Course Overview

The rural represents a key sphere in any discussion on sustainable development. Much is known about major trends that have impacted and that continue to impact on rurality, and significant research exists on the nature of such impacts. However, whilst we have considerable knowledge about the past and present dynamics of such impacts, we still struggle to deal with uncertainty about the future for the rural, and to anticipate and plan for the possible, probable, and desired shape of that future. This programme approaches such challenges by focusing on how innovation contributes to future planning for rurality; in other words, how to envisage and plan for a range of alternative, feasible and desirable future developments in the rural that are based on the conceptualisation, promotion and implementation of innovation across various spheres of rurality. 

Futures planning is particularly critical for effective policy-making in that it seeks to support existing planning and decision-making by providing decision-making frameworks to solve problems based on reasonable assumptions about the future, and by offering alternatives and their potential impacts. Its participatory ethos also ensures a strong focus on inclusive approaches to addressing rural development challenges and the space for bottom-up perspectives on these issues to emerge. The profile of rural areas is evolving. While agriculture remains a vital component of the rural economy, other sectors now provide the bulk of employment. They include industry, wholesale and retail, health and social work administrative and other services, and accommodation and food. In this regard, the rural increasingly mirrors the urban. The concept of ‘Smart Villages’ or ‘Smart Communities’ is just one specific example of emulating the Smart Cities movement employing information technology and other forms of economic and social innovation to manage local assets and resources, and enhance place-based sustainability. Rural areas need future planning responses to challenges such as increasing environmental regulation pertaining to agriculture and natural resource development as well as to industrial development so that the benefits of these sectors can be secured for the rural. These trends reflect increased demands for unique rural quality of life experiences and innovative ways in which to secure and enhance rural livelihoods. 

The programme also considers how innovation in a development sense is broadly linked to improvements—in methods, processes, products, services or technologies—and how it can be about promoting a culture of innovation that supports and nurtures new ideas. Other key issues that will be considered are how the effectiveness of rural innovation relates to how we frame the innovation challenges facing rural areas; whether these are pitched at the appropriate scale and with the appropriate levels of support and intervention for them to result in enduring economic and social benefits for rural places and communities.  

Aims and objectives of the programme

The aim of this programme is to address an observed gap in rural specialist knowledge and training that can identify future planning needs and challenges and respond in a critical and reflexive way with innovative and alternative practical strategies, policy narratives and theoretical perspectives to those that have tended towards reactive, predictive and low-impact intervention in this dynamic sphere of development and change. The programme aims to produce graduates who are aware of the complexities of rural issues, the associated innovation and planning processes and the implications for sustainable development at the level of the local place as well as at national and international scales. It aims to produce graduates who are confident in their identification of professional selves in rural innovation planning and futures planning; this means that on completion of this programme their belief in the vital importance of the rural to future sustainable development, and in their professional responsibility and capacity to advance its interests, will be assured. 

Its objectives include providing students with specialist knowledge and training that will prepare them to:

  • Identify future planning needs and challenges and respond to these challenges in a critical and reflexive way.
  • Propose innovative and alternative practical strategies, policy narratives and theoretical perspectives to those that have tended towards reactive, predictive and low-impact intervention in this dynamic sphere of development and change.
  • Have confidence in their identification of professional selves in rural innovation planning and futures planning.
  • Evaluate the vital importance of the rural to future sustainable development.

Scholarships available
Find out about our Postgraduate Scholarships here.

Applications and Selections

Applications are made online via the NUI Galway Postgraduate Applications System

Who Teaches this Course

 Contributions from invited speakers from relevant professional and academic fields are an important feature of this programme

Requirements and Assessment

Key Facts

Entry Requirements

A Level 8 Degree with a standard of H2.2 overall, with H2.1 in a relevant discipline.

Additional Requirements


1 year, full-time

Next start date

September 2021

A Level Grades ()

Average intake


QQI/FET FETAC Entry Routes

Closing Date

 Please view the offer rounds website.

NFQ level

Mode of study

ECTS weighting



Course code


Course Outline

The programme is offered as a full time graduate course delivered over 1 year and 3 semesters, directed primarily at graduates from the Social Sciences and related disciplines who wish to further their knowledge and ability to impact on future rural processes, policy and practice at the strategic place-based level.  It is divided into 7 modules; 3 in semester 1 (10 ECTS credits each), 3 in semester 2 (10 ECTS credits each) and 1 in semester 3 (30 credits).  The format for these modules is a combination of class-based and field-based activities using methods such as role play, class debates, group and individual presentations, peer review, online MCQs and quizzes, surveys, focus groups, interviews, mapping exercises and feasibility studies.  The semester 3 module constitutes an independent project that can be based on a range of formats including dissertation, research report, portfolio development.  It also includes elements of professional development that include CV and interview preparation, and training in data visualization and presentation.  Assessment is based on continuous assessment, of both individual and group work. 

The following represents indicative module content:*:

  • Introduction to innovation and futures planning for rural development and sustainability
  • Research Methods and Mapping
  • Innovation in Rural Public Service Provision
  • Rural Enterprise and Industry Innovation and Development
  • Rural Tourism—a network planning perspective
  • Agriculture and the multifunctional countryside—a rural futures perspective
  • Professional development combined with Dissertation or other relevant Research Report/Portfolio (all staff). 

*subject to possible minor changes in titles/contents

Why Choose This Course?

Career Opportunities

Future career prospects

Graduates of this programme will be able to consider careers in a number of areas dealing with rural innovation, development and planning, including the following sectors:

  • Government Departments.
  • Public Service Organisations.
  • Local Tourism and Heritage Organisations.
  • Local Development Organisations.
  • International Aid Organisations.

Further study opportunities

Graduates of this programme will be able to continue their studies to PhD level in a range of disciplines at NUI Galway.

Who’s Suited to This Course

Learning Outcomes


Work Placement

Study Abroad

Related Student Organisations

Course Fees

Fees: EU

€6,716 p.a. 2021/22

Fees: Tuition

€6,576 p.a. 2021/22

Fees: Student levy

€140 p.a. 2021/22

Fees: Non EU

€16,216 p.a. 2021/22

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  • Postgraduate Taught Prospectus 2021

    Postgraduate Taught Prospectus 2021 PDF (11.3MB)