Students completing urban and rural planning work

MSc/Postgraduate Diploma/Postgraduate Certificate

Urban and Rural Planning

Please note that we are not currently running this programme. This programme will be replaced by MSc Planning and Urban Leadership.

Full details to follow shortly.

About this course

Entry year:
Course code:
Geography and Environmental Management
This course is studied by distance learning.
Three years
Distance learning, starts January
Programme leader:
Adam Sheppard
Key fact:
This fully RTPI-accredited course is unique. It provides you with a route to becoming a Chartered Town Planner through distance learning - so it's ideal for those unable to study on a campus-based course.

Page last updated 21 February 2019


Urban and rural planning plays an important role in society, and affects the way we all live. Its main concern is with managing acceptable and sustainable environmental change in a constantly changing world, and being at the forefront of shaping that world for future generations.

The MSc Urban and Rural Planning is led by UWE Bristol and delivered by a group of four UK planning Schools and the Open University. The four planning schools are:

  • Department of Geography and Environmental Management, UWE
  • Faculty of Arts, Environment and Technology, Leeds Beckett University
  • Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, London South Bank University
  • School of the Environment, Dundee University

This course has the full support of the Open University, which provides a series of options for a 30-credit specialism in the final year of study.

We welcome applications from graduates with a relevant undergraduate degree, students with a degree in an unrelated area and non-graduates. Please see entry criteria for full details.

A wide ranging appeal

Our partnership approach means everything you need to qualify is available online nowhere else offers the same level of support through distance learning.

This course is studied over three years, so it is flexible and fits in with personal and professional commitments. It attracts a wide range of ages, and as it's specifically for online study with support from our partner universities.

You benefit from peer learning from a diverse range of experienced academics, plus excellent content and resources.

If you're already a graduate from a related subject, or have relevant professional experience combined with a degree in an unrelated discipline, you can join the MSc course directly.

If you are a non-graduate you will normally be required to pursue some study with the Open University before actually starting on the MSc. The amount of study with the Open University will vary depending upon your background and experience, but the course is designed so anyone can ultimately progress onto the MSc course, regardless of background.

Completing the course successfully leads to the RTPI-recognised MSc in Urban and Rural Planning, awarded by UWE Bristol. Completing a structured programme of planning experience followed by RTPI's Assessment of Professional Competence leads to full RTPI membership.

Accreditations and partnerships:



The full Master's course comprises 180 credits divided into three 60 credits stages: Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma, and Masters. Students work incrementally through the three stages and must pass all modules at each stage in order to progress to the next.

Year one and two are run by the Consortium and Year three includes an Open University specialist element.

Year one

You will study:

  • Context and law - This module explores planning history to provide a context for further study, before moving onto considering the regulatory framework in place today for managing the built and natural environment.
  • Local planning - An in-depth look at planning at local and community level, considering plan making, policy, and community participation and involvement with planning.
  • Strategic planning - Planning on a larger scale and in a strategic context, considering sub-regional, regional and national planning activity. It includes a focus on strategic infrastructure issues.
  • Urban and sustainable design principles - Here you'll explore urban design and the creation of exceptional and high quality places and spaces.

Year two

You will study:

  • International planning - This module introduces supranational planning, looking at the scale of European and international planning activity.
  • Implementation and management - Planning must consider implementation, so this module looks at the development process, finance and effective management strategies.
  • Research techniques - This is a research methodologies-based module considering planning philosophies, approaches and techniques in an applied manner.
  • Integrated planning project - Bringing all your prior study together, here you will take on a project based on creating a deliverable neighbourhood scale plan.

Year three

You will study:

  • Open University specialism option module - You will choose one from a series of module options to contribute towards one of the following RTPI specialisms: Environmental Decision-making; Social Policy; Management, decision-making and leadership.
  • Dissertation - An individual piece of in-depth research related to your choice of Open University module to form your RTPI specialism for this module.

The University continually enhances our offer by responding to feedback from our students and other stakeholders, ensuring the curriculum is kept up to date and our graduates are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need for the real world. This may result in changes to the course. If changes to your course are approved we will inform you.

Learning and Teaching

As you learn, you not only study, but also receive vital professional experience logged by the RTPI towards your accreditation.

This course presents a unique approach to professional planning education through the flexibility of how and when you study, and at what pace. You will receive web-based study support and guidance throughout.

Course materials, announcements, messages and links to other published resources are available online at our virtual learning platforms, Blackboard and Piazza so you'll need internet access to study the course. When you enrol, you receive your username and password.

It's not possible to cover everything you need to learn online, so there is some additional reading.

See our full glossary of learning and teaching terms.

Study time

There are four modules in each of Year one and Year two. You are expected to spend around 15 hours a week on average studying, giving a total study time of 600 hours for each of the courses. This will include time spent on assignments, studying for exams and participation in attended sessions.

There is considerable diversity in subject matter within each course reflecting the range of material necessary to be covered in a recognised RTPI course.


Assessment is through a variety of coursework and the dissertation.

For more details see our full glossary of assessment terms.


Professional accreditation

This MSc course is fully accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) as a 'Combined' Award. Taken with a minimum of two years' relevant experience and the RTPI's Assessment of Professional Competence, it provides the basis for election to RTPI membership, and the title 'Chartered Town Planner'.

If you plan on exiting with a PGDip, this is accredited as a 'Spatial' Award by the RTPI.  Please contact the programme leader for more information.


We encourage volunteer work during your studies, support students who wish to take gap years in employment, and work with consultants and expert speakers to give industry insights throughout the course.

Study facilities

As soon as you enrol, you have access to all of the resources of the four planning schools, including libraries and tutorial support.

Your closest relationship will be with UWE Bristol as lead institution, together with the staff of your local base; UWE, Leeds Beckett, London South Bank or Dundee, but you will also get help and support from module leaders, co-ordinators and other staff at other study bases.

Learn more about UWE Bristol's facilities and resources.

Field Trip

Every summer we organise a week long field trip to see how planning works in the real world.

Open to all years, it's an opportunity to explore the built environment and look at different aspects of planning, and to see how cities and their rural surroundings have been shaped or changed through planning.

It's also a great chance to spend time with staff and other students and discuss planning. These trips are usually in the UK (international students may need a Short Term Visit visa).

Further information

Download our MSc Urban and Rural Planning Summary Guide (PDF) for more information on the course, as well as details on the programme structure, additional learning requirements for non-graduates, and specialist options available to you through the Open University.


Careers / Further study

The course leads to practice as a Chartered Urban and Rural Planner. It also provides a broader environmental education for graduates from other disciplines.

Studying the Open University specialism can help you progress towards a variety of Master's-level qualifications.

Career options include joining planning companies or consultancies, working for local government, charities, housing companies or house builders or you could take a role with a pressure group or in economic regeneration, conservation or heritage, or even go into property development yourself.


There is currently no published fee data for this course.

Supplementary fee information

For year three of this course, UWE Bristol charge for 30 credits and the Open University will charge (at their standard rate) for the module you choose with them. Find out more fee information from the Open University.

Fee information for January 2019 will be confirmed in May.

Please contact the Programme Leader to discuss the fee arrangements for year three in more detail.

See our funding pages for more information. 


Entry requirements


We normally require an honours degree of 2.2 or above.

If you have a relevant degree (such as Geography, Environmental Studies or Surveying) and/or a year or more of work or voluntary experience in Planning, you will only need to complete the three Planning Courses in order to gain the MSc. If you have Planning experience, you should describe it in detail your application.

If you do not have a relevant degree or Planning experience, you will first need to take the Open University Environment Course (DST206) before you can join the first Planning course.


If you are a non-graduate you will normally be required to complete some study with the Open University before actually starting on the MSc. This will consist of up to 240 credits, depending upon your academic and professional background.

If you need to do all 240 credits, you will study a foundation level module followed by some second and third level modules. You will choose these from a list of modules that we have approved. An alternative is to complete a Diploma of Higher Education in Environmental Studies with the Open University, which has the advantage of giving you a further qualification on your journey to the full MSc.

If you have some relevant qualifications or experience, this may reduce the number of credits that you need to complete.  In your application, you should describe in detail your professional experience and qualifications.

You are encouraged to contact the course leader (Adam Sheppard - contact details below) to discuss what study you will need to do to complete the MSc.

Application date

As the course starts in January each year, you should apply by 1 November. Later applications will be considered if there is space but this leaves less time to assess your qualifications and experience in the light of the guidance above.

Note that we also have an MSc Urban Planning course, accredited by the RTPI and studied full-time and part-time, and which starts in September each year. Please make sure you apply for the particular course that you will to study.

For further information

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