Postgraduate study

Soils and Sustainability MSc

Awards: MSc

Study modes: Full-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: Soils and Sustainability

After 30 years in business, I was becoming very concerned about the environment. So I decided to make a career change that would allow me to help tackle the problems of climate change and biodiversity loss. The staff were supportive and patient, and I found the enthusiasm and optimism of my fellow students to be highly motivating. Having lived in the countryside all my life, I hoped to make a successful career change and secure work centred around the natural environment and rural communities. I feel extremely fortunate to now find myself in a role that allows me to do just that, working on future rural policy emphasising agriculture.

Angus Leigh MSc Soils and Sustainability
Angus Leigh               MSc Soils and Sustainability

Soil systems are a vital resource.

They provide multiple ecosystem services and are an essential component of food production and food security globally.

Soils can act as both a net sink and net source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Therefore, soils play a crucial role in climate change regulation, which has gained increasing international attention in recent years.

Our MSc Soils and Sustainability is an interdisciplinary programme, providing you with the essential knowledge and advanced skills to make informed decisions on sustainable land practice.

The programme encompasses the fundamentals of soil science and soil's role in wider environmental systems, sustainable land management, and monitoring techniques to evaluate soils' role and effective management in various environmental landscapes and socioeconomic contexts.

The need for sustainable soil systems

Did you know it takes up to 1,000 years to produce just 2-3cm of soil?

Yet the United Nations report that the equivalent of one football field of soil is eroded every 5 seconds. Over 33% of the Earth's soils are already degraded.

Therefore, with a rapidly increasing global population and the threat of climate change, sustainable soil systems will play a vital role in future food security. They are under increasing attention to contribute to climate regulation through carbon sequestration.

Soils and sustainable land use are vital in terms of providing important habitats to support biodiversity. In addition, soils can contribute to flood regulation and buffer pollutant transfers to local watercourses influencing water quality through effective management. Soil environments also provide foundations for infrastructure and cultural heritage.

What will I learn?

The MSc will prepare you for a range of careers in land-based management and environmental protection.

You will explore:

  • Soil formation, functions and ecosystem services
  • Role of soils in mitigating climate change
  • Soil health and causes of degradation
  • Management strategies to promote and conserve soil health and sustainable soil systems
  • Practical skills in soil analysis and surveying

You will learn to interpret data and information on soil physics, biology and chemistry for the preservation and maintenance of soil health and gain a greater understanding of soil biodiversity, ecology and ecosystem services, as well as global-scale issues and threats to soil systems.

The programme places a strong emphasis on varied teaching approaches for both theoretical understanding and practical skills, such as laboratory and field-based activities.

Reputation, relevance and employability

The MSc is delivered by world-renowned experts and researchers across a range of disciplines within the soil and environmental sciences.

You will learn from our academic staff and guest lecturers, who are experts in their respective fields.

This means you will benefit from the most up-to-date research-led knowledge on soils and sustainability, as well as links to other organisations and industries.

During your dissertation project, you will be encouraged to engage and collaborate with a wide network such as government bodies, conservation organisations and consultants.

Not only will this provide you with opportunities to expand your network for employment opportunities or research projects, but also help enhance your knowledge and skillset with valuable real-world experience.

Scotland's Rural College

This programme is delivered in collaboration with Scotland's Rural College (SRUC). You will benefit from being a fully enrolled student at the University of Edinburgh as well as access to all of the complementary staff, expertise, and resources at SRUC. Upon successful completion of the programme, you will be awarded your degree by the University of Edinburgh.

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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' and 'How to apply' 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

Your teaching team will work with you throughout the programme to help prepare and develop your dissertation project. This will be your opportunity to explore a topic of your choice, which will be designed specifically to develop your skill set in relation to your individual interests and career goals. For example, your bespoke project can be developed from your own idea and/or in collaboration with external organisations and/or with current ongoing research conducted at SRUC and the University of Edinburgh.

Your dissertation can incorporate desk- and practical-based skills and methodologies used within the wide-ranging field of sustainable land management that underpin environmental protection, food security and climate change issues that directly relate to current employment opportunities.

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.

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.

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.

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. We will continue to update you on the teaching you can expect throughout your application process.

By studying the MSc Soils and Sustainability, you will:

  • acquire a fundamental understanding of the properties and functions of different soil systems
  • gain knowledge and understanding of the relationship between soil system properties and sustainable land management
  • develop an aptitude for applying soil system knowledge to wider contexts and current issues such as food security and climate change at local and global scales
  • have the opportunity to learn from world-renowned experts and researchers across a range of disciplines within soil and environmental sciences
  • develop skills in project planning, project management, soil sampling, analytical and laboratory techniques, data interpretation and statistical approaches, as well as presenting and professional writing

The need for sustainable soil systems has gained increasing attention in recent years.

Sustainable soils are rising higher and higher on the political agenda spanning local and international governmental bodies globally. In addition, there is increased awareness across agricultural communities, land and forestry managers, commercial businesses striving for more sustainable products, food and industrial and construction sectors and other organisations.

As a graduate of the MSc Soils and Sustainability, you will be equipped with the knowledge of effective soil and land management, which is in high demand.

Graduates are sought to contribute to developing future strategies and identifying solutions for the conservation and enhancement of sustainable land-based systems under the mounting pressures of increasing populations, climate change, food security needs and competition for land and resources.

Soil and environmental scientists with an extensive understanding of soil, land and sustainable environmental management have a broad range of careers available to them across both the private and public sectors.


Throughout the MSc programme, we will support you in developing professional networks across sectors to foster interdisciplinary relationships and opportunities within the current employment landscape.

Our graduates

Our graduates have a strong record in finding employment in the environmental sector globally in roles such as:

  • agricultural and environmental consultancy
  • government and regulatory organisations and policymaking
  • environmental impact assessment and analysis
  • site reclamation and remediation
  • environmental campaigning
  • further research in academia

British Society of Soil Science

The British Society of Soil Science provides information on soil science-based activities, events and training, as well as links to UK and international soil scientists.

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.

The MSc Soils and Sustainability includes a unique residential field trip. You will have the opportunity to conduct primary data collection for soil stability and soil health, as well as wider environmental monitoring skills.

You may also take part in a short field tour during induction week to give you a chance to get to know your fellow students and staff.

There are no additional charges for compulsory 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.

These entry requirements are for the 2023/24 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2024/25 academic year will be published on 2 October 2023.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in biological science, environmental science, physical science, geography, engineering, economics or other relevant subject.

We may also consider a UK 2:2 honours degree, or its international equivalent, with relevant industry experience.

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

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

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 with at least 6.0 in each component.
  • 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 three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

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.

Living costs

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

Tuition fees

Featured funding

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.

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) alumni discount

The SRUC alumni discount aims to encourage SRUC graduates to take up opportunities to study taught masters (MSc). SRUC may provide a financial contribution towards tuition fees for eligible applicants for SRUC programmes delivered in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh.

SRUC will notify you if you are eligible to receive the discount on tuition fees during the application and admissions process. Please tell us on your application if you are a SRUC graduate, as this will help speed up the process. For further information, please get in touch with the Programme Administrator.

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • Scotland's Rural College (SRUC)
  • Peter Wilson Building
  • West Mains Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3JG

We aim to review applications and make selection decisions throughout the cycle.

However, if there is high demand, we may close applications to this programme earlier than the published deadline.

We strongly recommend you apply as early as possible.

This is particularly important for applicants who may need sufficient time to take an English language test or to obtain other supporting documents.

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

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.

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

  • Scotland's Rural College (SRUC)
  • Peter Wilson Building
  • West Mains Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3JG