Frequently Asked Questions

PhD in Sustainability Science Programme



  • 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 coursework 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?

    UNU-IAS normally organises an information session once a year and it will be announced on the UNU-IAS website and social media. For all inquiries, please contact us through the contact form.  [Top]

Thematic Areas

  • Can you give an example of research that fits into a particular thematic area?

    If you would like to study the impact of climate change on water access, you should select Water & Resource Management. If you would like to study climate governance and how it is linked to the implementation of the SDGs, you would choose Governance for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (GSD). More information about the research conducted by our previous students is available here.

  • How do I select a relevant thematic area?

    Depending on your interest, you may choose one of the four thematic areas at UNU-IAS. Governance for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (GSD) primarily focuses on the implementation and governance of SDGs and climate change, with relevant interlinkages and synergies with other global environmental issues. The Biodiversity and Society (BDS) area focuses on socio-ecological production landscapes, traditional knowledge systems and nature-culture linkages. Water & Resource Management (WRM) primarily focuses on water-related concerns, stress and access in both developed and developing countries. The Innovation and Education (IVE) specifically focuses on access to education and SDGs achievement through appropriate formal and informal education systems. Besides the prime focus of these thematic areas, there are interdisciplinary aspects associated with research. However, while choosing your thematic area, please be careful to select based on the primary focus. [Top]

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 is composed of the tuition fees ($10,000 per year) and the estimated living cost in Tokyo for three years ($54,000). The information below is the breakdown of the estimated living expenses per month.  Rent (central Tokyo): JPY 80,000 / $778, Utilities (gas, electricity, water): JPY 8,000 / $78, Compulsory National Health Insurance: JPY 3,000 / $30, Communication (mobile, internet connection): JPY 10,000 / $98, Transportation: JPY 10,000 / $98, Food: JPY 32,000 / $98, Books: JPY 9,000 / $331. Monthly total: JPY 152,000 JPY / $1,500 (based on $1 = JPY 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 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) before each academic year or half the amount of the annual tuition ($5,000) before each semester.  The tuition for the first semester ($5,000, 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. [Top]

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 the need for financial assistance. You can find also more details for the Master's Programme and the PhD Programme.

  • How can I apply for a scholarship available at UNU-IAS?

    During the admission selection process, outstanding applicants will be automatically considered as candidates for the award of scholarships. No separate application is required. 

  • 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. [Top]

Entry Requirements

  • Can I use my test result of TOEFL iBT Home Edition because TOEFL iBT test is not available in my country due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

    Yes. Please make sure you have your score result of TOEFL iBT Home Edition before the application deadline. You will have to submit a copy of your score report if you are shortlisted for an interview.

  • Am I eligible to apply?

    You are eligible to apply as long as you have met our entry requirements by the application deadline.

  • Do I need to have a bachelor’s degree in a certain field?

    UNU-IAS does not require a particular field for your bachelor’s degree, however, it is essential to liaise your research interests with sustainability. 

  • Do I need any professional experience in order to apply for the programme?

    The PhD programme requires 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). If you do not meet this requirement, you need to have two completed Master’s degrees, at least one of which must be in a discipline related to sustainability studies.

  • My TOEFL/IELTS score is lower than your requirement. Can I still submit my application?

    Applicants for the programme need to show sufficient written and verbal English language skills prior to enrolment to the programme. All courses are taught in English and students are expected to demonstrate fluency to actively participate in the high level academic courses. If you are unable to submit a sufficient score prior to the application deadline, we ask that you continue to improve your English ability, take the test again, and apply for the programme next year or in the near future.

  • I will take TOEFL/IELTS next month and cannot submit the score by the application deadline. Can I submit the score after the deadline?

    No. You must have your TOEFL/IELTS scores by the application deadline as you need to enter the score in the application form. A copy of the score report will be required to be submitted after you are shortlisted for an interview. 

  • Do I need a score from the Japanese Language Proficiency Test? Do you require applicants to speak Japanese?

    No. We do not require the Japanese Language Proficiency Certificate, nor do we require applicants to speak Japanese. Our courses are conducted entirely in English. [Top]

Online Application

  • I do not have a full-time work experience. Can I write about my part-time job/internship/volunteering activities in the section of Professional Background?

    Please do not write about your internship, part-time job, or volunteering activities in the section of Professional Background as this section is for full-time employment. If such experiences as internship and/or part-time job are related to your personal achievement which you would like to bring to our attention, please write about them in Essay 2 of the application.

  • Can I submit three professional references?

    The reason we request at least one academic reference is to assess the applicant’s academic competency in pursuing a PhD degree programme. You may submit three professional references; however, it is in your best interest to submit academic references whenever possible.

  • Do I need to create an account?

    No. There is no need to create an account. To start your application, please first register online and receive a link to the application form. 

  • Can I save my application form and come back to it later?

    No. There is no ‘save and continue later’ option in the application form. You will need to prepare all the materials ready before starting your application. The application guide gives you a step-by-step instruction on how to fill in your application. 

  • I submitted the Registration for Application but did not receive a confirmation email.

    Please make sure that you have entered a valid email address. We also advise that you would check if your email provider’s spam filter setting does not block emails from If you still do not receive an email, please try out the other email address.

  • I wish to apply for your programme, but I have limited internet access.

    UNU-IAS requires you to complete the online applications to be considered for the programme. Paper-based applications are not acceptable. We would advise that you review the application checklist well and prepare all the materials required beforehand to reduce the amount of time that you need internet. You must read the Application Guide thoroughly and carefully before the start to fill the application form. Please note that there is no option to 'save and continue' in the application form.

  • Can I submit two professional references?

    The reason we request at least one academic reference is to assess the applicant’s academic competency in pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree programme. You may submit two professional references; however, it is in your best interest to submit academic references whenever possible.

  • My referee cannot send a letter of reference by the application deadline. Can you accept a letter after the deadline?

    After your submission of all application materials, the Admission Office will directly ask your referees to send a letter of reference. Therefore, you do not have to submit it at the application.

  • If my referee cannot send the letter in English what should I do?

    All application materials need to be in English. If your referee is unable to provide a letter in English, the reference letter must be accompanied by an official or certified translation provided by a school, public notary, professional translator or other recognized service. For validity reasons, you cannot do the translation yourself, even if you are qualified to do so.

  • My school is sending my transcript to you directly. Should I wait until you receive them before sending you my application materials?

    Once you are shortlisted for an interview, you will have to send a copy of transcripts to UNU-IAS Admissions Office via email. UNU-IAS Admissions Office will not accept any supporting documents submitted from anyone other than the applicant during the process of the application. Sealed official transcripts will only be requested upon admission acceptance. 

  • I attended three universities. Do you need all the transcripts?

    Yes, please provide the transcripts of all schools attended unless your main transcript clearly shows the name of the institutions you were transferred from, the period of enrolment for each, and the names and grades received for all the course work.

  • Is it possible to retrieve my original documents after the submitting my application?

    No, as UNU-IAS Admissions Office does not require original documents until you are officially admitted to the programme.

  • My referee says he/she has not been contacted by UNU-IAS with the “guideline” on how to submit the reference letters.

    Please ask your referee to ensure that our e-mails are not filtered into the spam or junk folder. UNU-IAS will not be held responsible for unread e-mail communication. Applicants should inform the referees of the e-mail from the UNU-IAS Admissions Office.

  • My referee could not submit a reference letter. Can I submit a paper version on their behalf?

    No. All reference letters must be submitted online by the referees themselves. [Top]

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. [Top]

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 $84,000 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): JPY 80,000 / $778, Utilities (gas, electricity, water): JPY 8,000 / $78, Compulsory National Health Insurance: JPY 3,000 / $30, Communication (mobile, internet connection): JPY 10,000 / $98, Transportation: JPY 10,000 / $98, Food: JPY 32,000 / $98, Books: JPY 9,000 / $331. Monthly total: JPY 152,000 / $1,500 (based on $1 = JPY 101.3, as of 2020). Each amount is subject to change based on the exchange rate. [Top]


  • What kinds of career opportunities are available to the graduates of the programme?

    We expect our students to become important human resources who will contribute to solving global issues by means of being employed by United Nations agencies, international organisations, government agencies, and other similar institutions. However, it depends entirely on the students themselves what kind of job they will find after they have completed the programme.

  • Will participating in this course guarantee me a position at the UN after graduation?

    Completing our programme does not guarantee employment at any UN agencies or any other international organizations. [Top]