Postgraduate study

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 the demand for development with the need to protect the environment?

The 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, and examine the policies in place to protect our coastlines and global ocean.

The programme approaches these challenges through three intrinsically linked areas:


Explore 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.


Examine the built systems of a ‘blue economy’ such as resource exploitation and infrastructure and how they affect marine species and ecosystems. You’ll learn to develop robust practical management frameworks that aim for sustainable ocean development such as marine spatial planning, and environmental impact assessment.


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, as well as the impact of local customs and traditional knowledge.

This innovative programme is taught by world-leading experts in key fields of marine science and policy. It also has excellent relationships with a variety of organisations from local communities through to government, industry and academia. This network ensures that you not only have access to employers and decision makers who may be able to provide employment opportunities or research projects, but also help you gain valuable real-world experience and effect real change.

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

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


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 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**.


This MSc programme comprises:

  • Compulsory and option courses
  • Dissertation

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 restricted on the basis of numbers, room capacity and timetabling constraints. It may not be possible to guarantee every offer holder their top choice of optional courses*.

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 lectures, tutorials, seminars, workshops, practicals, laboratory work, short field trips and longer field courses.

Part-time study

As we are committed to helping people into education whilst continuing to work or managing family and personal commitments, you may study this programme part-time.

*(Revised 11 December 2019 to include information on optional courses.) **(Revised 1 June 2020 to remove specific number of compulsory and option courses required and to add COVID-19 information.)

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
MSc1 YearFull-timeProgramme structure 2020/21
MSc2 YearsPart-timeProgramme structure 2020/21

You can choose to undertake a research project as an intern for more work-based experiences, and these opportunities are advertised in November each year.

These include working with governments, advisors and NGOs and are great ways to network with industry and decision-makers for future employment.

For even more work-based experience, there are two scholarships covering full tuition fees available for Scottish or EU students to conduct a research project dissertation with the aquaculture industry, and topics can range from animal welfare, to disease and pollution control, to environmental monitoring and regulation.

Please review the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) funding details on our School of GeoSciences Scholarships page.

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 within marine industry, NGOs, and international agencies.

Our graduates are 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, and 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, or working with international conservation agencies to help implement marine policies at the highest level.

Examples of the organisations our graduates have gained employment include the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), United Nations Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Coral Cray 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 and the Pew Foundation.

COVID-19 and field trips

For the academic year 2020-21, the School of GeoSciences will not be undertaking field courses with international destinations, in the best interests for the safety of our students, staff and the community. Alternatives will be provided that enable you to gain the appropriate experience for your degree.

Fieldwork on the UK mainland for the academic year 2020-21 may be changed as the COVID-19 situation unfolds. The School of GeoSciences will follow advice from the University and the Scottish and UK Governments, as the situation develops over the next 12-18 months.

Where suitable, fieldwork will be relocated or rescheduled. We will also look at alternative arrangements such as digital experiences that will ensure you achieve the quality learning outcomes of your degree wherever you are based *.

Field trips

This programme may include a field course, where you will have a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the intersection of environment, development and social issues within a marine setting.

Throughout the programme, you may also benefit from local field trips in Scotland to experience a variety of marine settings. For example, we visit the Berwickshire Marine Reserve about an hour east of Edinburgh, which is an excellent example of a locally managed marine area voluntarily set up by local communities, and is where students can undertake research projects at the new St. Abbs Marine Laboratory.

  • We are pleased to advise that we do not charge extra fees for compulsory field trips. Travel and accommodation costs are covered by your programme. Students will be expected to provide their own snorkel and dive gear.
  • Field course locations may change for a variety of reasons. Any changes to the main destination of the field course will be announced as soon as possible.

*(Revised 1 June 2020 to add information on possible restricted field trips in light of COVID-19.)

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

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 2020 entry we 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.
  • PTE Academic: 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

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

*(Revised 21 February 2020 to remove PTE Academic from 2021 entry requirements. Revised 21 April 2020 to include TOEFL-iBT Special Home Edition in 2020 and 2021 entry requirements.)

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, PTE Academic 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:

Tuition fee deposit

If you receive an offer of admission, either unconditional or conditional, you will be asked to pay a tuition fee deposit of £1,500 to secure your place on the programme.

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 incidental/ personal expenses are to be met by the student. Students will be expected to provide their own snorkel and dive gear.

Tuition fees

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
MSc1 YearFull-timeTuition fees
MSc2 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

School of GeoSciences Scholarships

The Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) offer two fully funded scholarships for MSc Marine Systems & Policies students.

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:

  • 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.

You must submit one reference with your application.

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