Structure of the programme

Students gather to chat, eat and meet in the ISS lobby

The Master of Arts in Development Studies offers solid and balanced academic and professionally relevant training in theory and methods for development studies. It is designed for those wishing to start or continue their professional careers in the area of development or to pursue their studies at PhD level.

In the MA programme you learn about the most recent theories and debates in your area of specialization. You will also learn to apply this knowledge to practical issues of development and social change.


The 15.5 month MA programme consists of coursework (40 weeks of fulltime study, 60 ECTS credits) and the research paper (25 weeks of fulltime study, 28 ECTS credits).

MA students are encouraged to develop a critical understanding of major debates, theories and strategic interventions and of the skills to analyze the issues, and to design and assess interventions aimed at tackling these issues. 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 Majors form an important part of the study programme. The modules are closely related and are designed to give students deeper insight and a higher level of competence in their field of study. Students write their research paper under the guidance of staff with relevant expertise.

The teaching offerings are attuned to the diverse backgrounds of ISS students. All students receive thorough academic counselling at the beginning of the programme to help them determine their study paths. The counselling, which is given by the convener of each Major, provides information about the compulsory and optional aspects of study paths. Students may take voluntary remedial courses to make up for a deficiency or weak background knowledge.

After the Christmas break, students take courses to further deepen their study of a theme or element of the Major or to focus on a topic not exclusively related to their field of study.

Research paper

During the last part of the MA, students write a research paper. In this process, they learn to identify a research topic, formulate research questions, undertake a literature study, collect and analyze relevant data, and develop a written sustained argument linking theory and evidence. In its initial stages, this process runs parallel to the coursework. The actual research and writing of the research paper take place from June till November.

The topic of the research paper must be related to issues in the selected Major. The paper represents a third of the programme time. Much material is available at ISS, in documentation centres in the Netherlands and via the internet. Students will be required to obtain additional relevant material for their own research, such as statistical data, policy documents and, when appropriate, primary data.

ISS offers the possibility to combine the research paper with an internship position to gather the information not only in a desk study but also in the field, either in the country concerned or at a donor NGO based in The Hague.

In Part 4 of the Academic calendar you will find full details of the MA schedule.

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