Postgraduate study

Marine Systems and Policies MSc

Awards: MSc

Study modes: Full-time

Funding opportunities


I chose Edinburgh for this programme specifically. I was at a point in my life where I kept hearing myself say that we couldn’t gain momentum in the marine sector without policy. The supervisors and teachers are incredibly knowledgeable in the field and are happy to put you into other networks if you need it.

I am currently working as a Microplastic Research Assistant for the Seattle Aquarium in the USA. I definitely would not have been considered for my position if not for the research I did for my masters dissertation.

Laura La Beur MSc Marine Systems and Policies
Laura La Beur               MSc Marine Systems and Policies

Rapid climate change and the global expansion of human activities threaten the world’s oceans. How do we realistically balance the demand for development with the need to protect the environment?

The MSc in Marine Systems and Policies is unique from other marine programmes. It enables you to truly embrace the integrated approach needed to tackle the complex issues facing our oceans.

You can:

  • explore diverse marine ecosystems
  • understand the tensions between conservation and marine development
  • examine the policies in place to protect our coastlines and global ocean

How we approach marine challenges

The programme approaches these challenges through three intrinsically linked areas:

1 Science

  • Explore marine ecosystems, their socioeconomic importance, and their conservation across marine biomes, habitats and species - spanning islands, coasts, estuaries, continental shelves, polar seas and the deep and high seas.

2 Industry

  • Examine the built systems of a ‘blue economy’ such as resource exploitation and infrastructure and how they affect marine species and ecosystems. You’ll learn to develop robust practical management frameworks that aim for sustainable ocean development such as marine spatial planning, and environmental impact assessment.

3 Policy

  • Investigate different systems of ocean policies and governance, from voluntary codes of conduct to legally binding regional and international policies. You’ll also review marine planning, area-based management tools, as well as the impact of local customs and traditional knowledge.

Reputation, relevance and employability

Our innovative programme is taught by world-leading experts in key fields of marine science and policy.

We also have excellent relationships with a variety of organisations, from local communities through to government, industry and academia.

This network ensures that you not only have access to employers and decision-makers who may be able to provide employment opportunities or research projects, but also help you gain valuable real-world experience and effect real change.

Find out more from our students

Visit our student blog, where students in the School of GeoSciences share their experiences of postgraduate study, living in Edinburgh and everything in-between.

This MSc programme comprises:

  • compulsory and option courses
  • dissertation

Throughout the programme, your teaching team will work with you to prepare for the dissertation project. This will be your opportunity to explore a topic of your choice in relation to the programme.

Teaching methods

You will experience a range of teaching styles while you are studying, depending on the subject matter and courses you are taking.

Courses can be delivered through a mix of teaching and learning styles including:

  • lectures
  • tutorials
  • seminars
  • workshops
  • practicals
  • short field trips
  • longer field courses

Please view each relevant course for teaching and assessment methods.

Changes to teaching and learning

We are committed to offering a high-quality education to all our students. Please be advised that there may be changes to course options and delivery, including due to Covid-19.

Changes to how we deliver teaching and learning experiences will be made to safeguard the health and safety of our students, staff and community, and to ensure we can maintain the highest standards for educational experience.

Although we endeavour to provide a wide range of optional courses to choose from, these can be subject to change or cancellation at short notice.

Places on optional courses can be limited, due to course capacity and timetabling constraints. It may not be possible to guarantee every offer holder their top choice of optional courses.

Part-time study

As we are committed to helping people into education while continuing to work or managing family and personal commitments, you may study this programme part-time.

Find out more about compulsory and optional courses

We link to the latest information available. Please note that this may be for a previous academic year and should be considered indicative.

The MSc Marine Systems and Policies can provide you with rewarding work experience opportunities.

You can choose to undertake a research project as an intern for more work-based experiences, and these opportunities are advertised in November each year.

Experiences include working with governments, advisors and non-government organisations (NGOs) and are a great way to network with industry and decision-makers for future employment.

Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre

For even more work-based experience, two scholarships are available for students who conduct their research project dissertation with the aquaculture industry.

The scholarships cover full tuition fees and are offered specifically for students within our MSc Marine Systems and Policies programme.

Topics can range from animal welfare to disease and pollution control, to environmental monitoring and regulation.

You can find details about the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre funding on the School of GeoSciences scholarships page.

Employers tell us that they seek candidates with real-world skills and an integrated understanding of marine ecosystems, development and planning as well as regional and international policies.

Our unique MSc programme provides you with this foundation so that you can work in a wide range of settings from grassroots community groups to universities and governments.

You can also seek a career with the marine industry, non-government organisations (NGOs) or international agencies.

Our graduates are working around the world at local, national and international levels.

They have gained employment in a variety of roles such as:

  • consultants
  • marine science officers
  • marine policy analysts and officers
  • sustainability consultants
  • project leaders
  • program officers
  • marine mammal observers
  • marine education executives

For example, they can be found:

  • gathering evidence for the government to support marine protected areas
  • conducting academic research and fieldwork
  • advising the fishing and tourism industry
  • working with international conservation agencies to help implement marine policies at the highest level


We have excellent relationships with a variety of organisations, from local communities through to government, industry and academia.

Our networks can give you access to potential employers and decision-makers who may be able to provide employment opportunities or research projects.

Our graduates

Examples of the organisations our graduates have gained employment include:

  • the World Wildlife Federation (WWF)
  • United Nations Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
  • Coral Cray Conservation Philippines
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps USA
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Nature Scotland
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature
  • the Pew Foundation

Careers Service

Our Careers Service plays an essential part in your wider student experience at the University, offering a range of tailored careers and personal development guidance and support.

We support you to recognise the wealth of possibilities ahead, while at University and after graduation.

The MSc Marine Systems and Policies gives you exceptional opportunities to develop your experience and skills through fieldwork*.

We will take you beyond the classroom where you can experience first-hand the intersection of environment, development and social issues within a marine setting. Our academics and experts will guide and support you as you learn how to design research projects.

There are no additional charges for compulsory field trips.

Local day trips

Throughout the programme, you may also benefit from local field trips in Scotland to experience a variety of marine settings.

For example, the Berwickshire Marine Reserve is located an hour east of Edinburgh. It is an excellent example of a locally managed marine area voluntarily set up by local communities.

You can also undertake research projects at the new St Abbs Marine Laboratory.

Changes to field trips

*Field course locations may change for a variety of reasons, including due to Covid-19.

For the academic year 2021-22, the School of GeoSciences has decided not to run overseas field trips for our postgraduate taught Masters programmes.

Your safety and the safety of our staff and communities is our priority.

We believe that attempting to take our students on international trips for the next twelve months will include an element of unacceptable risk that we are unable to anticipate and prepare for under current sector and Scottish government guidance.

Where suitable, fieldwork will be relocated or rescheduled.

We will also look at alternative arrangements that will ensure you achieve the quality learning outcomes of your degree.

Alternatives may include travel to coastal environments within marine reserves in Scotland. Here, you can gain valuable hands-on experience, such as ecological survey techniques and engagement with Marine Reserve stakeholders, before virtually visiting coral reef habitats and associated stakeholders through our international partners.

Any changes will be announced as soon as possible.

*(Revised 9 June 2021 to update information on field trips.)

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in natural sciences or social sciences, but with clear evidence of experience and interest in marine topics.

Students from China

This degree is Band C.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

For 2021 entry we will accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 (at least 6.0 in each module)
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition): total 100 (at least 20 in each module). We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • CAE and CPE: total 185 (at least 169 in each module)
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with a pass in all four components

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:


You will need to pay this deposit if you receive an offer of admission (either unconditional or conditional).

  • £1,500 (this contributes towards your tuition fees)

Find out more about tuition fee deposits:

Field trips and field courses

We do not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips or field courses.

Costs of travel, accommodation and subsistence on compulsory field trips will be covered by the programme fees. However, you must pay for incidental or personal expenses.

Living costs

You will be responsible for covering living costs for the duration of your studies.

Tuition fees

Featured scholarship

The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) offer two fully funded scholarships for MSc Marine Systems and Policies students.

School of GeoSciences scholarships

Browse funding opportunities

You are also encouraged to undertake your own research into the range of potential scholarships and other funding for which you may be eligible.

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • School of GeoSciences
  • Grant Institute
  • James Hutton Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FE

Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines.

We will make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis, but hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline.

We aim to make the majority of decisions within six weeks of the selection deadline.

If we have not made you an offer by a specific selection deadline this means one of two things:

  • your application has been unsuccessful, in which case we will contact you to let you know, or
  • your application is still being considered, will be carried forward for consideration in the next selection deadline and we’ll be in touch once a decision is made

Selection Deadlines

Round Application Deadline Decisions made or applications rolled to next deadline
1 31 January 2021 15 March 2021
2 31 March 2021 15 May 2021
3 30 June 2021 15 August 2021

(*Revised 9 March 2021 to add information on decision timescales.)

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • School of GeoSciences
  • Grant Institute
  • James Hutton Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FE