Postgraduate study

Marine Systems and Policies MSc

Awards: MSc

Study modes: Full-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 the demand for development with the need to protect the environment?

Our 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 inter-linked perspectives:

1 Science

Explore marine species and ecosystems directly during field trips throughout the year and from our classrooms. We will explore their socioeconomic importance and conservation across marine biomes and habitats 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 as well as the human dimension. You will learn to rigorously critique 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, and the need to integrate local customs and traditional knowledge into policy-making.

Reputation, relevance and employability

Our innovative programme is taught by world-leading experts in key fields of marine science and policy. We also have active links with a variety of organisations, from local communities to government, industry, and academia.

Our network ensures that you have access to employers and decision-makers who may provide employment opportunities or collaboration on dissertation research projects.

We are committed to helping you benefit from our excellent relationships as they help you gain valuable real-world experience to effect real change.

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 shallow sea. The area is also home to nationally important seabird colonies and biodiverse 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

The MSc Marine Systems and Policies is associated with the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI). ECCI brings together 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's it really like to study here?

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

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.

My life has changed a lot since I applied to this MSc. I always knew I wanted to invest my potential into working for something I've always been passionate about: the ocean. The University allowed me to combine my background in law with a general understanding of marine ecosystems and marine science. I got the chance to share with marine biologists, economists, and even fishers! Covid-19 has not impacted my career goals as now more than ever; there is a pressing need to find solutions for sustainable development, especially marine conservation. Valentina DaCosta, MSc Marine Systems and Policies

This MSc programme comprises:

  • compulsory and option courses
  • dissertation

Guest experts from government, industries, and non-government organisations (NGOs) from around the world will often be giving lectures. In addition, we offer several opportunities to network with these experts in person and live online.

Throughout your studies, we will work with you to prepare you for the dissertation project. This will be your opportunity to explore a topic of your choice in relation to the programme and prepare a dissertation that you can use to demonstrate your work to potential employers.

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.

Find out more about compulsory and optional courses

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.

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. These opportunities are advertised in November each year.

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

Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC)

For even more work-based experience, two scholarships are available each year 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.

Potential topics can vary widely. For example, previous projects have included:

  • developing novel impact assessment frameworks for salmon farms
  • critiquing the governance framework of finfish farms
  • dispersal modelling of sea lice treatments
  • sustainable finance for the Scottish shellfish aquaculture sector

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

You will develop a strong understanding of the major drivers of change in the ocean and critical international laws and policy frameworks to govern these ecosystems.

Throughout the year, you will also get the chance to explore basics and advance in practical skills, including field skills (such as snorkelling, transects, species identification) and computer skills (such as Geographical Information Systems, coding using R, habitat mapping, semi-structured interview techniques and 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 and 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 different platforms for data collection from small vessels to large research expeditions, robotics including autonomous systems, and how remote sensing such as multibeam echosounders, drones, and hydrophones enhance observational capacity
  • Gain knowledge of adaptive co-management frameworks. For example, marine protected areas, small-scale fisheries and key ocean planning processes related to industrial development of the ocean and infrastructure such as marine spatial planning, strategic environmental assessment, and environmental impact assessment, including the critical analysis of case studies.
  • Interact with policies related to climate change, maritime boundaries, biodiversity and conservation, including:

    • the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS),
    • the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),
    • the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
    • the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries,
    • the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL),
    • the Barcelona and OSPAR Conventions

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 now 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 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.

Our graduates

Examples of the organisations our graduates have gained employment include:

  • World Wildlife Federation (WWF)
  • United Nations Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
  • 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

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.

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

Our field course takes 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 and execute a field research project.

We typically run an overseas field course for you in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, which is planned for April 2023. However, we will constantly review this location for various reasons.

If we cannot run the course in the Maldives, we will look to relocate the course to a Scotland-based marine field course. This may occur at a nearby marine reserve, and we may also blend some remote field experiences with our Maldivian partners overseas.

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 include trips to the Berwickshire Marine Reserve – the UK’s oldest voluntary marine reserve, where we have a 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 shallow sea. The area is also home to nationally important seabird colonies and biodiverse offshore rocky reef habitats.

In addition, our partnership with St Abbs provides you with opportunities to undertake your dissertation research project.

In the past, we have also had residential field trips to the Firth of Lorn Marine Protected Area, day trips to the Scottish Seabird Centre and even the Dynamic Earth Science Centre right here in Edinburgh to learn about science and public communication.

There are no additional charges for compulsory field trips.

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 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

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 scholarships

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

ScottishPower are providing scholarships for the 2023-2024 academic year to financially support postgraduate students who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree in industry relevant fields such as sustainability, climate change, environmental sciences, energy, big data, information technology and more.

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 31 January 31 March
2 31 March 31 May
3 31 May 31 July

*(Revised 11 November to update selection deadline dates and clarify when decisions on applications will be made.)

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