Urban Studies

You will learn to see the city, to hear it, to understand it, to engage it, and to choose your role in shaping it. As the world continues to urbanise and globalise, cities are becoming the predominant form of human settlement and the scale at which many of the most pressing societal issues are engaged. The Master in Urban Studies brings a distinctly European viewpoint to issues concerning urbanity and urbanisation that are simultaneously locally unique and globally networked.

The Standard Track of the Master in Urban Studies is jointly organised by Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Université Libre de Bruxelles. The 120 ECTS curriculum combines the attractiveness of a flexible, modular and interdisciplinary programme that allows you to focus on your own interests, with a common core of compulsory courses to ensure that you develop the necessary urban skills and competences.

The 4CITIES Track is a unique two-year interdsciplinary and international programme. It has been selected as an Erasmus Mundus Masters Course. There are three separate tracks that students in 4CITIES follow: Classical, Research, and Practice. The first year is the same for all three tracks. Students in the Classical Track spend the third and fourth semesters together, following a shared curriculum in Copenhagen and Madrid. This is how 4CITIES has been organized since it began in 2008, hence “classical.” Students in the Research and Practice tracks spend their second year interning at an approved research institution or work-placement, respectively, and completing 25 ECTS of self-chosen coursework at a 4CITIES partner institution. These tracks have been designed for students who intend to pursue careers in research and practice, respectively.

For more information about the two Master's Programmes, visit their own websites:

Visit the Urban Studies (Standard Track) website

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Visit the 4CITIES website

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Are you interested in other aspects of geography? Take a look at the Master of Science in Geography and its different study tracks!

Joshua Grigsby, 4CITIES Almunus


"I came to the VUB from the United States because the opportunity to join the 4CITIES Erasmus Mundus Master course in Urban Studies was too good to pass up. At the core of urbanity is the interaction of diversity, the ways in which different perspectives, attitudes, skill sets, and ways of living rub against each other. What better way to study urbanity than in situ, in six different universities, four different cities in four different countries, and with a cohort of 25 fellow students from wildly different academic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds? Our first stop was Brussels and VUB/ULB. The semester was intense, challenging, and inspiring. 4CITIES was, for me, transformational in the best sense of the word."

Strength of the programme

The strength of the programme results from the integration of analytical skills typical for the (social-) sciences and the more design oriented skills of planning and architecture. The need for interdisciplinary knowledge and skills as opposed to the more narrowly defined academic disciplines is strong.

Excursions and visits

Experiencing the city is key to understanding the city. During the two years, several excursions and visits will be organised to illustrate and discuss topics treated during the courses. This includes visits to public and private institutions and organisations that are important for the local political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the respective city and wider region.

The Standard Track students will go on a set of national and international excursions, ranging from one to several days. During these excursions the objective is to raise awareness of regional and international differences in urban development. The excursions consist of guided tours and visits to relevant institutions and organisations, such as planning departments, development agencies, cultural actors and more.

The 4CITIES students will be given a topic in each of the cities to study in group through extensive fieldwork. Fieldwork is organised in close cooperation with non-academic urban institutions and organisations and is closely linked to ongoing academic research in the city of residence.


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Educational quality

Here at VUB we put great care and effort in the quality of our education. Transparency is key. Information on the educational quality of each programme is public, e.g. describing its strengths and actions.

Public info on the quality of the programme

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How does it work?

The Master in Urban Studies (Standard Track VUB/ULB) is a 120 ECTS programme jointly offered by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Offering a strong interdisciplinary perspective on urban studies, students follow a core trajectory of shared courses and have the freedom to specialize by individually selecting from a large offer of elective modules and courses.

The Master in Urban Studies (4CITIES) is a unique two-year interdisciplinary and international programme (120 ECTS). The Classical 4CITIES track spends a semester in each of four European capital cities: Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Madrid. Additional excursions to a diverse set of cities such as Rotterdam, Antwerp, Budapest, Malmö, and Zaragoza are also organised in each semester. Students in the Research and Practice Tracks also spend their first and second semesters in Brussels and Vienna before spreading out across Europe to conduct internships or work-placements and additional coursework at one of our academic partner institutions. The programme adds a European perspective to the field of Urban Studies: it wants to break up and to open the national perspective on urban problems. The growing importance of globalisation and the shift towards a world of flows calls for a new approach in important fields of urban policy like culture, economy, planning…


  • Globalisation - the processes of globalisation and localisation - as a general context leading to a renewed importance of the city and urbanity in the 21st century. The city is considered a nodal point in post-national developments.
  • Europe as the unit of analysis: Europe and the European unification process is seen as part of and a reaction to this globalisation processes. Our scope is Europe seen through its cities and urban networks.
  • Interdisciplinarity and internationality as a surplus value. The Master in Urban Studies is a thematic masters programme focused on transdisciplinary approaches and transdisciplinary practices (not the least bridging urban planning and urban sociology, geography, etc) with a focus on the socio-spatial analysis of cities.
  • An education build on strong cases: Brussels (capital of EU, small global city) – Copenhagen (the Scandinavian mode of regulation), Vienna (metropolis at the centre of Europe: gateway to the East), Madrid (the Mediterranean cities) and a number of surrounding cities.
  • The importance of fieldwork: research experience in each city and comparative or transnational research as the basis for a final masters thesis.
  • A number of excursions and visits: a central attractor will be that we incorporate well prepared excursions in each block. Each excursion will incorporate a socio-spatial introduction to the city (a city walk) and an institutional visit with a focus on certain aspects of policy or management. Moreover a number of projects and institutions will be visited.

Professional and research internships (Standard track only)

During you VUB-ULB Master in Urban Studies (Standard track) you can also choose to replace one elective module with an internship (15 ECTS), allowing you to gain experience in a working environment that is relevant to urban studies, such as an NGO, local government administration, consultancy firm or European network or institution. If you want to pursue a PhD following your Master education, you can also choose to do a research-oriented internship by working in a university department or another research institution.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes describe the intended knowledge and understanding, skills and attitudes that you must master after completing your studies.

Do you want to know more about the specific learning outcomes of this programme? Click here for more information.

First step in the job market

We train our students in analysing, understanding and proposing solutions for urban problems (planning, project management, scenario research), working in a multidisciplinary team and adopting a critical attitude.
It opens possibilities for you to work on urban problems in both the private or public sector. Your Master in Urban Studies leads to the following type of occupations:

  • Research and teaching on issues of urbanity and urbanism
  • Urban policy advice
  • Urban project management
  • Urban planning and design


If you want to continue your academic career, you can apply for a PhD position at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. All you need is a promoter, research subject and sufficient funding. Are you up for this challenge?

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William Otchere-Darko, Alumnus

Could not have chosen a better city

"I studied Development Planning as an undergraduate in Ghana. I was always interested in urban issues - especially urban transportation. So after my Bachelor degree I applied for a Master in Urban Studies at VUB. The multidisciplinary approach of the courses provided me with a wide variety of angles to view urban issues and it gave me the chance to push myself and to have an interest in other paradigms of thought. The semester at VUB was my first experience in Europe. But the diversity of the people, the vitality of the city together with its key function as the heart of the European Union meant that I could not have chosen a better city to start my education in Europe."

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You chose the Standard Track, but want to go abroad?

In the second year of the Standard Track, it is possible to go abroad for a semester and study at one of our partner universities.

Within Europe, we have a Erasmus+ mobility agreements with a variety of strong universities. You can consult the list here. However, multiple possibilities also exist for stays outside of Europe.

For more information, don't hesitate to contact the faculty exchange coordinator.

You chose the 4CITIES - Research or Practice Track?

Students in the Research track will spend part of their second year in 4CITIES interning at a research institution (for which they will receive 15 ECTS) and part completing 25 ECTS of coursework relevant to their research focus.

Practice track students will choose a work placement (15 ECTS) in a non-academic organisation engaged in urban issues. This work placement can be anywhere in Europe. Students in this track will also choose 25 ECTS of elective courses offered by one or potentially more of our academic partners

More information and a list of partners can be consulted on the 4CITIES website.

Admission criteria

Applicants are eligible for the Master in Urban Studies if they have completed a 180ECTS academic bachelor degree or its equivalent in geography, planning, architecture, history, criminology, political science, sociology, demography, media and communication studies, cultural studies, or a similar discipline. Prospective applicants with a degree from a field not mentioned above should contact the programme. Please explain us how your degree has helped prepare you for the Master in Urban Studies and provide more information on the specific coursework you have undertaken  (including transcripts of your course units).
If your degree is not from a university please check if it matches an academic degree. You can do so by contacting the international relations office or student affairs department of your institution.

Selection Criteria

Study records

A good academic performance in a bachelors or master’s degree. (We do not use a minimum GDP, nor other standards.)


The motivation letter is perhaps the most critical part of your application. It should not be more than two pages an should focus on both your academic interest in the programme, either Master in Urban Studies or EMMC 4CITIES, and what you hope to achieve. Additional relevant information can also be included, and you may refer to your CV to save space.

English proficiency

Good command of English is a precondition for the programme. A proof of proficiency in English is compulsory. The Language requirements for this programme are more strict than the university’s requirements and the list of accepted language tests is limited. You can find the specific language requirements in the application module on the Master in Urban Studies website.
Citizens of English-speaking countries do no need any proof or certificate.

Recommendation letters

We need minimum two and maximum three recommendation letters. At least two letters should be from an academic referee. We provide templates that need to be filled in this application module.

We need two recommendation letters from academic referees (i.e. your former teachers at university or other academic personnel that is able to judge your academic qualities and potential). We make use of an online referee module which can be activated through the online application module of either Master in Urban Studies or EMMC 4CITIES.

To start your application for the programme of your choice and for more in-depth information about the requirements, procedure, fees, etc., visit the programmes' own websites:

Start your application

Urban Studies: Standard Track

Start your application

Urban Studies: 4CITIES