Postgraduate study

Marine Systems & Policies

Awards: MSc

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding available

Programme website: Marine Systems & Policies

Rapid climate change and the global expansion of human activities threaten the world’s oceans. The QS World University Rankings 2019 placed the University 18th in the world, and our unique Marine Systems & Policies programme stands out from others. Our core courses and skills development opportunities truly embrace integrated approaches to understanding the science, policies and practice of achieving sustainable ocean development.

For 2019/20, the programme has been re-designed to ensure students are equipped with a fully interdisciplinary understanding and the skills needed to develop science, policy and in-practice solutions to the challenge of changing oceans.

The programme breadth spans three spheres of marine systems:

  • Marine ecosystems – exploring 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;

  • Marine policy – examining different systems of ocean governance from codes of conduct to legally binding regional to international policies, marine planning, area-based management tools, to customs and traditional knowledge;

  • Marine built systems – exploring how the ‘blue economy’ including resource exploitation and infrastructure development affect marine species and ecosystems, and the practical management frameworks that aim for sustainable ocean development including marine spatial planning.

This programme involves two semesters of taught courses, a field trip and dissertation research project with room for optional courses for a more bespoke experience.

Core Courses

Marine Systems and Policies; Corals in a Changing Ocean; Marine Infrastructure and Environmental Change; Marine Field Methods in Research and Practice; Research Project in Marine Systems and Policies.

Example Optional Courses

In consultation with the Programme and Deputy Director, you can choose from a range of optional courses including: International Law of the Sea; International Law of the Marine Environment; Human Dimensions of Environmental Change and Sustainability; Ecology of Ecosystem Services; Ecosystem Values; Analysing the Environment; Environmental Valuation; Foundations in Ecological Economics; Applications in Ecological Economics; Water Resource Management; Principles of Geographic Information Science; Principles and Practice of Remote Sensing.

Dissertation Research Project

Students will undertake a research project on a topic of his or her choice to fulfill degree requirements. Students have the flexibility to choose a research topic from marine science, practice or policy, and there will be several opportunities to meet with potential local and international hosts and agencies to exchange ideas and receive project supervision.

Examples of past MSc projects include:

  • Spatio-temporal Distribution of Blue Sharks (Prionace glauca) in the North Atlantic Ocean: an Analysis of Population Structure, Habitat Preference and Fishing Pressure Vulnerability
  • Community-based management of the Artisanal Octopus Fishery in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique
  • Pile Driving Noise during Wind Farm Construction: Comparative Analysis of Noise Mitigation Technologies and Alternative Piling Techniques and Their Applicability in Deep Offshore Developments in Scotland
  • An Analysis of the Complexities faced by Small Island Marine States (SIMS) in Adapting to Climate Change-Induced Sea Level Rise
  • Marine Tourism in the Sea of the Hebrides: Regulation in a Mobile Species Marine Protected Area

Field Trip

An international field trip to a tropical marine system is part of this programme’s Marine Field Methods in Research and Practice compulsory course. The field trip will take place in early January 2019. The trip has previously been to the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and we anticipate this to remain the same for 2019/20.

This MSc provides a strong foundation for work within international agencies, academic research, marine sectors of government bodies, industry, marine focused think-tanks, and NGOs. These employers tell us they seek candidates with an integrated understanding of marine ecosystems, marine planning, regional to international policies, and real-world practice. Our students have gone on to get jobs with UNEP-WCMC, WWF, IUCN and Pew, with many others now studying for their PhDs.

Would you like to know what it’s really like to study at the School of GeoSciences?

Visit our student experience blog where you can find articles, advice, videos and ask current students your questions.

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.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

All applicants must have one of the following qualifications as evidence of their English language ability:

  • an undergraduate or masters degree, that was taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country as defined by UK Visas and Immigration

  • UKVI list of majority English speaking countries

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 (at least 6.0 in each module)

  • TOEFL-iBT: total 100 (at least 20 in each module)

  • PTE(A): total 67 (at least 56 in each of the "Communicative Skills" sections; the "Enabling Skills" sections are not considered)

  • CAE and CPE: total 185 (at least 169 in each module)

  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with a pass in all four components

Degrees taught and assessed in English must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your degree programme. IELTS, TOEFL, Pearson Test of English and Trinity ISE must be no more than two years old at the beginning of your degree programme.*

(*Revised 8/11/2018 to provide more accurate information on English language qualifications expiry dates.)

Find out more about our language requirements:

Applicants receiving an offer of admission, either unconditional or conditional, will be asked to pay a tuition fee deposit of £1,500 to secure their place on the programme.

Any applicants who are required to pay will receive an offer with full details. If there is no information on your offer about the deposit you are not required to pay.

This has to be paid by 31 March for offers made by 1 March, within 28 days for offers made before 30th June and within 14 days for those offers made from 1st July onwards.

Find out more about tuition fees and studying costs:

  • Programme Administrator, Heather Dyson
  • Phone: +44 (0)131 651 7126
  • Email:
  • Programme Director, Dr. Lea-Anne Henry
  • School of GeoSciences
  • Grant Institute
  • James Hutton Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FE

We encourage you to apply at least one month prior to entry so that we have enough time to process your application. If you are also applying for funding or will require a visa then we strongly recommend you apply as early as possible. We may consider late applications if we have places available, but you should contact the relevant Admissions Office for advice first.

You must submit a reference with your application.

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

Further information

  • Programme Administrator, Heather Dyson
  • Phone: +44 (0)131 651 7126
  • Email:
  • Programme Director, Dr. Lea-Anne Henry
  • School of GeoSciences
  • Grant Institute
  • James Hutton Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FE