University of Otago Master of Planning

About MPlan


The two-year Master of Planning (MPlan) degree is a distinctive  programme of course work and research, with a professional focus. The course is housed within the Department of Geography. The Programme Coordinator, a professionally qualified planner, and staff member of the Department of Geography, is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Programme. Teaching input is provided by staff from Geography - and other departments (e.g. Law, Surveying) as well as by external practitioners in relevant fields. Case studies and hands-on involvement in real planning situations are important elements of the programme. There is regular input from practicing planning professionals working in regional and local government and private consultancies.


The objectives of the MPlan Programme are to provide an understanding and appreciation of:

  • the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of planning; 
  • approaches to resource management planning in modern and traditional societies, with particular reference to New Zealand and countries in the Asia-Pacific Region;
  • the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and implications for planning practices;
  • approaches towards urban planning; 
  • community participation in the planning process;
  • the environmental consequences of human activity and how to manage these; 
  • the political, legal and administrative context within which the activity of planning is carried out (with specific reference to the Resource Management Act in New Zealand);
  • the related planning frameworks governing local government, heritage, transport, and conservation;
  • public policy processes at the central government level;
  • local and regional plan and policy development processes at the regional and local levels;
  • the role of planners and other experts within decision-making processes;
  • professional skills and techniques relevant to the practice of planning.



Diverse applicants sought

Emphasis is placed on attracting candidates from a wide range of academic backgrounds - not only those with an arts or science Geography Degree. Other disciplines from which our students are drawn include political science, history, ecology, zoology, botany, law, Maori studies and commerce. This is because it is well recognised that a range of expert skills and knowledge systems needs to be brought together to address environmental and community planning issues.


Class Size

To maintain close personal contact between staff and students, the two-year Masters course is offered as an intensive programme of teaching, project and research work with small class sizes. This allows for considerable discussion, interaction and small group work.

Course Content

The two-year MPlan programme has a broad-based curriculum in view of the wide ranging knowledge and skills that planners require to be effective planning professionals. The structure of the course is designed to give students competence in core planning skills and the opportunity to specialise in areas in which they are particularly interested. These specialisms are usually related to the teaching and research interests of academic staff members at Otago, which include:

  • Urban planning in a changing society
  • Urban geography
  • Iwi planning
  • Community engagement, participation and development
  • Sustainable community development, including urban food systems
  • Natural resources planning and management
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Health, inequality and wellbeing
  • Coastal management and planning
  • Regional and local economic development
  • Children and young peoples' participation in planning
  • Physical processes in environmental systems, including climatology and climate change, hydrology, geomorphology
  • Development studies in post-conflict countries and regions
  • Planning for heritage
  • Landscape planning
  • Policy analysis, development, and implementation under the Resource Management Act 1991
  • The use of digital technologies to enhance traditional approaches to planning

NZPI Student Membership

The MPlan programme at Otago is fully accredited by the New Zealand Planning Institute. The New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI) is a professional body for planners, resource managers, urban designers and environmental practitioners in New Zealand. Those enrolled in a course accredited by the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI) are eligible for free NZPI Student membership.