: Resource Economics, Resource Policy/Sustainability Science, and Forest/Agriculture Science.

18. Prescott College (Prescott, Arizona, USA; PhD in Sustainability Education) [2005]

As the first doctoral program in sustainability education in North America, the College offers a unique model of a cohort-based and collaborative learning environment for its doctoral students. The primary goal of the program is to help prepare a new generation of sustainability educators and leaders who possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to effectively serve in those roles in their own respective communities. Most uniquely, the program focuses on economic and ecological sustainability as well as social equity, bio-cultural and linguistic diversities. 

19. Nippising University (North Bay, Ontario, Canada; PhD in Educational Sustainability)

Aims to prepare students from a variety of fields (such as education, health, social work, social justice and administrative leadership), for sustainable educational practices in the 21st century. The degree is designed for educators within the school system, and within the professions more generally, who aim to become engaged citizens who can think critically and are prepared to accept responsibility for the well-being of society.

20. University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada; PhD in Planning)

Aims to provide students with a broad and critical knowledge of planning history, theory and practice as well as with rigorous training in research. Students can specialize in the following three fields: Environment and Sustainability Planning, City-regions in Global Context: Economic Development and Social Planning, and Urban Development: Design and Built Environment.

21. University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; PhD in Social and Ecological Sustainability)

The Waterloo School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) offers this PhD program, providing an opportunity to become interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary scholars and applied researchers. Students can combine the program with a Collaborative Water Program, coordinated and supported by the Water Institute, to receive an additional Water designation. Also, the Waterloo School of Environment, Enterprise and Development offers a PhD in Sustainability Management to equip future innovators and realize sustainable outcomes.  (Also see #22, below.)

22. Wilfred Laurier University and University of Waterloo (Canada; PhD in Global Governance)

Jointly organized by Laurier and the University of Waterlooat the Balsillie School of International Affairs, the program offers an opportunity for interdisciplinary examination of power and authority in the global arena. In addition to international organizations and inter-state relations, this approach to global governance includes examining various non-state actors, as well as realities of contemporary life that contribute to the establishment and functioning of global rules, norms and institutions.

23. University of British Columbia – Vancouver (Vancouver, Canada; PhD in Resources, Environment and Sustainability)

A problem-focused and curiosity-driven interdisciplinary research program within the Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES), with a mission to foster sustainable futures through integrated research and learning about the linkages among human and natural systems. The program is consistently ranked within the top 15 in the worldfor environmental sciences.

24. University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK, Canada; PhD in Environment and Sustainability)

Interdisciplinary program providing students with a possibility to advance their understanding of a wide range of scientific, technical, political, social, economic, and institutional factors that shape environmental and sustainability problems. The program aims to educate students to manage these problems and arrive to their potential solutions.

25. University of the Sunshine Coast, Sustainable Research Center (Queensland, Australia; PhD in Environment and Sustainability) [2007]

Offers Higher Degree by Research programs including masters and PhD opportunities. Research themes include Climate Change Adaptation, Environmental Management and Governance, and Sustainable Livelihoods. The Center conducts cutting-edge research into pressing local, regional, and global challenges of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

26. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Graduate School of Green Growth (Daejeon, South Korea; PhD in Green Business) [2013]

Seeks “world-class education and research on green business, finance, and policy”. KAIST hosts the Graduate School for Green Growth, offering Masters programs in Green Policy as well as Masters and Doctoral programs in Green Business. The research program is developed through the EEWS Research Center that focuses on Energy, Environment, Water, and Sustainability.

27. United Nations University, Institute of Advanced Studies (Tokyo, Japan; PhD in Sustainability Science)

Aims to foster a deeper understanding of sustainability science through analysis of current issues related to global change, with perspectives from both the natural and social sciences. The three main research areas are: Sustainable Societies, Natural Capital and Biodiversity, and Global Change and Resilience.


Part II: Peace and Security Studies


28. University of Hamburg (Hamburg, Germany; PhD in Peace and Security Studies)

A comprehensive program aiming to facilitate both academic and practical career-oriented learning.  It includes seminars, research workshops, and field trips, allowing students to gain insights into current problems in peace research. Doctoral students also have opportunities to present their work-progress to a forum of professional experts during the seminars and workshops regularly organized by the department.

29. Trinity College, The Irish School of Ecumenics (Dublin, Ireland; PhD in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation)

Part of the Confederal School of Religions, Peace Studies, and Theology, the Department works with the Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation program at the Belfast Campus in Northern Ireland, making this a unique, cross-border degree program.  Popular research areas include ethics, human rights, interreligious dialogue, gender, development and globalization, and reconciliation. The School of Religion offers four Masters degrees (called M.Phil. at Trinity) and a postgraduate diploma, plus a research Masters (M.Litt.) and a doctorate by research (PhD).  Distance learning is available for certain programs, including the PhD.

30. University of Uppsala, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies (Uppsala, Sweden; PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies)

The program aims to make students capable of scientific research. As with most Swedish universities, students become employees of the university. PhD candidates are often involved in teaching or administration up to 20% of their time, so it may take up to 5 years to complete the PhD program.

31. Selinus University of Science and Literature, Distance Learning University (Copthall, Roseau Valley, Commonwealth of Dominica; remote PhD in Peace Studies)

An independent private international university that exclusively deals with online and distance learning, and only accepts students who are already professionally settled.

32. University of Notre Dame, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (South Bend, Indiana, USA; PhD in Peace Studies)

Offers PhD scholarships in the field of Peace Studies for students willing to study in the United States.  Graduates are fully credentialed in one of six disciplines, as well as in peace studies. They are prepared for positions in research and teaching — in anthropology, history, political science, psychology, sociology, theology, or peace studies — and for contributions to peacebuilding practice.

33. University of Massachusetts-Amherst, School of Natural Sciences (Amherst, Massachusetts, USA; PhD in Social Psychology, Psychology of Peace and Violence)

This psychology-focused approach to peace and violence is the first of its kind in the US. The department aims to use scientific research and approaches to find innovative solutions to resolve conflict, promote reconciliation, and build peace. Students fulfill department requirements for a degree in Social Psychology, while also completing additional research in Conflict and Peace Studies.  In addition, students are required to complete an internship with an NGO or community-based organization, conduct long-term independent research projects, and assist faculty.  Graduates are well-placed to work in either the field of academic psychology or peace and conflict resolution.

34. University of Massachusetts-Boston, McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies (USA; PhD in Global Governance and Human Security)

Combines interdisciplinary knowledge and hands-on research experience aiming to become a creative global problem-solver. Its focus is on economic welfare and human development, ecological sustainability, peace, public health, education, human rights and political freedom, and the interrelationships among them.

35. Princeton University, School of Public and International Affairs (USA; PhD in Security Studies)

Designed to prepare PhD students for rigorous, policy-relevant research on major threats to international and national security and the relevant strategies, institutions, and capabilities that will be needed to confront those threats. Topics of study are: grand strategies of major powers, arms competitions, coercive diplomacy, terrorism, proliferating weapons of mass destruction, shifts in regional and global distributions of capabilities, insurgency, civil war, regional political instability, military force composition and capability, civil-military relations, and innovations in military technologies.

36. University of Manitoba, Institute for Peace and Justice at St. Paul’s College (Winnipeg, Canada; PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies)

Provides a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to prepare students to pursue independent research aimed at analyzing and resolving complex issues facing the global milieu of peace and conflict, using a variety of conflict resolution, social justice, and peace studies tools, processes, and methods.

37. Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies [2002], and Joint PhD program for Sustainability Research [2019])

Peace and Conflict Studies is an interdisciplinary research and study program that aims to equip students with expertise on topics related to peace and conflict, violence, development, and other areas of international affairs. Students learn how to critically examine and formulate effective responses to issues of peace and conflict. In collaboration with Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and the University of Electro-Communications, the TUFS also offers a multidisciplinary PhD in Sustainability Research.

38. Durban University of Technology (South Africa; PhD in Peacebuilding)

The Durban University of Technology’s Peacebuilding Program is arguably the biggest and most exhaustive of its kind on the continent of Africa. The degrees start with a compulsory on-campus component of one month during which time students attend classes and submit assignments on peace theory, receive training in practical peacebuilding, and learn the details of writing a research thesis. Students are encouraged to work on action research topics that directly build peace among individuals and communities.

39. EUCLID University (Hqs in Gambia and Central African Republic; PhD in Mediation and Conflict Resolution) [2008]

Established by a United Nations registered treaty, EUCLID is the world’s only multi-disciplinary and global intergovernmental university, serving 11 states. It aims is to prepare government officials and international civil servants, both active and aspiring, for qualified positions with their national governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society. It offers a number of online doctoral programs, including Mediation and Conflict Resolution, Interfaith Dialogue and Diplomacy, Terrorism Studies and Deradicalization, Climate Change and Sustainability, Sustainable Development, Diplomacy, Global Energy Policy, and Global Health and Health Systems.

40. University of Otago, National Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (Dunedin, New Zealand; PhD in Peace Studies)

Offers a fully funded PhD program on Trusting the Enemy.  Its focus is on understanding intergroup trust in conflict and peace studies through social psychological approaches. This work intends to build on the Intergroup Trust Model, which hypothesizes that trust between groups is shaped by five dimensions of competence, integrity, compassion, compatibility, and security.




This QuickLook is an initial exploration of a wide variety of 53 higher education PhD programs for sustainability, and for peace and human security, offered by 40 institutions.  There is little standardization in the emphasis or titling of these programs, reflecting the many aspects of sustainability and security.  Importantly, no program identified here mentions the SDGs, and only one mentions Human Security (34).

It should also be stressed that there are many more undergraduate, Masters, and continuing education programs presently operating worldwide, both in-person and online.

Preparation of a detailed annual critical directory to all of these multi-disciplinary higher education programs in security and peace is needed, similar to the numerous and widely-available travel guides to cities and countries. It would not only be very helpful to prospective students who wish to effectively engage in necessary efforts to transform societies and institutions, but as an important indicator of the relevant complexities and progress toward the SDGs.  Such a directory may be in preparation already, and if not, this modest effort might lead to a more extensive work, and to more programs at more institutions in more nations.  Ideally, there should be several hundred PhD programs on sustainability and/or peace worldwide—perhaps many more.                                             

ALSO SEE: Education for Sustainability and SDGs: A QuickLook at Advocating Organizations, a companion QL with a section on relevant reports, books, and journals.

Marta Nešković earned a recent PhD in Anthropology at the University of Belgrade. She is a Researcher at the Institute for Political Studies in Belgrade, and a WAAS Junior Fellow.

Michael Marien is Founder and Senior Principal of The Security & Sustainability Guide. He earned a PhD in Social Science and National Planning several decades ago from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

Related Articles

Report on Recent Reports #5, Spring 2023

Report on Recent Reports #5, Spring 2023

World of Woes—and Proposed Global Remedies         The Alliance of World Scientists warns of “code red” on the planet and an unequivocal climate emergency (5:1).  The better-known IPCC Synthesis Report in March warns that...

Report on Recent Reports #5, Spring 2023

Report on Recent Reports #4, Winter 2022-2023

Polycrisis: Probable; Remedies: Possible                A wide variety of organizations and individuals have recently warned of multiple global crises.  Some have used the term “polycrisis,” defined by the Cascade Institute as...

SSG Newslitter – February 2023

SSG Newslitter – February 2023

Welcome to SSG February NewsLitter, written by a news-wonk who is ever less certain about what he knows…let alone all he can not. December intentions for this second offering were to look at nuclear futures, education and democracy. But intentions – other than those...


1 Comment

  1. h

    Do you have any suggestions on PhDs that combine both Sustainability-Development and Peace-Security?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.