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Course Directory > Postgraduate (taught) > MA Development Studies
(Institute of Social Studies)
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Course Type: Postgraduate (taught)
Training Provider: Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
School/Institute/Dept./Centre: Institute of Social Studies (ISS)

The Institute of Social Studies offers a programme of studies leading to a Masters Degree in Development Studies. With a strong focus on training in the theory and methods relevant to development studies, the MA Programme aims to equip graduates to apply new insights in policy analysis in a practical context.

The ISS MA Degree in Development Studies is widely recognised and provides eligibility for entry to PhD programmes in the Netherlands and other countries worldwide.

The ISS ensures that its programmes are of high quality, relevant and up to date by involving outside experts from Dutch and foreign universities as External Examiners.

In its MA programme the ISS offers eleven specialisations. Please click on the specialisation of your choice for detailed information.

Students should indicate their choice of Major on their application form. Within the chosen field of specialisation, students are encouraged to gain a critical understanding of the major debates, theories and strategic interventions, as well as the skills to analyse the issues, and to design and assess interventions aimed to tackle them. An essential part of this process is to develop skills in research methodology, which will be applied in a research paper prepared as a requirement for the Masters Degree.

The ISS admits a limited number of auditors and associate students who wish to attend only part of the courses in the MA Programme. For Netherlands residents a more flexible arrangement of the MA programme can be requested, spreading the programme over a longer period. These cases are dealt with on individual basis. Please contact the ISS for more information at

The MA programme

The ISS has modularised its programme to offer greater flexibility. It is possible to identify other study paths through the programme than the majors listed above.

In total, a student takes courses totaling 60 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) credits which is equivalent to 40 weeks of fulltime study and writes a Research Paper representing 28 ECTS.  An overview of all courses can be found in the academic calendar .  Copies can also be ordered from the

The MA Programme is structured in the following way.

A. General Course (7.5 ECTS)

The General Course surveys the broad questions of development which lie at the heart of the MA in Development Studies taught at the ISS. At the same time, it assists students in refining study skills. The Course provides an introduction to key substantive problems, concepts, theories and strategies and to key actors in the theory and practice of development. The issues and the analytical and practical responses to them are treated in a historical perspective with attention to socioeconomic, political and cultural dimensions and to intersectoral problems and approaches. The treatment is both general (relating to Development Studies as a whole) and specific (focusing on implications for the different Majors of the MA).

B. Introductory Courses (7.5 ECTS)

The principal aim of the Introductory Courses is to provide theoretical and mainly disciplinary-focused foundations for the more policy-oriented Majors. There are three types of Introductory Courses: more advanced disciplinary courses for students with prior formation in the discipline, more basic courses which introduce students to a discipline in which they have no or weak prior training, and basic theoretical courses in fields with no clear disciplinary boundaries, but nonetheless related to a well-defined body of theoretical concepts and analysis. Students are required to complete 7.5 ECTS of Introductory Courses, made up of two courses of 3.75 ECTS.

C. Research Methodology Courses (7.5 ECTS)

The Research Methodology Courses aim to enhance skills needed to analyse, interpret and undertake research. Three integrated packages of Research Methodology courses will be on offer, ranging from one strongly quantitative, to intermediate (qualitative/quantitative) and more strongly quantitative. All packages have a mixture of methodology and methods, to be able to place the methods in their proper context, though the emphasis on each may differ between courses.

D. Majors (22.5 ECTS)

A Major course, the specialisation chosen by the student, is a linked series of modules which together constitute a coherent whole and an opportunity to specialise by studying an area in depth. In general, the Major is the core of the MA since, in addition to requiring 22.5 ECTS of study, the Research Paper must be written within the area of the Major. This ensures that students deepen their knowledge in a particular area of specialisation. The learning objectives of each Major state the specific scientific and professional demands which the Major makes. They also indicate which theories and skills students should know or master. The components of a Major are related, mutually supportive and cumulative, leading to deepening insights and a higher level of understanding.

A Major consists of 22.5 ECTS made up of three 7.5 ECTS modules. In many Majors there is a choice of these three units from a wider set of courses.

E. Options (15 ECTS)

An Option can either further deepen the study of an element of a Major or focus on a topic not exclusively related to the field of study in which a Major is situated. Both types of Options are supported by research recently conducted by those offering the Option. Students may freely choose to take Options, including Major modules of other specialisations, provided that they satisfy any admission requirements. They are not obliged to take Options within the field of study of their Major. Each Option is 7.5 ECTS and students must take 15 ECTS in total. Some combinations of two options, which constitute together an overarching theme, are also offered as a Minor.

F. Research Paper (28 ECTS)

The learning objectives of the Research Paper are that the student demonstrate the capability to: formulate a research problem clearly; choose an adequate method to research such a problem; apply that method adequately; master the skill of finding data and/or theoretical perspectives relevant to the intended research; draw a clearly stated conclusion from that research; and support that conclusion with a systematically presented report containing a logical argument based on sufficient empirical and/or theoretical evidence.

The Research Paper must focus on issues related to the Major. The paper, which represents approximately 40% of the total MA workload, has a recommended length of 15,000 words and must not exceed 17,500 words.

Although much material is available at the ISS, in the various libraries in The Hague and the Netherlands, and over the Internet, students should bring with them as much material as possible, including statistical data, policy documents, primary data, etc. which may be relevant to their Research Paper. Fieldwork is not a standard part of the MA.

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Course Details

Entry Requirements:
English language requirements: The ISS does not require a language certificate from native English-speakers. Inhabitants from the following countries are considered native speakers: Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, USA, Australia, New Sealand, India, Philippines, Botswana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenia, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and inhabitants from the English-speaking part of Cameroon, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

All other candidates must provide a certificate from one of the following bodies:

TOEFL: For MA applicants, the minimum acceptable score is 550 on the TOEFL and 4.5 on the TWE. For those taking the computer-based TOEFL test, the minimum acceptable score is 213, with an Essay Rating of at least 4.5.

Important: If you inform TOEFL that the ISS Institution Code is 9714 and the Department Code is 01, they will send information directly to the ISS.

British Council: For MA applicants, the minimum acceptable score is 6.0 with a minimum score of 5.0 for writing.

Course Duration:
September 2006 - December 2007

Language(s) of Instruction:
  • English

Mode of Study:
  • residential

Thematic Focus:
  • Agricultural Development
  • Anthropology/Sociology
  • Civil Society/NGO Management
  • Development Administration
  • Development Economics
  • Development Finance
  • Development Management
  • Development Policy
  • Development Studies
  • Environmental Issues
  • Education
  • Gender Issues
  • Globalisation
  • Governance
  • Health/Public Health
  • Human Resources
  • Participatory Approaches
  • Poverty Analysis
  • Project Planning
  • Research Methods
  • Rural Development
  • Social Policy and Development
  • Urban Studies and Planning
  • :Other:

  • Netherlands

Town(s) or City(ies):
The Hague

Course fees:
Tuition fee: € 8,000 Registration fee: € 115

Scholarships & Awards:
Students should apply to the Netherlands Fellowship Programme

Further Funding Information:

Course's Webpage:

Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Training Provider: Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Contact Telephone: +31 (0)70 426 0460
Courses: 8
ISS is a unique – independent and international – graduate school in the social sciences. It is one of the oldest and largest centres for the comparative study and research of social, political and economic development and change. ISS offers quality learning to its students, all young and mid-career professionals, and critical social science knowledge to its scientific peers, and stimulates debate with the general public, through an organisation that strives for ‘total quality care’.

The courses - all taught in English - provide knowledge and insights in a number of fields including development economics, sociology, politics, public policy and management, governance, gender, employment, population, social security, children and youth, and human rights.

The Institute offers a four-year PhD programme, a 15.5-month MA in Development Studies with various specialisations, postgraduate diploma programmes and tailor-made short courses. All degrees are recognised internationally and by Dutch legislation on higher education.

Over the past 50 years, around 10,000 students from more than 160 countries have studied at ISS. Many now hold leading positions in government, international organisations, higher education, planning agencies and non-governmental organisations.

The staff is drawn from around thirty countries from all over the world. The multicultural community at ISS offers an excellent learning environment both inside and outside the classroom, in which students can gain from each others’ diverse experience.

The ISS participates with other academic institutes in the Netherlands, including the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University and Wageningen University, in the CERES Research School (Centre for Resource Studies for Development). During their stay PhD students participate in the School’s activities, which include special courses and workshops. This gives them an opportunity to interact with PhD students from other universities in the Netherlands.

ISS is situated in the centre of The Hague, the city of peace and justice. The Hague is home to over 150 organisations like the Permanent Court of International Justice, the Peace Palace Library and Europol. From the Hague it takes a few hours to travel to European cities like Brussels, Paris or London. The ISS guarantees accommodation for all students. The ISS possesses of its own housing close to the institution’s premises and in other parts of The Hague. The ISS has its own library which focuses on the social sciences with a predominant focus on developing countries. The institute has a permanent broad band connection to the internet and students get their own email account.

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