Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

Programme Structure

Programmes start in the third week of September and last for 12 months full-time or 24-36 months part-time. The academic year begins with an induction week and is then divided into semesters. Students spend the first semester studying the principles of the subject. The second semester involves specialist topics chosen from a list of optional modules, and the summer is spent completing a dissertation. The range of options and dissertation topics is a particular strength of ITS, reflecting both the size of the student cohort and the number of specialist staff. 

Semester 1

Late September - January

Semester 2

Late January - May

 Semester 3

June - late August

All the programmes have a credit-based modular system. Taught modules are each 15 credits and the dissertation is 60 credits. Students take 180 credits for a Masters, or alternatively 120 credits for a Postgraduate Diploma or 60 credits for a Postgraduate Certificate.

Transport as taught at ITS is an applied subject – this means that there are plenty of opportunities for students to experience transport systems in action, both in the UK and Europe.

ITS arranges a number of official visits for Masters students each year - they range in duration from an afternoon to a full week. The purpose of these field trips is to provide direct experience of the concepts and challenges which are taught in class, as well opportunities to meet and hear directly from transport practitioners.

For many of our students, particularly those from outside Europe, the highlight of their year is the European Field Trip. This week-long trip which takes place after the summer exams and has been a fixture in the ITS calendar since 1987. The itinerary varies from year to year, but has often included Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. Stops en-route have included Pedestrian Centres and Docklands Transport in Rotterdam; Cycle and Traffic Calming Facilities in Delft; the Motorway Traffic Control Centre in Amsterdam; the Guided Bus System in Essen; the Wuppertal Monorail; Town Planning features in Duisburg and Dusseldorf; research talks at the University of Hasselt and a tour of the Free Bus System in Hasselt and visit to the Brussels Metro.

European Field Trip 2017

European Trip 2015

European Trip 2013

For soundtrack credit please see our YouTube channel

European Trip 2012

European Trip 2011


METROPOLY - Student Induction Exercise

Home Zone Field Trip

Traffic Survey Field Work

Leeds Field Trip

Traffic Management Field Work

The Masters dissertation is a research project in its own right, with an emphasis on independent and original study. It forms a major component of each Masters programme, as it accounts for one third of the total credits taken by each student.

The dissertation provides the opportunity to apply the learning from the taught modules by addressing a specific issue in depth.  Dissertation research often involves field work and data collection and the research output should ideally form the basis for future publication, such as a journal article, written up together with the dissertation supervisor.

Students are encouraged to start thinking about their dissertation as early as possible and usually choose optional modules which underpin the topic. Staff across ITS contribute to a list of possible topics, which relate to on-going research themes and collaborations. Students are free to select from the list or develop their own ideas. Each student is individually supported by an expert supervisor who advises on the research methodology and helps keep the student on track. Assessment is via a 15000 word thesis, plus milestones along the way of an interim report, oral presentation and poster.

2017 Dissertation Topics

2016 Dissertation Topics

2015 Dissertation Topics

2014 Dissertation Topics

Dissertation poster

As part of the assessment process, each student presents a poster on their dissertation methodology and research progress to date. The dissertation supervisors attend and ask students probing questions – the answers to which, together with the quality of the poster, determines the mark awarded. This poster session takes place on a single day each year around Easter time; sponsors and prospective students also invited to attend. Recent posters and photographs of the presentations are provided above.

Industrial dissertation

Increasingly, we regard the dissertation as an important means of connecting postgraduate research with the interests and challenges faced by those working directly in the transport sector. Through our links with industry (transport operators, consultants, government etc), we are able to match student interests to real-world issues, which would benefit from some dedicated dissertation research time. These industrial dissertation topics, which are suggested and supported by industry, offer a number of advantages:

  • Addresses real-world transport challenges and issues
  • Provides external organisations with research capability
  • Gives ITS students direct access to industry information & data
  • Can form the basis for a subsequent PhD topic
  • Provides ITS students with experience of working with industry
  • Enables ITS students to network directly with industry professionals

The 2011-12 academic year again saw growth in the number of external organisations becoming involved as partners in industrial dissertations. New organisations included Birmingham Airport, PTEG (Passenger Transport Executive Group), South Yorkshire PTE, Shetland Islands Council and an overseas academic partner TU Berlin. They joined established partners such as ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies), the Highways Agency and, closer to home, Leeds City Council.

The topics taken forward at an industrial level covered a wide range of modes and research disciplines. The Highways Agency's focus last year was on air quality with two topics examining current air quality on UK motorways and how effective air pollution barriers can be. Leeds city council asked students to look at the traveller demand patterns for mini-supermarkets (e.g. Tesco Express and Sainsbury Locals) as well as how to overcome the barriers to car sharing within the Leeds city district. The Shetland Islands Council asked its ITS student to benchmark the efficiency of local ferry services. South Yorkshire PTE was interested in wider economic benefits that result from capital investment and asked two students to research whether transport investment created jobs and what potential Robin Hood airport had for growth.

The impact of industrial dissertations in the 'real world' is one reason why students find them particularly attractive and probably the best example from last year was a study suggested by Birmingham Airport in conjunction with ATOC which examined the impacts of different levels of rail access to Birmingham airport. The student leading the research was Vasileios Lykoudis, who has gone on to take up an employment opportunity with AECOM, one of the UK's leading transport consultants. Vasileious worked closely with Birmingham Airport under the supervision of Professor Mark Wardman.

The resultant research findings have been taken on board by both Birmingham Airport and also by ATOC, which has included them in the 2013 PDFH (Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook) update 5.1; a publication used by the rail industry to forecast passenger demand following changes in services and fares. The project manager for the update, John Segal, is enthusiastic about industrial partnerships and keen to develop more in the future,

"Throughout my 40 years in the rail industry I have worked with academics. The fresh insights they, and especially masters students, bring to issues adds greatly to the understanding of the industry. The work of Vasileios on rail access to airports is a good example, and his findings have contributed to several of the recommendations in the latest version of the rail industry's Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook."
John Segal, 2013

This enthusiasm is similarly reflected by Michelle Thurgood (transport specialist for Birmingham Airport),

"Birmingham Airport worked with the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University on rail access to the Airport as part of a MSc dissertation in 2012. The research which was produced included up-to-date data collection and analysis techniques to assess rail potential and barriers to access. This research has been extremely useful to the Airport Company as we strive to ensure exceptional connectivity to Birmingham Airport. The dedication and quality of work by the student involved was second to none and I would thoroughly recommend external organisations taking part in the programme!"
Michelle Thurgood, 2013

From a student perspective the opportunity to work on an industrial dissertation is a valuable one, allowing them to be involved in real life research that can have a real impact even at this early stage of their career, whilst enhancing their own CVs in the process.

"The connection of academia and the industry offered an insider’s understanding of what the expectations would be from me after graduation from ITS. It also proved to be very beneficial for my career prospects, with significant interest from prospective employers during interviews in my work with an external body, the skills I have gained and how they can be applied in a business environment. Moreover, cooperation with an industry representative such as Birmingham Airport ensured that my study was in accordance with contemporary market needs. This was recently confirmed when I received an invitation to present the findings of my work to a committee of the Association of Train Operating Companies. All in all, undertaking an external project was a tough but rewarding experience and highly recommendable for current and future ITS students." 
Vasileios Lykoudis ITS Masters Student 2011-12 

The students who were involved in industrial dissertations last year have gone on to find employment opportunities in a number of organisations, for example, transport consultancies (AECON, Mouchel Group, Interfleet Technologies...), Amazon (logistics), TfL, local and central government (French Ministry of Ecology). In addition a number of students have gone straight into academia (University of Beirut) or PhD study (UC Berkeley). Whilst being involved in an industrial dissertation was not the only factor in students gaining employment, it was nonetheless viewed as a valuable stepping stone between higher education here at ITS and a career as a transport professional.

Some of the organisations recently involved as partners in industrial dissertations are:


A key feature of ITS Masters programmes is a focus on enhancing students' employability.

To help ensure that our students have a clear understanding of how the skills they learn are applied in practice, we run an annual series of external seminars. These regular seminars are delivered by experienced practitioners from across the transport sector, and provide invaluable insights into topical themes and challenges. Some of the speakers are ITS graduates themselves, who return to share their knowledge and help prepare the next generation of transport professionals for the workplace.

Crossrail 2 - Planning for the Future
By Dr Michele Dix CBE, Managing Director of Crossrail 2

The Importance of Value of Time Studies – a Dutch Perspective
By Gerard de Jong of ITS & Significance

Autonomous Vehicles and Impact on Cities
By Stelios Rodoulis of Jacobs

Travel Behaviour Change: Smarter Choices Theory & Practice
By Martin Higgitt of JMP Consultants

Assessing the equity impact of the EU emission trading scheme on an African airline
By Dr Chikage Miyoshi of Cranfield Univeristy

Transfer of transport planning policies from developed to developing nations
Presentation by guest speaker Tony Plumbe

Private finance in the roads sector
By Peter Brocklebank of Leigh Fisher.

Stations as Places - designing & planning rail stations
By Richard Bickers and Phil White of Arup Engineering

Associated British Ports - Keeping Britain Trading
By Philip Coombes, Commercial Manager, ABP Hull & Goole



Delivering a quality rapid transit system in a challenging environment
By Louise Porter & Tom Hacker of

Rail Passenger Demand Forecasting – a view from the industry
By Tony Magee, ATOC Passenger Demand Forecasting Scheme Manager 

Transport Manifesto for 2015 General Election
By Keith Buchan, Policy Director of the Transport Planning Society

Influencing Travel Behaviour
By Leanne Farrow, Senior Transport Planner, JMP Consultants

Congestion charging in Gothenburg
By Maria Börjesson, Deputy Director Centre for Transport Studies, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Designing a New Train 
By Ian Walmsley, Engineering Development Manager, Porterbrook.

Smartcard and Information Programme
By James Bennett Programme Manager, West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (METRO)

Building an evidence base (almost) from scratch: what to do when you don't have a model available - a case study in cycling
By Clare Sheffield, Policy Analysis Manager, Transport for London

Innovation in Public Transport - Route 36
By Nigel Eggleton, Sales & Marketing Director, Blazefield-Transdev

A time of change and opportunity
By Andrew Hugill, Director of Policy and Technical Affairs, Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT)

Part-time students are an important group within ITS and contribute valuable life and sector experience to the cohort. Most already work in transport and are often sponsored by their employer. Part-time students can complete a Masters in two years, but we usually recommend up to three years, to allow for a detailed focus on the dissertation. The timetable is organised to enable part-time students to complete two modules on a single day of the week, although the precise day will vary according to the semester and the student’s choice of options. Please note that you may need to attend up to an extra 4 days per year for exams. For further flexibility, some optional modules are delivered intensively over 2-5 whole days. These modules can alternatively be taken as individual short courses, thus providing a flexible and incremental route, for those with work or other commitments which preclude attending the full Masters programme.  Studying alongside a full-time job is a serious commitment - in addition to time spent at the University, part-time students need to find time for private study and to undertake research for the dissertation. It is expected that part-timers' dissertations will be closely related to their employment and in general it is very important to ensure that the employer is fully supportive.

For more information on part-time study click here.

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