Postgraduate study

Soils and Sustainability MSc

Awards: MSc

Study modes: Full-time

Funding opportunities

I wanted to study something that was a little bit more specific and would give me some specialist knowledge when I completed the course. This programme was the best of both worlds, it gave me both specific knowledge and an insight into the wider environmental world. I’ve had a great time in Edinburgh, thoroughly enjoyed it, I think one of the reasons I’m considering doing a PhD in the future is that I’ve had so much fun.

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 and therefore play a crucial role in climate change regulation, which has gained increasing international attention in recent years.

The 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 the role and effective management of soils 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 every 5 seconds, the equivalent of one football field of soil is eroded. 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 and are under increasing attention to contribute to climate regulation through carbon sequestration.

Soils and sustainable land use are also vital in terms of providing important habitats to support biodiversity.

Through effective management, soils can contribute to flood regulation and buffer pollutant transfers to local watercourses influencing water quality.

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
  • heterogeneity and classification
  • soil functions and ecosystem services
  • soil contamination and remediation *the key management strategies to promote and conserve soil health and sustainable soil systems

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.

How will I learn?

The programme places a strong emphasis on varied teaching approaches for both theoretical understanding and the development of practical skills through 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 you enhance your knowledge and skillset with valuable real-world experience.

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC)

This programme is delivered in collaboration with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

You will not only benefit from being a fully matriculated student at the University of Edinburgh, but also access to the expert staff and resources at SRUC. Upon successful completion of the programme, you will be awarded your degree by The University of Edinburgh.

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 research 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.

By studying the MSc Soils and Sustainability, you will:

  • acquire 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.

This need is rising higher and higher on the political agenda spanning local and international governmental bodies globally as well as 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 finding answers, solutions and future strategies 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, training as well as links to UK and international soil scientists.

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 Soils and Sustainability includes a unique residential field trip*, where you 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.

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.

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 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

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

SRUC alumni discount

The SRUC alumni discount aims to encourage SRUC graduates to take up opportunities to study on taught masters (MSc) degree programmes run by SRUC in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh by providing a financial contribution towards the programme tuition fees to eligible applicants.

We will inform 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 contact the Programme Administrator.

*(Revised 26 March 2021 to remove information on SRUC bursary as this is no longer offered.)

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:

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

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

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