PhD in Sustainability Science (2020)

  • Online Application form


    The PhD programme in Sustainability Science is a three-year programme that aims to produce scholars who will become key researchers in the field of sustainability science. The programme takes an innovative approach to sustainability, seeking to promote a better understanding of the issues by incorporating global change perspectives, specifically those related to climate change and biodiversity.

    The programme will equip graduates with comprehensive, multidisciplinary knowledge of sustainability problems, and deepen their understanding of the role of environmental sustainability in addressing current issues related to global change. The programme provides students with unique opportunities to interact with leading scholars and policymakers through lectures, international conferences, and workshops. Students undertake problem-oriented research by playing an active role in UNU-IAS research projects, and acquire the quantitative and qualitative analytical skills necessary to understand the underlying principles of various systems involved in sustainability issues and debates. Through coursework and research, PhD students gain critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as the technical literacy required to address sustainability problems.

    The programme starts in September, and by July of their third year students are expected to complete all of the course requirements, obtaining at least 14 credits. Students can select courses from those offered by UNU-IAS, while also enjoying the opportunity to take courses at other leading universities in Japan such as the University of Tokyo, Sophia University, and International Christian University.

    Application deadline: 10 April 2020

    This information can also be downloaded as a Programme Brochure.


    The programme is taught by an expert teaching faculty comprising both UNU-IAS academic staff and invited distinguished scholars and practitioners.

    Joint Diploma Programmes

    Students of the UNU-IAS doctoral degree programme are also encouraged to pursue one of two joint diplomas in sustainability science, which are offered in partnership with the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Frontier Sciences (UT-GSFS), and with Sophia University. These diploma programmes require students to gain 18 credits, of which eight must be from courses specified by UNU-IAS and the partner university under the respective joint diploma programme. A joint diploma can only be awarded to students who successfully complete the two-year UNU-IAS master’s degree programme.

    Learning Environment

    UNU-IAS is a global university located in Tokyo, with all classes conducted in English. Sharing a building with many UN agencies, it offers a unique learning environment for its diverse and international student body. The PhD programme includes courses featuring more than 15 international guest lecturers from leading agencies and institutions, offering students opportunities to learn from their unique expertise and experience. The class sizes are sufficiently small and students benefit from interactive and personalized teaching.


    The UNU Library offers access to a range of academic books, over 20,000 electronic journals, official UN documents issued since 1946, and publications in the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development e-libraries. All students are provided with a comprehensive library orientation session at the beginning of the course. Students also have access to the libraries of International Christian University, Ochanomizu University, Sophia University, Temple University Japan, and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

    Project Research Opportunities

    Our teaching programme is closely interconnected with UNU-IAS research activities across three thematic research areas (Sustainable Societies, Natural Capital and Biodiversity, Global Change and Resilience). Students have opportunities to gain practical experience by engaging actively in the institute’s research projects. Student research is expected to contribute to the project with which the student chooses to be affiliated; and students hone skills learned in the classroom by conducting research in the field alongside experts and seasoned practitioners.

    Student Support

    UNU-IAS assists students from the time of their registration to graduation, acknowledging that students may experience difficulties adjusting to a new country and culture.

    An induction programme is conducted at the beginning of the academic session, introducing students to the staff responsible for specific student services, and familiarizing students with the campus through a tour of the facilities.


    Students are provided with a handbook about living in Tokyo prior to their arrival, including information on how to find and secure accommodation.

    Academic Calendar

    The Academic Calendar shows important dates and university holidays for the academic year.

  • Online Application form


    Admission Requirements

    Applicants for the PhD in Sustainability Science are required to have met ALL of the following requirements by the application deadline in order to be considered:

    1. A strong interest in sustainability studies;

    2. A demonstrated commitment to study and understand global issues;

    3. A completed Master’s degree in disciplines related to sustainability studies;

    4. A minimum of 2 years of practical field experience related to UNU-IAS research themes which was acquired after obtaining a university degree (full time equivalent)


    Two completed Master’s degrees, at least one of which must be in a discipline related to sustainability studies;

    *Those who expect to receive a second Master’s degree before the entrance period – September 2020 – may also apply.

    5. A GPA of 3.5 or above on a 4.0 scale for at least one of the Master’s degrees earned; and

    6. English language proficiency

    The minimum score requirements for English language qualifications required by UNU-IAS are:

    • 600 on TOEFL – Paper-Based Testing (PBT) OR
    • 100 on TOEFL – Internet-Based Testing (IBT) OR
    • 7.0 on IELTS – Academic format

    Applicants, except for the cases below, must submit original TOEFL or IELTS score reports (from a test taken within the last two years) to the Admissions Office at the time of application:

    1. Applicants whose native language is English.
    2. Applicants who graduated from a university or a postgraduate school located in an English speaking country.
    3. Applicants who completed an undergraduate or postgraduate degree programme where the language of instruction and examination was English. In this case, an official statement from the academic institution will be required, confirming the use of English as the language of instruction and examination.

    UNU-IAS requires original TOEFL/IELTS score reports (no photocopies accepted).

    • TOEFL: Please order an official score report using an institution code 6991.For more information on TOEFL, please visit
    • IELTS: Please request that an official report be sent directly to UNU-IAS.For more information on IELTS, please visit



    • Application Processing Fee: None
    • Tuition Fee: 10,000 USD per year

    Estimated total expenses for the PhD degree programme for 3 years including tuition are approximately 83,500 USD. Applicants must show financial resources adequate to meet the full costs of educational and living expenses.

  • The award of the scholarship below is based on application selection results. Only applicants that are accepted for enrolment in the UNU-IAS PhD in Sustainability Science programme can be considered as candidates for the scholarship. There is no separate application form for the scholarship as it is a part of the online application for admission. Interested applicants must provide necessary information and documents for the scholarship together with the required documents for admission to the PhD degree programme.

    Scholarships provided through the Japan Foundation for UNU (JFUNU)


    The JFUNU scholarship provides a monthly allowance of 120,000 JPY* for living expenses for a maximum of 36 months. However, travel costs to and from Japan, visa handling fees, and health/accident insurance costs must be covered by the student. The tuition fees are fully waived for the scholarship recipients.
    *The amount of monthly allowance has been changed to 120,000 JPY effective 2017.

    Eligibility Requirements

    1. Applicants must be from developing countries* who can demonstrate a need for financial assistance.
    2. Applicants who are currently living in Japan under a working visa are NOT eligible for the scholarship.
    3. Applicants who want to pursue a second PhD degree at UNU-IAS are not eligible for the scholarship.

    *Developing countries included in the latest OECD DAC list.


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    • What is the status of the master’s programme at UNU-IAS?
      UNU-IAS is an international academic institution chartered by the United Nations to grant postgraduate degrees. The master’s programme at UNU-IAS is officially recognised as a foreign institution of higher education by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT). That is, credits earned at UNU-IAS are recognised by Japanese universities, and graduates of the programme are entitled to apply for PhD programmes in Japan. In addition, UNU-IAS postgraduate degree programmes were accredited by the National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation (NIAD-UE) of Japan.
    • How long is the master's programme? When does it start?
      The standard period of study for the UNU-IAS master’s programme is two years. Students are expected to complete all course work and thesis on site over a two-year period. The programme starts in September each year, with students expected to complete all the requirements by July in the second academic year after enrolment.
    • Do you allow students to attend part-time? Do you offer online courses?
      The programme is offered on a full-time basis only. Students need to reside in Tokyo for the full duration of the programme to attend lectures and seminars. UNU-IAS does not offer online degree programmes at this time.
    • Can I visit UNU-IAS prior to applying? Do you have an open campus day?
      Unfortunately, we are not able to hold any information sessions or campus tours at this time.
    • Does UNU-IAS also offer a PhD programme?
      UNU-IAS established a PhD programme in 2012. Please refer to the PhD programme pages for further details.

    Fees and Expenses

    • Are there other fees besides the 10,000 USD annual tuition?
      No processing fee is required for application.
    • Do you have a payment plan for tuition or do I need to submit a full payment?
      50% of the tuition for the first academic year (5,000 USD, non-refundable) is due within 10 UNU working days after the notification of admissions decision. The rest (5,000 USD) is due before the start of the Autumn Semester. For the second academic year, a full tuition (10,000 USD) is due before the start of the Autumn Semester.
    • Can I pay for tuition with a credit card?
      No. We do not accept credit card payments. Currently, the only method of payment accepted is wire transfer. Details will be provided in the acceptance letter to admitted students.
    • The website says that the tuition is 10,000 USD per year, but that I need to have 56,000 USD for two years. Can you explain?
      The annual tuition is 10,000 USD. In addition to this fee, we anticipate that it will cost you approximately 27,719* USD per year to live in Tokyo. Therefore, the total estimated cost is 75,438 USD for the two-year programme. Below we provide an estimate of average costs for monthly housing and living expenses for students in Tokyo: Rent (central Tokyo): 80,000 JPY, 778 USD Utilities (gas, electricity, water): 8,000 JPY, 78 USD Compulsory National Health Insurance: 3,000 JPY, 30 USD Communication (mobile, internet connection): 10,000 JPY, 98 USD Food: 32,000 JPY, 331 USD Transportation: 10,000 JPY, 98 USD Books: 9,000 JPY, 87 USD Monthly total: 152,000 JPY / 1,480 USD

    Scholarships and Funding

    • Does UNU-IAS offer financial assistance for students?
      The Japan Foundation for UNU (JFUNU) Scholarship is available for outstanding applicants from developing countries who can demonstrate a need for financial assistance, and they will be considered as candidates for the award of the scholarship. The JFUNU scholarship covers the full tuition fees, and provides a monthly allowance of 120,000 yen for living expenses for a maximum of 24 months. Travel costs to and from Japan, visa handling fees, and health/accident insurance costs must be covered by the student. Please note that the JFUNU scholarship is highly competitive and offered to a very small number of students who are granted admission to UNU-IAS. Thus, applicants are strongly encouraged to apply for other funding opportunities from the government of their own country, private foundations, or international funding agencies.
    • How can I apply for a UNU-IAS scholarship (i.e. JFUNU scholarship)?
      During admission selection process, outstanding applicants from developing countries with financial need will be automatically considered as candidates for the award of the JFUNU scholarship. Thus, no separate application is necessary.
    • What is the FAFSA school code for UNU-IAS?
      UNU-IAS does not hold a code for the U.S. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) system. Citizens from the United States are encouraged to find other funding sources.
    • Can you provide me with a list of organisations that offer scholarship funding for postgraduate students?
      We currently do not have a list of scholarships available as we receive students from around the world and each country has its own systems for awarding scholarships. We would recommend that you consult with your home university as they may have information on various scholarship opportunities available for graduate students.

    Entry Requirements

    Online Application

    Admissions Decisions

    • Can you tell me the status of my application?
      No. The Admissions Office does not reply to the inquiries regarding the application status or admission decision by email or phone during the review period of applications (6 to 8 weeks after the application deadline).
    • I want to withdraw my application. What should I do?
      We must receive written notification from you that you would like your application to be withdrawn by email addressed to the Admissions Office ( indicating “MSc Application Withdrawal” in the subject line. Please use the same email address you provided on your Application Form.
    • How are admission decisions made? What are the criteria?
      Admission decisions are based on institutional review, using a combination of factors, including academic degrees and records, essays, research plan, letters of reference, and relevant work experience (if any). UNU-ISP also considers the appropriateness of your goals to the degree programme and to the research interests of the programme's faculty.
    • Why was I rejected?
      Unfortunately, we cannot provide individual feedback on unsuccessful applications.
    • Can I reapply?
      Yes. You can reapply for the programme for the next academic year. Resubmission requires a completely new set of application documents, including letters of reference. No previous application materials will act as supporting resource.
    • Can I defer my offer?
      No. Acceptance is valid only for the academic year that you applied for, and applicants have to re-apply.

    Living in Tokyo

    • How do I apply for a Japanese visa?
      Upon acceptance into the programme, we will provide you with all the necessary information and documentation for obtaining a Japanese student visa.
    • Can you help me find housing in Tokyo?
      There are no UNU housing facilities available. Admitted students are provided with a handbook which provides information and advice on finding housing in Tokyo. Students are expected to secure their own housing for this programme.
    • How much will it cost me to live in Tokyo?
      The annual tuition is 10,000 USD. In addition to this fee, we anticipate that it will cost you approximately 18,000 USD per year to live in Tokyo. Therefore, the total estimated cost is 56,000 USD for the two-year programme. Below we provide an estimate of average costs for monthly housing and living expenses for students in Tokyo: Rent (central Tokyo): 80,000 JPY, 778 USD Utilities (gas, electricity, water): 8,000 JPY, 78 USD Compulsory National Health Insurance: 3,000 JPY, 30 USD Communication (mobile, internet connection): 10,000 JPY, 98 USD Food: 32,000 JPY, 331 USD Transportation: 10,000 JPY, 98 USD Books: 9,000 JPY, 87 USD Monthly total: 152,000 JPY / 1,480 USD

    After UNU-IAS

  • Courses

    PhD in Sustainability Science
    Each student is required to (i) obtain at least 14 credits, in keeping with the instructions that will be provided during orientation, and (ii) complete all degree requirements by July of his/her third year. Students must complete a dissertation on one of several UNU-IAS research themes focusing on global change and sustainability.

    Note: The curriculum is reviewed on a yearly basis, so the course offerings may not be identical to the ones listed below.

    Overview Courses (Compulsory)

    • The United Nations System and Sustainable Development*
    • Global Change and Planetary Boundaries*
    • Natural Capital and Biodiversity*
    • Resilience and Adaptation Science
    • Frontier of Sustainability Science

    Courses marked with * are held over a short period as part of the UNU Intensive Core (IC) Courses.

    Elective Courses

    • Water Resources Systems
    • Sustainable Bioproduction and Ecosystems Management
    • Environmental Politics and Climate Change
    • Law and Practice of the United Nations
    • International Development: Ideas, Experience & Prospects
    • Sustainable Cities

    A wide range of elective courses offered by partner universities are also available to UNU-IAS students through credit exchange arrangements.

    Competency Courses

    • Trans-displinary Graduate Research Seminar*
    • Sustainability Science Research Seminar*
    • Science Communications
    • Remote Sensing, Geographical Information Systems and Analysis: Theory and Application
    • Environmental Statistics and Research Methods

    Courses marked with * are compulsory for first-year MSc and PhD students.

  • Before contacting us, please read through the FAQ page and the brochure as your question may already be answered there.

    If your question is not covered in the FAQ, please contact us using the online inquiry form. Please ensure that “PhD Degree” is selected as the topic of your inquiry. If you have already submitted an application to us, please use the same email address on the inquiry form.

    United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS)

    Admissions Office

    53-70, Jingumae 5-chome

    Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-8925, Japan

    T: +81 (0)3 5467-1212