PhD in Sustainability Science (2022)

  • 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.

    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.

  • Admissions Policy 2022

    The UNU-IAS Postgraduate Programmes in Sustainability / Sustainability Science seeks students with the following qualities:

    1. Students who possess a firm academic interest in the pressing global issues on the UN agenda, in particular those of sustainability, and a strong desire to contribute to the solving of problems concerning global environment and society through a transdisciplinary approach;

    2. Students who have adequate research skills and clear questions related to global issues as well as a strong desire to engage in research in UNU-IAS thematic areas with the potential and motivation to succeed in our programmes;

    3. Students who have the intention to proactively apply academic research findings to policymaking, and aim to pursue careers in international fields in public service or private organisations, including United Nations, multinational corporations, and non-governmental organisations as well as research academic institutions.

    Admissions Requirements 2022

    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 completed Master’s degree (or equivalent) from a recognised university or institution of higher education in a field related to sustainability, and a minimum of 2 years of professional field experience related to UNU-IAS research themes which was acquired after obtaining a university degree (full time equivalent);


    1. 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 of September 2022 may also apply);

    2. A GPA of 2.8 or above on a 4.0 scale (equivalent to 70% on a 100 % scale) for at least one of the Master’s degrees earned; and

    3. 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, excluding those listed below, must submit original TOEFL or IELTS score reports (from a test taken within the last two years) to the Admissions Office once they are shortlisted for interviews. For the 2022 admissions, UNU-IAS accepts scores of TOEFL iBT Home Edition and IELTS Indicator in addition to TOEFL PBT, TOEFL iBT and IELTS. Please find more details on score reports in the application instruction. The following applicants are exempt from submitting score reports:

    • Applicants whose native language is English.
    • Applicants who graduated from a university or a postgraduate school located in an English-speaking country.
    • 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
    • IELTS Indicator (7.0 and above) and TOEFL iBT Home Edition (100 and above) may be accepted for those who reside in a country where either IELTS or TOEFL test services are not provided due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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

    The estimated total expenses for living and studying in Tokyo for 3 years are approximately USD 84,000, including tuition. Applicants must ensure adequate financial resources to meet the full costs of educational and living expenses.

  • Applications for 2022 entry are now closed.

    The deadline for applications is 28 March 2022.

    Selection and Announcement of Results

    UNU-IAS may at any time require applicants to provide verification of the information and documents submitted as part of their application and/or additional information including, but not limited to, an interview.

    • Successful applicants will be notified by email to the address provided on Application Form. Necessary documents for the admission procedure will be sent together with a letter of acceptance. Successful applicants must submit a medical certificate, sealed official transcript(s) and certified copy of degree certificate(s). Only successful applicants – except those accepted as JFUNU Scholarship recipients – who submit the necessary documents for the entrance procedure and transfer 50% of the tuition fees for the first academic year (5,000 USD, non-refundable) within 10 UNU working days after result announcement will be admitted to the programme. (Please refer to UNU Holidays on Academic Calendar page) The matriculation date (early September 2022) cannot be extended, regardless of any special circumstances on the part of the student.
    • Unsuccessful applicants will be notified by e-mail to the address provided on Application Form. Admissions Office does not provide individual feedback on unsuccessful applications.
    • E-mail will be the primary method of contact. Therefore, it is essential that applicants provide a valid e-mail address in the Application Form and that he/she regularly checks his/her e-mail. Please ensure that our e-mails are not filtered into spam or junk folder. UNU-IAS will not be held responsible for unread e-mail communication.

    Please do not call the Admissions Office regarding application status or admission decisions as we will not release them by phone.

    Important Notes

    • All application forms must be typed and filled out in English. No handwritten or incomplete application documents will be considered.
    • All materials and documents submitted as part of an application become the property of UNU-IAS and cannot be returned.
    • If any falsification is discovered in any of the documents presented for application, admission will be revoked.
    • Unsuccessful applicants of previous years who reapply for admission must submit a completely new set of application documents, including letters of reference. No previous application materials will act as supporting resource.

    Withdrawing an Application

    Those who wish to withdraw from the application process should contact the Admissions Office through the online inquiry form. When submitting the form, please ensure that “PhD Degree” is selected as the topic of your inquiry, and please use the same email address you used when submitting your application.

  • 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)

    I. Coverage

    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 is 120,000 JPY for the academic year 2020.

    II. 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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    • How will I be assigned a supervisor?
      Supervisors will be allocated after you enroll in the programme. You can find a list of faculty members’ profiles to see the compatibility with your research interests.
    • What is the status of the PhD programme at UNU-IAS?
      UNU-IAS is an international academic institution chartered by the United Nations to grant postgraduate degrees. The PhD 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). 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 PhD programme? When does it start?
      The standard period of study for the PhD programme is three years. Students are expected to complete all course work and thesis on-site over a three-year period. The programme starts in September each year, with students expected to complete all the requirements by July in the third 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. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all lectures and supervision are temporarily delivered online, which will continue until further notice. Students are either studying in Japan or their home countries depending on their circumstances and travel restrictions. Once you are admitted, you will receive updated information with the latest advice and guidance including the modality of instruction. UNU-IAS supports all students to discuss their travel plans and learning styles. 
    • Can I visit UNU-IAS prior to applying? Do you have an open campus day?
      Unfortunately, we are not able to hold any in-person information sessions or campus tours. Please contact us through the contact form under the current circumstances.  Regarding the open day, UNU-IAS normally organises an information session once a year and it will be announced on the UNU-IAS website and social media. 

    Fees and Expenses

    • Can you break down the total estimated expense of 84.000 USD required for the three year programme?
      The total expense of 84.000 USD is composed of the tuition fees (1,000 USD per year) and the living cost in Tokyo for three years (54.000 USD). The information below is the breakdown of the estimated living expenses per month.  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 Transportation: 10,000 JPY / 98 USD Food: 32,000 JPY/ 98 USD Books: 9,000 JPY / 331 USD Monthly total: 152,000 JPY / 1,500 USD 1 USD = 101.3 JPY (As of 2020)  Each amount is subject to change based on the exchange rate. 
    • 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?
      Students have to pay the full amount of the annual tuition (10,000 USD) before each academic year or half the amount of the annual tuition (5,000 USD) before each semester.  The tuition for the first semester (5,000 USD, non-refundable) is due within 10 UNU working days after the notification of the admissions office decision. 
    • 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.

    Scholarships and Funding

    Entry Requirements

    Online Application

    Admissions Decisions

    • Can I defer my offer?
      No. Acceptance is valid only for the academic year that you applied for, and applicants have to re-apply.
    • Why was I rejected?
      Unfortunately, we cannot provide individual feedback on unsuccessful applications.
    • 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.
    • I want to withdraw my application. What should I do?
      We must receive written notification from you that you would like withdraw your application via email addressed to UNU-IAS Admissions Office at indicating “PhD Application Withdrawal” in the subject line. Please use the same name and email address that you provided on your application form.
    • 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.

    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 that provides information and advice on finding housing in Tokyo. Students are expected to secure their own housing for this programme.  If you would like to live in TIEC, the international residence halls, UNU-IAS will apply for a room there on your behalf. 
    • 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 54.000 USD for the three-year PhD 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 Transportation: 10,000 JPY / 98 USD Food: 32,000 JPY/ 331 USD Books: 9,000 JPY / 87 USD Monthly total: 152,000 JPY / 1,500 USD

    After UNU-IAS

  • Courses

    PhD in Sustainability

    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*
    • Principles of International Development Project*
    • 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 
    • Environmental Politics and Climate Change 
    • Law and Practice of the United Nations
    • From SDGs to Climate Change: Implementation Strategies for its Adaption and Mitigation 
    • Inclusive Learning Technology for Sustainable Development
    • Environmental Science for Sustainability

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

    Competency Courses

    • Trans-disciplinary Graduate Research Seminar*
    • Sustainability Science Research Seminar* 
    • 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 as 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