Postgraduate study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

Marine Systems and Policies MSc

Awards: MSc

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities


Programme website: Marine Systems and Policies

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 development with ocean conservation in a rapidly changing climate? And how do we do this in ways that are also equitable and fair to society?

Our MSc programme places you right at the forefront of the fast-paced interface between marine science and policy that deals with these sustainability challenges.

We designed a broad programme around policies dealing with:

  • marine nature conservation
  • environmental protection
  • marine planning

You can learn how to apply marine science and knowledge to critically evaluate and enrich these policies and influence how new policies can be created.

You will get to learn from real-world practitioners and people with lived experiences through global case studies as well as domestic and overseas field trips. These experiences will be under the guidance of a research-active team of highly supportive and motivated university scientists with decades of experience at the science-policy interface from grassroots to international levels.

The capstone of your programme is an independent marine research dissertation project. It will be designed by you and a supervisor or host on a topic of your choice. You can either conduct an internship or a placement for your dissertation, in either a desk-based, lab-based, or field-based setting.

By the end of your programme, you will be highly equipped with a portfolio of skills, including:

  • policy analysis
  • applied marine scientific and social science skills
  • science communication

Is this MSc for me?

Rising up to the challenge of sustainable ocean development requires interdisciplinary solutions.

Interested in doing an MSc that truly respects and integrates interdisciplinarity into your degree program? Ours is for you.

From the outset, you will learn how marine ecosystems are structured and how they function from research-active marine ecologists and oceanographers. You will also learn from local people, social scientists, governments, industry, and experts in marine law how these ecosystems are used, valued, and managed.

Our MSc is also suited for you if you are eager to meet other like-minded people from all over the world with different backgrounds, training, and perspectives. Our students especially value that their peers come from a variety of academic and work backgrounds, for example, marine biology, physical oceanography, international development, social and political science, geography, law, and science communication.

Reputation, relevance and employability

The University of Edinburgh is ranked 3rd in the UK and 15th in the world for sustainability in the QS World University Rankings 2024. Our MSc in Marine Systems and Policies is committed to delivering education for sustainable development of our coasts, seas and oceans through interdisciplinary teaching, experiences, and 'learning by doing'.

Our MSc programme has successfully run for ten years. Over this time, we have sustained many strong collaborations with organisations that are also now major employers for our graduates. These include non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments, advocacy groups, and industry. We also strongly support students in developing pathways to a PhD and offer a high level of support to students interested in presenting, publishing and making an impact in other ways, such as public engagement.

Our Marine Systems and Policies LinkedIn alumni network keeps us on the frontier of job prospects all over the world, and keeps you connected to your peers for career support too. As a University of Edinburgh student, you are also automatically a part of both the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS) and the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society (SAGES) consortia, which offer annual symposia, funding, study, and employment opportunities.

St. Abbs Marine Station

You will also benefit from the University's new collaborative partnership with St. Abbs Marine Station.

Situated in an active fishing and recreational scuba diving harbour, St. Abbs offers a complete socio-ecological microcosm from land to shore to the coastal zone. The area is also home to internationally important seabird colonies and protected offshore rocky reef habitats.

In addition to local trips run through our programme, our partnership with St. Abbs provides you with opportunities to undertake your dissertation research project.

Edinburgh Climate Change Institute

This degree is associated with the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI).

The ECCI brings together consultancy, law, business, social science, technology, and policy experts to help develop a low-carbon society.

Through ECCI, you will have the opportunity to work and network alongside professionals and potential employers within this high-demand field.

What is it really like to study with us?

No one knows what it is like to study here better than the students themselves.

Our students are sharing their experiences - from studying to living in Edinburgh and everything in between.

Get social with us:

When to apply

Please note: Due to high demand for this programme, we operate on a series of early application deadlines.

We strongly recommend you apply as early as possible.

For dates and details, please refer to 'Application Deadlines' on the right panel of this page.

You should also avoid applying to more than one degree. Applicants who can demonstrate their understanding and commitment to a specific programme are preferred.

If you plan to apply to more than one programme, you should discuss your choices with us before you submit your application.

Where possible, we may make an alternative programme offer if you have been unsuccessful in your chosen programme.

This MSc programme comprises:

  • compulsory and option courses
  • dissertation

Our MSc programme mixes set coursework with field trips, networking opportunities, skills and training sessions, reading groups, and conferences to round off your programme.

Guest experts from government, industries, and non-government organisations (NGOs) from around the world will also support your experience while you are here, giving practical workshops, lectures, or offering work-based or internship-based dissertation project opportunities.


The MSc includes an independent research project called a “dissertation,” which is on a marine topic of your choice. This can be field, lab, or desk-based anywhere in the world. We will work with you throughout your studies to prepare you for the dissertation project. You will be supported by a project supervisor who will help to co-develop your idea, research questions and methods. The topic can be purely scientific, policy-based, or have a strong human dimension. As part of your project, you will produce a written dissertation of up to 15,000 words, which many of our students go on to publish as a peer-reviewed publication. You can also use it to demonstrate your knowledge to potential employers.

How will I learn?

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

You can view each relevant course for teaching and assessment methods through the ‘Programme Structure’ link under compulsory and option courses below.

Changes to teaching and learning

We are committed to offering high-quality education to all our students. However, please be advised that there may be changes to course options and delivery. All decisions are made to ensure we can provide the highest standards for your 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

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

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.

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
MScMarine Systems and Policies1 YearFull-timeProgramme structure 2024/25
MScMarine Systems and Policies2 YearsPart-timeProgramme structure 2024/25

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

You can choose to undertake your research project as an intern, or as a project student for more work-based experiences. These opportunities are normally advertised in November each year, and typically form the backbone of your independent research dissertation project.

For example, these types of work experience or internships undertaken by our students have been supported by:

  • Blue Ventures
  • Blue Marine Foundation
  • WhaleWise
  • SharkLife
  • NatureScot
  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee
  • Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme
  • International Maritime Organization
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature

You will develop a strong understanding of key marine ecosystems, the impacts of human activities and climate change, and international and national policy frameworks to govern these ecosystems.

Throughout the year, you will also get the chance to gain practical skills, including field skills (such as snorkelling, transects, and species identification) and computer skills (such as the University’s popular Coding Club with R, but also field habitat mapping, semi-structured interview techniques and using social science software such as NVivo.)

Employers tell us that this blend of expertise in marine planning and policies combined with practical and computer skills is highly desirable and transferable to other lines of employment as well.

By studying the MSc Marine Systems and Policies, you will:

  • become familiar with field and laboratory methods to assess marine ecosystems and cumulative impacts of climate change and human activities, including the social dimensions;
  • be equipped with field and laboratory skills in experimental design, underwater transects, image analysis, marine species identification, habitat mapping, and semi-structured interviews;
  • be able to recognise gold standards in ocean planning;
  • develop critical thinking about what constitutes sustainable development and strong ocean governance and how climate change can be integrated into systems thinking;
  • become familiar with ocean governance systems for a variety of marine ecosystems including charismatic species such as sharks, marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds;
  • understand the structure, functioning and governance of characteristic marine ecosystems, including atolls and islands, temperate and tropical coasts, estuaries, the continental shelves, seamounts, the deep sea, and polar oceans;
  • explore how different platforms for data collection from small vessels to large research expeditions, robotics including autonomous systems, and how remote sensing such as multi-beam echo-sounders, drones, and hydrophones enhance observational capacity;
  • understand the “toolkit” of area-based management tools to conserve nature and better manage human activities including marine protected areas, marine spatial planning, strategic environmental assessment, and environmental impact assessment, and how society can engage in these processes.

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 MSc programme was the first of its kind in the UK and has been running for 10 years. As such, we are confident that our MSc programme provides you with the foundation needed to 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 now working around the world at local, national and international levels, with many now working as:

  • ocean consultants
  • marine science officers
  • marine policy analysts and officers
  • sustainability consultants
  • project leaders
  • program officers
  • marine mammal observers
  • marine education and communication leaders
  • PhD students

For example, they can be found:

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

We are also happy to support many of our graduates to further their pathways as PhD students both in the UK and abroad.

Our graduates

Examples of the organisations our graduates have gained employment include:

  • World Wide Fund for Nature
  • Global Fishing Watch
  • Blue Ventures
  • Blue Marine Foundation
  • United Nations Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee
  • Coral Cay 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
  • Pew Foundation


We have excellent relationships with various organisations, from local communities to government, industry, and academia. Our networks can give you access to potential employers and decision-makers who may provide employment opportunities or research projects.

Careers Service

Our award-winning Careers Service plays an essential part in your wider student experience at the University, providing:

  • tailored advice
  • individual guidance and personal assistance
  • internships and networking opportunities (with employers from local organisations to top multinationals)
  • access to the experience of our worldwide alumni network

We invest in your future beyond the end of your degree. Studying at the University of Edinburgh will lay the foundations for your future success, whatever shape that takes.

Field trips

Our MSc Marine Systems and Policies programme offers exceptional opportunities to develop your experience and skills through fieldwork.

You will first learn basic survey and interview techniques in the Scottish coastal village of St. Abbs early in Semester 2 to experience first-hand the intersection of environment, development and social issues within a marine setting.

Our international field course then takes you well beyond the classroom and offers some life-changing experiences.

The MSc includes an overseas field trip, most likely to the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives, where you will put your new skills into practice. In the Maldives, you will snorkel or dive and use boat-based surveys to study reef and seagrass ecosystems and charismatic megafauna, including whale sharks and manta rays.

You will also get to see first-hand the intersection between ecosystems, local communities, and development on a small island, including the impacts of an airport landing strip and land reclamation projects.

We also hold a popular reading group on the Maldives early in Semester 2 to familiarise you with the interesting geopolitical context of this island nation. To complete your field course, our staff and local experts will guide and support you in designing and executing a field research project.

The field course usually takes place in April.

There are no additional charges for field trips. Our compulsory field trips or field courses are covered within your tuition, including travel and accommodation, as well as any snorkelling or diving that you conduct.

Changes to field trips Field course locations may change for a variety of reasons, including the health and safety of our students, staff and communities, and to ensure we can maintain the highest standards for your educational experience. 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. We will announce any changes as soon as possible.

Accessibility on field trips We are committed to making our degree as accessible and inclusive as possible. In the event that you cannot attend a fieldwork trip, we will provide alternatives with comparable learning outcomes where necessary.

Local day trips

Throughout the programme, we also offer voluntary field trips in Scotland to experience a variety of marine settings at no extra cost to you. These vary depending on students' interests but have included:

  • RIB trips around the Berwickshire Marine Reserve – the UK's oldest voluntary marine reserve, where we learn from local fishers and communities about this successful marine protected area;
  • boat trips to visit the seal pups in November in the Firth of Forth to learn about their critical habitats and experience sustainable marine tourism;
  • site visits to salmon farms on the beautiful west coast of Scotland to gain a more in-depth understanding of the planning and monitoring salmon farms undertake to become more sustainable;
  • boat trips to the famous Bass Rock, the world's largest gannet colony, to learn about seabird ecology and the potential impacts of offshore windfarms;
  • visits to the Dynamic Earth Science Centre right here in Edinburgh to learn about public engagement.

Where you will study

You will have access to the University's facilities across all University sites.

For example:

  • laboratories
  • libraries
  • study spaces (some of which are open 24 hours)
  • computing facilities
  • social spaces
  • leisure facilities

Most of your lectures and workshops will take place within the Central Campus, many of which will be located in the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI).

Depending on the option courses you choose, you may study at various campus locations in Edinburgh, including Kings Buildings Campus. Some of your weekly optional events, such as "Breakfast Briefings," where students talk about an ocean or conservation policy of their choice, are likely to take place at our King's Buildings Campus.

Edinburgh Climate Change Institute

This programme is linked with the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI). You will have access to the shared 'Masters Hub' study space in ECCI as well as the café and shared working spaces on the ground and first floors. Some of your teaching will take place in the ECCI.

The ECCI is also close to many teaching spaces and facilities within the Central Area campus. For example, the Main Library and gym.

King's Buildings campus

The King's Buildings (KB) is the main campus of the College of Science and Engineering.

The King's Buildings campus is around 15 minutes from central Edinburgh. It is easily accessible by bus. You can also cycle (10 minutes) or walk (25 minutes) from the central area.

Take a virtual tour

You can take a closer look at the School of GeoSciences and explore our facilities and campus on the University's Virtual Visit site. Discover our city's landmarks, our campuses, accommodation and get video tours - all in one place.

Edinburgh is your ideal base

Edinburgh is ranked 2nd in the UK and 16th in the world in the QS Best Student Cities 2024.

Edinburgh is not only a fantastic city to live in - it is the perfect location to study the subject you're studying. Our vibrant capital is an irresistible blend of history and modern city life. We have rich environmental locations to explore right on our doorstep. Immerse yourself among rugged coastlines, misty mountains, forest glens and sparkling freshwater lochs.

It is no surprise we are regularly voted one of the most desirable places to live in the world!

These entry requirements are for the 2024/25 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2025/26 academic year will be published on 1 Oct 2024.

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

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

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 with at least 6.0 in each component. We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 100 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 185 with at least 169 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with passes in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 70 with at least 59 in each component.

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, Trinity ISE or PTE, 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 (non-MESC).

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than five years old* at the beginning of your programme of study. (*Revised 05 March 2024 to extend degree validity to five years.)

Find out more about our language requirements:


If you receive an offer of admission you will need to pay a deposit to secure your place.

  • £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.

The programme fees will cover costs of travel, accommodation and subsistence on compulsory field trips. However, you must pay for incidental or personal expenses. This may include suitable outdoor clothing and footwear.

Living costs

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

Tuition fees

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
MScMarine Systems and Policies1 YearFull-timeTuition fees
MScMarine Systems and Policies2 YearsPart-timeTuition fees
MScMarine Systems and Policies3 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

Featured funding

(Revised 05 February 2024 to add 'ScottishPower Master Scholarships' to the featured funding section)

School of GeoSciences scholarships

Scholarships and student funding

You can find funding opportunities, tuition fees and costs of living for prospective UK and international postgraduate students on the University website.

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

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 for this programme, we operate on a series of selection deadlines.

We strongly recommend you apply as early as possible. Applications may close earlier than the published deadlines if there is exceptionally high demand.

We may make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis. However, the majority of applications will be held until the advertised deadline.

We aim to make the majority of decisions within eight 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
  • your application is still being considered, it will be carried forward for consideration in the next selection deadline, and we’ll be in touch once a decision is made

The final deadline may be extended if any places remain on the programme.

Selection Deadlines

Round Application Deadline Decisions made or applications rolled to next deadline
1 15 December 1 March
2 31 March 31 May
3 31 May 31 July

You must submit one reference with your application.

Please submit a CV/Resume with your application. Find out more about writing a suitable CV:

Failure to submit all required documents will prevent the Admissions team from considering you for a place on the programme. It may also delay the decision on your application beyond the stated deadline.

We advise you do not apply to more than one programme.

Where possible, we may make an alternative programme offer if you have been unsuccessful in your chosen programme.

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