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University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

Creating a Sustainable World: 21st Century Challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Course Unit Code

UCIL20412 (20 credits)

Course Unit Details

This course is NOT OPEN to students who have already completed the 10 credit unit (UCIL20311).

  • Level 2
  • 20 Credits
  • School of Environment, Education and Development


"The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it" - Robert Swan, Author

"We have 12 years to save the planet" - United Nations

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call from the United Nations for all countries to tackle, by 2030, the global challenges faced by humanity. The SDGs cover a wide range of challenges, with 17 goals backed up by 169 indicators. The goals include poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The SDGs are designed for everyone to play their part, including The University of Manchester and you, our students.

This online unit will equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to address the SDGs. It presents the concept of sustainable development and explains the basis of partnership working that underpins the SDG approach. Each SDG is explored through its own module, drawing on cutting-edge research carried out by world-leading experts across The University of Manchester, together with input from external experts and international policy-makers and practitioners.


If we are to successfully achieve the SDGs by 2030, then we need to be able to work across traditional disciplines and in more collaborative ways. This unit offers a unique opportunity to engage with multiple real-world challenges and develop applied knowledge and skill-sets that are highly prized by employers from the public, private and third sectors.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit you will be able to:

  • Describe the key interlinked, interdisciplinary concepts and theories that underpin sustainable development, as presented by the SDGs
  • Analyse diverse ways in which sustainable development plays out across different spaces and scales, including policy spheres, everyday lives, and infrastructures
  • Identify and defend your own social positioning in the world and feel empowered to make positive change
  • Apply your knowledge to a specific problem identified by an external organisation, devise an action plan and communicate this in a well-argued report


You will take the two core modules. The first is about Sustainability and Goal 17 - Partnerships to achieve the goals. The second is about the Sustainable Development Goals. You then choose ten of the UN's Sustainable Development Goal modules shown below. Support and advice will be given about which goals to choose based upon your degree.

Core Module 1: Sustainability and GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goals

Core Module 2: Sustainable Development Goals

SDG Module 1: No Poverty

SDG Module 2: Zero Hunger

SDG Module 3: Good Health and Well-being

SDG Module 4: Quality Education

SDG Module 5: Gender Equality

SDG Module 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

SDG Module 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

SDG Module 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

SDG Module 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

SDG Module 10: Reduced Inequalities

SDG Module 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

SDG Module 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

SDG Module 13: Climate Action

SDG Module 14: Life Below Water

SDG Module 15: Life On Land

SDG Module 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

To find out more about each of the 17 Goals go to:


  1. Ongoing module assessment. These are weekly short discussion questions based on SDG learning, administered through Blackboard (20%)
  2. Project proposal for end of unit 'real applied sustainability project' (see below). Individual assessment that is developed with an interdisciplinary partner. 600 words (20%)
  3. End of unit 'real applied sustainability project' set by external organisations. 2000 words (60%)


UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

If you completed the 10 credit unit in 2022-23 (UCIL20311) and are interested in studying a further 20 credit unit in Semester 2 2023-24, please see the UCIL20612 Creating a Sustainable World: Applying the SDGs unit for 20 credits.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

Teaching Staff

The unit is led by Dr Jennifer O'Brien (School of Environment, Education and Development) and features over 80 expert contributors including Professor David Hulme (Global Development Institute), Khalid Malik (The United Nations), Professor Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research), Dr. Manisha Anatharaman (Saint Mary's College, California), Professor Amanda Bamford (Division of Evolution & Genomic Sciences), Carly Koinage (UN Habitat), Dr Susie Miles (Manchester Institute of Education), Professor James Evans (Manchester Urban Institute), Professor Michael Shaver (Manchester School of Materials) and Professor Paulo Bartolo (School of Engineering)

Teaching and Learning Methods

The unit is delivered entirely online via Blackboard (with one face-to-face session). It is highly interactive and adopts a blend of approaches including video inputs, discussion space and case studies.

Each module is led by a leading researcher from across The University of Manchester and features leading contributors from around the world.

All students will study 2 core modules and will then choose their learning pathway, studying 16 modules. Students will engage in weekly discussions drawing upon material they have studied that week.

The 60% assignment draws on projects set through the University Living Lab ( These are projects set by external organisations who need that insight for their sustainable development work. You can choose your project from around 100 different research projects set by charities, NGOs, businesses and councils locally, and globally. You can tailor the project to your own disciplinary perspective and preferred methodology. 20% of the overall assessment is for a research proposal that you will co-construct in an interdisciplinary way. You will receive one-to-one feedback on your proposal before you undertake your research. Research reports that achieve 65% or over is returned to the organisation who set it. The organisation will share with us any impact that your research has had on the real world, which we will send back to you. So far two students have been employed by organisations that they did their research for and many more attribute their employment to this experience - plus, your assessment could affect change for sustainable development. Students' work has shaped municipal climate policy, advised health strategy, supported international NGOs, visualised air pollution and included bee hives on high end urban infrastructure.



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