MSc in Ecosystem-based Management of Marine Systems

General information

The Ecosystem-Based Management of Marine Systems MSc course is jointly organised and delivered by two internationally renowned organisations: The Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI) at the University of St Andrews and the Scottish Marine Institute at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) at Oban on the Scottish west coast.

Students study marine environments from the tropics to polar regions as integrated systems, exploring interconnections between the physical environment, biodiversity and the impacts of human activity and resource use. This holistic approach provides a superior understanding of ecosystem goods and services and of how to protect and manage marine systems.

Course highlights

  • The programme is run jointly by two internationally renowned organisations: the Scottish Oceans Institute and the Scottish Association of Marine Science.
  • The programme takes a holistic approach to understanding ecosystem goods and services, and how to protect and manage marine systems.
  • All students have the exciting opportunity to conduct field work and training on board the SAMS vessel Calanus. Students may also take optional courses in either Antarctica or Indonesia (requiring additional payment of a substantial expedition fee).
  • The course provides strong preparation for future employment: 77% of the 2015 graduate now have a job or PhD studentship that is directly related to their studies in marine ecosystem management during the EMMS year.

Teaching format

Students spend the first semester of the taught component at the  Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI)at the University of St Andrews and the second semester at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) on the Scottish west coast.

The modular curriculum is designed to be coherent, providing an excellent integrated training for future careers in marine management or scientific research.Teaching takes the form of lectures, tutorials, discussions, debates and workshops. Practicals involve laboratory work, field excursions, modelling and computer-based data analysis. Class sizes range from 5 to 30 students, depending on the activity. There is a strong focus on small-group teaching so that students are individually supported and can ask for help when it is needed.

In Semester 2 there are optional field courses: a polar field course in Antarctica or a tropical scientific diving course in Indonesia.

From May to August, students focus solely on their research project, which can be undertaken at either SOI or SAMS, leading to the submission of a 15,000-word dissertation.  

Further particulars regarding curriculum development.


The modules in this programme have varying methods of delivery and assessment. For more details of each module, including weekly contact hours, teaching methods and assessment, please see the latest module catalogue.

Semester 1 modules (taught at SOI) At SOI, students follow a coherent course of modules that provide sound training in essential skills for ecosystem-based management.

Semester 2 modules (taught at SAMS) At SAMS, students combine a compulsory module in Research Methods with a choice from optional modules.

  • Marine Systems Research Methods: training in a variety of methods used in sampling the marine environment, as well as in the writing of a formal research funding proposal. This module involves elements of field data collection in the local area and laboratory analysis.

Students choose two optional modules from the following. These modules require a minimum number of participants to be offered. Further particulars regarding curriculum development.

  • Advanced Modelling: an advanced course building on the basic concepts of system modelling, including physical circulation models, individual and population-based spatial models and ecosystem modeling techniques.
  • Marine Management, Policy and Planning: the issues surrounding the management of marine resources. As part of the assessment for this course, students develop an in-depth plan for a local area, gaining valuable experience of the approaches and problems of the emerging field of marine spatial planning.
  • Professional Skills: covers project and time management, how to review, read and write a scientific paper, and how to promote your research to the public.
  • Predator Ecology in Polar Ecosystems: field course located in southern Argentina and Antarctica (requires payment of expedition fee); or Scientific Diving: field course located in Indonesia (requires suitable diving qualifications and payment of expedition fee). 

The modules listed ran in the academic year 2015-2016 and are indicative of this course. There is no guarantee that these modules will run for 2016 entry.

Take a look at the most up to date modules in the module catalogue.

Research project and dissertation

During the final four months of the course, students complete a research project culminating in the presentation of a written 15,000-word dissertation. This provides important training in lab, field and analytical methods, and also in scientific writing skills. Students can choose from a range of projects suggested by supervisors and also take an active role in designing their own project plan. Training in proposal writing is provided in Semester 2 during the lead-up to the project itself.

See previous project topics.

If students choose not to complete the dissertation requirement for the MSc, there is an exit award available that allows suitably qualified candidates to receive a Postgraduate Diploma. By choosing an exit award, you will finish your degree at the end of the second semester of study and receive a PGDip instead of an MSc.

Learning outcome:

After the MSc:

  • Research degrees.
    About one third of our students progress to further study at PhD level in the UK and elsewhere. PhD students at the School of Biology at St Andrews have the opportunity to undertake a research degree in their chosen subject area where research interests span the breadth of biological science.
    PhD studentships are offered by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). 
  • Careers.
    The aim is that our graduates will be part of the next generation of managers and marine scientists delivering integrated ecosystem management around the world. 77% of the 2015 EMMS graduates now have a job or PhD studentship that is directly related to their studies in marine ecosystem management.
    Graduates of the course have gone on to take up careers in government agencies, environmental consultancies and the commercial marine sector both within the UK and abroad. 
Contact Person: Katrina Gatherum & Louise Docherty (MRes Secretaries) (


The highlighted icons, represent the fields of education (in compliance with ISCED Classification) engaged during this course/programme.


Venue: University of St. Andrews
St Andrews, United Kingdom

1st semester: SOI, St. Andrews
2nd semester: SAMS, Oban
3rd semester: choice of location (SOI and/or SAMS)



The University will clarify compulsory fees and charges it requires any student to pay at the time of offer. The offer will also clarify conditions for any variation of fees. The University’s approach to fee setting is described online. (PDF, 84 KB). 

Scot/EU students: £6.800

Overseas students: £19.400


A good 2.1 undergraduate Honours degree in a relevant natural science. Applications are welcome from students with backgrounds in biology or marine science, and also from students of physics and engineering. Some undergraduate modules or training in mathematics and statistics is highly desirable.

If you studied your first degree outside the UK, see the international entry requirements.

If you require a visa to study, see visas information.

English language proficiency. See English language tests and qualifications.

Application Procedure:

Applications for 2016 entry are now closed. Please check back for applications information for 2017 entry.

Application requirements:

For more guidance, see supporting documents and references for postgraduate taught programmes. 

Grant Opportunities:

​St Andrews graduates who have graduated during the last three years are eligible for a Recent Graduate Discount, which offers a 10% discount on tuition fees.


Academic level: Master


Each module will be assessed  by continuous assessment which may include projects, essays, computational exercises or presentations. For some modules there is also an examination.

Qualification: Master of Science
Occupations (not validated):
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