A review of River Management MSc courses

This article was amended on 04th April to include courses at Leeds and Kings, as well as bursary information where this is readily provided by universities.

If you want to forge a career as a professional in the water management industry it is almost a prerequisite to have a higher education qualification and increasingly this means a further (masters) degree in addition to a B.Sc.

The good news for people who want to work with rivers, but who don’t possess a relevant first degree is most M.Sc. or M.Eng courses will only be interested that you have a decent first degree (usually a 2:1) and the money to pay the fees, i.e. you can probably get on a hydrology masters with a 2:1 in economics, a good CV and a solid covering letter. With a bit of work experience &  a good covering letter most courses will probably accept you with a 2:2 (the key here is to either apply very early when the course will be empty, or very late (August) when they are panicking about filling the numbers!)

A problem for people wanting to get into the water industry is the baffling range of masters courses and the frankly opaque names they go by. This is a particular problem if you are not coming from a relevant first degree. This post is an attempt to summarise most of the masters courses out there that would be suitable for a career in river management.  I have not included masters by research, or courses focusing on groundwater or other watery things not directly related to surface water processes. I have also missed out some courses with terrible websites – there are a lot to analyse and unfortunately the time taken to do this precludes hunting around for information that is not well displayed (My summary, my rules!)

There are two broad areas in which water management are taught; geography/environmental science and engineering. Generally speaking the potential career paths will be different depending on what area you study a masters in, furthermore you can expect to be assessed primarily with essays in geography and primarily with reports and numeric short answer papers in engineering with more maths.

Courses are listed in no particular order.

Geographical Masters Courses

Dundee – Sustainable Catchment Management (£3,300)

A course targeted towards delivery of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), featuring a broad range of modules including; sustainable catchment management, environmental quality, flooding & sustainable flood management, aquatic ecosystems, water law, hydro power.

My verdict – there is a lot to like about this course with a lot of the broad issues a river manager needs to be aware of covered. There doesn’t seem to be any geomorphology and/or river restoration specifically and I can’t see much on the human uses of catchments, i.e. no water treatment, waste water treatment, also doesn’t seem to be too much on fundamental theory of surface water flow, which could leave some knowledge gaps. I think this one is solid for a river management career, but probably not for working in a technical career in water engineering or something like river restoration.

Birmingham – River Environments & their Management (£5,130)

A course targeted towards the WFD with a broad scope covering a variety of river management policy areas. Modules include: Surface water hydrology + groundwater interactions, biogeochemical cycling, river assessment & biomonitoring, river ecology, fluvial geomorphology, river restoration, river water quality management & advances in water science, as well as a group project with an industry partner.

My verdict – this is a broad course that has a lot to recommend it for an aspiring river manager or environmental consultant. I like that there is focus on ecology, geomorphology and water chemistry as well as more practical modules such as river restoration and monitoring. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal on fundamental theory of water flow (although hydrology is covered) and not a lot on water/waste water treatment so this course would appeal more to someone looking to work in environmental consultancy, as opposed to say water supply (however see the Birmingham engineering MSc below). There is also quite a bit a focus on research so would be suitable for a potential research career as well.

Leeds – River Basin Dynamics with GIS (£5,100) – Full bursaries available

This course is accredited by CIWEM which adds a certain prestige. The course is structured with some compulsory modules and some optional ones, seeming like in a typical course you would spend about 50% of time on each. They have a handy course map showing how you might put these together, and from these it is fairly clear they’d expect you to either go down a very intensive GIS route, or stick to a little bit of GIS and take all the theory modules. In a way it seems like two master’s courses rolled into one.

My verdict – this looks like a really solid course, as a field based geomorphologist I’m always going to be bias away from the GIS heavy route! However this could be very good for someone looking to go into flood modelling with a consultancy for example. Hydrology & ecology look well covered in the other route, but I have to trust that their “Issues and Skills for River Basin Dynamics and Management” 30 cred module would have the requisite geomorphology theory to stand you in good stead for working in river restoration for example. This course looks a good option for environmental consultancy & water companies.

Oxford – Water Science Policy & Management (£10,300)

This course seems to focus on things like politics, pressures, water supply and management, possibly including stuff on developing countries and challenges.

My verdict – I have to confess I’ve no real idea what this course is about. I’m a water researcher and I don’t understand half the jargon in a 3min skim read, I might be being unfair, but there are lot of master courses out there to review… Being cynical its Oxford so that will look good on your CV. More than double the fees of most other courses.

Surrey – Water regulations & management/water & environmental engineering (£6,250)

Another pair of course which are very similar with a couple of different core modules to differentiate themselves. Modules feature; environmental health, water/waste water treatment, regulation and management, drinking water supply, applied chemistry and microbiology.

My verdict – I suspect these are two of a suite of courses with modules taught across a range of masters courses, this means some modules may have too much of a generalist environmental focus, rather than specifically on water. Probably courses that would be useful for people looking to go into a more general environmental career, I think there are better specific courses out there.

Queen Mary’s – Environmental Science: Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments (£?,???)

This course has more of an ecological focus than many others and features modules; hydrological, hydromorphic, geomorphology, aquatic systems & function, biochemistry, catchment hydrology, hydrogeomorphology.

My verdict – although ostensibly about ecology there is plenty of geomorphology in addition to plenty of multidisciplinary modules. There doesn’t seem to be much water resources/human management focus, more on the fundamental systems governing aquatic ecology. For that reason it is probably most suitable for people looking to go into ecological management, maybe river restoration, biodiversity, etc, rather than holistic river management.

Glasgow – Freshwater system science (£4450)

This is a broad course offering modules on coastal & estuarine processes, hydroecology, climate change, freshwater sampling & ecology as well GIS and modelling options.

My verdict – a solid course for people looking to go into careers in river management particularly with an ecological focus, a GIS model is always helpful. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of geomorphology and no inclusion of water supply/management so will restrict potential career paths to more environmental rather than management ones.

Lancaster – Sustainable Water Management (£6,500) – limited 50% scholarships

This course offers 6 modules and students pick 4 from them; sustainable water management, lake ecology, groundwater resources, modelling environmental processes, flood forecasting, catchment processes.

My verdict –  this course seems to be a real mixed bag, if I was being very harsh I would say it is informed by the specialisms of department staff rather than a designed strategy, there seems little link between the six options. A focus on specifically lake ecology seems strange, as does groundwater resource but no obvious surface water resources. I’m sceptical that this course is delivering a syllabus focused on employability in specific sectors.

Cranfield – Environmental Water Management (£?,???)

Cranfield seem to have reorganised their masters courses this year and this one seem to have previously been part of another programme. There is broad focus on hydrology and processes and the interactions with settlement with modules; hydrology (inc groundwater), water quality monitoring, soil & plant science, modelling hydrology, flood risk management, policy design, environmental management of rivers & wetlands.

My verdict – a seemingly well designed course with a solid focus that makes it suitable for aspiring river managers, a specific mention of wetlands in the modules makes it unique in all courses I’ve looked into.

King’s College London – Aquatic Resource Management (£9,000)

On first look at the title this course seems a good match to river management, but the information on the course is a bit hard to navigate. It differs from most other courses (in the geography set) in the dissertation seems to be a project report from a placement, but the placement is based around a research project. The majority of the modules (5/6) are compulsory and revolve around management of various aspects of water (marine, estuaries, etc) with assessment and field skills.

An alumni of this course, Tom Liffen, has left a comment below with his positive experience of this course – see Comments.

My Verdict – it is really hard to tell from the information how much of the course is theory and how much is practical application. My gut feeling is this is targeted a little more toward the water industry than other courses in this group and I haven’t found it possible in a look at the info how much you learn about fundamental hydrology, ecology & geomorphology. My gut feeling is focus mainly on management issues. This could be a very employable course, but depending on your motivations for doing an MSc it might not be a good fit.

Engineering Masters Courses

Imperial – Hydrology & Water Resources Management (£?,???)

Long running course since 1955 in various guises. Taught mainly in engineering with associated focus – flood estimation, hydraulic engineering of structures, meteorology, fluid mechanics, geology, urbanisation & irrigation.

My verdict – looks solid for career in flood consultancy, water engineering consultancy, engineering related research. It is missing geomorphology, ecology, water chemistry, so probably not ideal for more holistic river management jobs.

Newcastle – Hydrology & Climate Change/Hydroinfomatics (£6,000)

One of many universities offering a range of MSc courses with slight module differences. In this case they both feature; hydrosystems processes, management & modelling, basic climate change, integrated river basin management, flood modelling. The hydrology one features GIS & more climate changes; the hydroinfomatics one offers hydroinfomatics & groundwater modelling.

My verdict – There are some interesting features here, I’d say the Hydrology one is a better all-round option. Similar career paths and strengths to the Imperial one (above), the integrated river basin management sounds useful. I’m not sure two full modules on climate change is worth it – river managers rarely have the luxury of planning 25/50/100years into the future, so perhaps more focus on processes might be more useful. No geomorphology, ecology, water chemistry

Loughborough – Water & Environmental Management/Water & waste water engineering (£5,000) – scholarships & bursaries available

These are engineering based masters, with quite a few credits on sanitation (which I am guessing will be drinking water treatment and waste water treatment), management of water utilities and integrated water resources management. The second course offers options on water distribution and waste water management.

My verdict – Another solid engineering based course, but note the inclusion of “environmental” in the first title; I think this is significant implying a more holistic approach to the cycle of water use in human settlements. However there is no getting away from the fact this course is almost exclusively civil engineering water management .Suitable for a career in water treatment, supply, etc, but probably not the best for general river management.

Birmingham – Water Resources Technology & Management (£4,600)

Engineering based masters, focusing on the supply and treatment of water related to human settlement, with a substantial amount of basic theory on water flow, hydraulics etc. Also includes groundwater flow, river flow software, water in the environment and an industrial placement.

My verdict – I think this is a very good course for employability in the water industry. Focusing on civil engineering application of water and not explicitly including anything on river management or river structural engineering, but looks very solid on basic theory of fluid mechanics, surface water flow, etc, which I think makes up for some missing specifics.

Exeter – Urban Water Systems (£4,300)

Engineering based masters focusing on water supply and distribution within urban settlements.

My verdict – probably only suitable for a career working within the water supply/treatment industry.

Bristol – Water & Environmental Management (?,???)

This course is trying to cover a lot of bases with a wealth of optional modules which are tacked onto a core of four environmental management modules; Environmental management, policy & regulation, quality and systems. Relevant options include: potable water treatment, river engineering, sustainable water supply in developing countries, waste water treatment, water pollution prevention, water resources.

My verdict – I think there might be better targeted courses out there, it looks to me as though this might be one of suite of masters courses based around a similar framework. The most worrying thing is the optional modules are subject to sufficient interest, so you might not be able to do the ones you want. Little if any specific river management modules, so probably suited to someone looking to get into a generic water civil engineering career.

Belfast – Water resources management (£4,200)

A course that is focused on engineering and policy related to supply of water. Modules feature: water chemistry, engineering hydrology, hydrogeology, water resources management, coastal engineering, environmental legislation, GIS, water/waste water treatment.

My verdict – Although an engineering based degree this one features enough generalist and environmental modules to allow a bit more variety in potential career paths than some other engineering ones. The addition of coastal engineering and water chemistry is useful, and GIS experience is invaluable.

Brighton – Water & Environmental Management (£4200)

This course has a core focus on the management of water resources for settlement with modules; treatment technology, water resource management, quantitative techniques and water quality analysis. There are then optional modules on hydrogeology, hydrology, environmental impact assessment, ecology & GIS.

My verdict – this course has an engineering and water supply/management focus, but the modules seem to offer a good path into environmental/engineering consultancy, perhaps more than some other water resource engineering courses. As with similar ones there is little geomorphology or river management.

Missing Courses

If there are any courses I have missed, or if you feel I have got the contents wrong on any of the reviewed courses then please leave us a comment below.  If you have found this helpful please leave a comment to say which masters you applied for!

(NB: minor amendments will be made “invisibly” without leaving an audit trail of revisions).

This entry was posted in Ecology, Geomorphology, Hydrology, River Management, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to A review of River Management MSc courses

  1. Tim longstaff says:

    Nice article. However, you missed MSc Aquatic Resource Management at Kings College London.

    • Simon Dixon says:

      Thanks for the comment Tim.

      There are a few I unintentionally missed and I think this strikes at the heart of the issue of no standardised language in the river management “industry”. Part of the motivation for the article was my frustrating experience of looking for a masters course on rivers a few years ago. Without having the ‘privileged language’ at my finger tips many courses didn’t make sense to me. To compound thing, some, if not most, have changed their names since then as well!

      I’m sure its a great course; Kings is a good uni, but ‘aquatic resource management’ is a terribly opaque name!! Brings to mind “waste relocation technician” (binman) and “technical horticultural maintenance engineer” (gardener). I’d be suspicious it was a masters in cleaning drains!

      Despite my flippancy I’ll endeavour to make some additions with the courses missed off.

      • Simon Dixon says:

        And I know one of the others missing is Catchment Dynamics at Leeds – also on the list of revisions.

    • Trevor Bond says:

      Tim I don’t know if you’d be able to provide a quick summary that we could add to the post?

      I think we’d welcome any input from individuals who have first-hand experience of these courses.

      • Tim Longstaff says:

        I took the MSC Aquatic Resource Management course in 2009-2010. I was attracted to it as it was a good blend of practical and theory. It covers marine, estuarine and freshwater aspects. The chance to do a placement in the industry for my dissertation was invaluable especially as I was changing career. I worked at the EA in Fisheries looking at Fish Passage issues and had a great time. The course inspired me to work in urban river restoration and is a big part of why I am working as a Catchment Project Officer at the Wandle Trust today.
        The post course employment rate has always been very good and was one of the things that attracted me to it too. I bump into ARM alumni everywhere, especially at the Environment Agency. Of my cohort, people ended up in PhDs, consultancies, the Environment Agency (and it’s equivalent in other countries), Thames Water, Rivers Trusts etc… I actually deal with a number of them in my day to day work which is fun!
        I still have links with the course and hosted a placement student last year.

  2. Simon Dixon says:

    Courses from King’s and Leeds have been added now. Thanks to Tim and others who pointed out the omissions.

  3. A nice post that I am sure will be useful to many.

    Regarding the Aquatic Resource Management (ARM) course at King’s, I think it has a broad title because it provides a real diversity of opportunities to its students. The best thing is the placement in the final term, where students typically go off to work for the EA, a consultancy, a water company, or Defra in my case. The placement will often lead to job offers.

    I can’t comment on the quality of the course now, as there have been a number of changes in personnel and funding, but in the past it has served its students very well. It’s rare for me to go to a training course, meeting, or conference, and not meet ARM alumni. I suspect you may be right that the course covers more applied issues, by comparison to many of the others you list, but from my cohort I would estimate that nearly half of the students went on to work for the EA, 1/4 did a Ph.D, 1/4 went into consultancy, and the remainder are dotted around at places like Cefas, Defra, and CEH.

    Also, the M.Sc at Queen Mary is titled ‘Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments’, not Ecology as stated above.

    Again, a really interesting and useful post. Thanks for taking the time to compile it.

    • Simon Dixon says:

      Thanks Tom! This sort of first hand account is fantastic feedback for potential students, I can only give a potted account of the courses above so testimonials in the comments is a great way to get some more depth.

      Its good you mention the high employment rate from a lot of these courses in careers directly related to the MSc. Emphasises that a river management MSc is a good career option.

  4. Bioscience departments with strong freshwater research records also offer Masters options. At Cardiff, our MRes route is directly research and experience oriented (3 months taught/9 months research) rather than having more substantial taught components that could risk overlap with final year modules. I’d welcome informal enquiries from anyone who wanted to link through this route with our long-term/large-scale freshwater research http://courses.cardiff.ac.uk/postgraduate/course/detail/p030.html http://nerc-duress.org/ http://llynbrianne-lter.org/

    • Simon Dixon says:

      Thanks for the comment Steve; an MRes is an important component/option. I’d endorse such a route for someone that is thinking of doing a PhD, or wants to move into a research orientated field. Indeed there is a strong argument that the transferable skills that you gain doing an MRes put someone in a stronger position in the general (non-water) jobs market than an MSc/MEng where the outcomes are possibly more in specific applied knowledge/techniques which may not translate as well to applying for more general positions.

  5. Anon says:

    Queen Mary, “Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments” alumnus here; I just came across this blog having seen the ‘geomorphic effects of river dredging’ post in light of the Somerset Levels situation (a very good post, I must say).

    Just feel I should point out that the QMUL MSc course is not really as ecologically-focussed as you make it out to be. Granted, there’s a definite undertone of ecological consideration throughout, but in fact, what struck me when I first applied was the heavy geomorphological focus, and as a geomorphologist at heart this appealed to me. Although there’s scope to specialise, there’s only one specialist ecology module. Obviously it’s heavily interlinked with the ecology, but it’s really geomorphic/sedimentary dynamics that’s the main focus of this MSc.

    There’s also a GIS component in the Data Analysis module – including geomorphic/hydrological modelling (which can be developed in the dissertation); two modules which look at flood/groundwater management and SUDs; and one on biogeochemistry module.

    Just thought I’d clarify – it’s a very broad MSc which incorporates just about every environmental aspect of river management.

    • Simon Dixon says:

      Fantastic! Thanks a lot for the input, I did think with the strong ecohydrology/ecomorphology group at QMUL there logically should be a good grounding in geomorphology in the course. But having a good group doesn’t necessarily mean any of them teach on it!!
      Great to get first hand user testimony. Thanks again.

  6. Paul Tweed says:


    Thanks for the round up, which I found very useful. I am particularly looking for courses with a flexible study program I can do alongside my job. The only one I have found so far is Sheffield University’s MSc in Urban Water Engineering & Management, but I’m worried it might be a bit too biased towards water supply and treatment where my interests are flooding and urban restoration.

    Any pointers gratefully received

    • Simon Dixon says:

      Hi Paul, glad you found the post useful and apologies for the delay in replying. Whilst I think you might be right that the Sheffield one is targeted towards the water industry I would expect that it would have a fair amount of flood water management content from the title. Looking at this page here:
      The top two are a prerequisite anything to do with water – foundation stuff and very useful. Then the next three I would guess are focusing on monitoring open channels, possibly in connection to urban drainage – i.e. storm water and treated waste water discharge. So kit and processes for assessing rivers.
      It looks to me as if the middle four in the second set are all about planning and management of rivers; the tools you’d use etc.
      In some ways it is easier to see what seems to be missing and that would be a specific focus on river restoration. I don’t think you’ll find many courses that have more than this one on flooding. Not to say it is comprehensive by any means, but my feeling is that in all MSc’s it is only ever going to be 10-20 credits.

      Having said all that Adam (one of the other contributors to the blog) is doing a PhD in Sheffield on “daylighting” urban rivers, which is restoring culverts to open channels etc. So there is a presence in that institution which seems to link well to your interests.

      My advice would be to try and go to an open day and have a chat with them, it may be that you can focus your dissertation on something you are really interested in and that might make up for the modules not matching up perfectly to your aims. It’s also worth speaking to other unis if you have seen a course you like the look of, but don’t say they do flexible learning. Often they may not properly advertise it, or the fact you are keen might mean they could put together something bespoke for you.

      Good Luck!

  7. Paul Tweed says:

    Thanks for the reply, I will take your advice and go along to talk to someone.

  8. Rachel says:

    Really useful post, Simon, as someone currently on the look-out for a river-focused master. It being 2014 now, are you aware of any distance learning courses in this field?

    Also, out of interest, what is the male:female ratio in the river management world?


    • Simon Dixon says:

      Hi Rachel

      Glad you found the post useful. I am not aware of any courses which are distance learning at the moment. However if a particular course suits you from a content point of view it is always worth speaking to the course convenor, as sometimes they are a lot more flexible about things than is advertised on the websites. This is certainly true of part-time learning, so may be the case for distance learning as well.

      As for the male:female ratio in river management, my impression is it is fairly even. My experience from master’s courses is about 50:50 or 60:40 male:female. In academia (as with all natural sciences sadly) the ratio starts off fairly even at doctoral level and then tails off alarmingly as you approach professor grade, with very few professors (especially given the number of women starting PhDs).

      In industry my impression is again a fairly even split. Certainly my contacts within industry are probably more female than male. I would say it is not a field where being a woman is any cause for remark or in any way unusual, and from my reading of the field is no barrier to success.


  9. James Ball says:

    Hi Simon,
    I’m a final year geography undergraduate at the University of Birmingham and have started looking at masters courses with a view to working in the water industry. Do you happen to know how ecology-based the ‘River Environments & their Management’ course is? Whilst I have enjoyed the ecology modules I have taken so far, I am more interested in hydrology and river management. I would like to continue studying at Birmingham, providing I feel the course is right.
    Many thanks,

    • Simon Dixon says:

      Hi James
      I took the REM masters in 2008, but it has changed quite a bit since then, with a bit less focus on the pure hydrology and the water supply/treatment industry (it is pretty much the same course now as I reviewed above though). Very broadly speaking the modules for next year look like they break down (out of 120crd), 20 on hydrology, 10 ecology, 10 geomorphology, 20 water chemistry, 20 modelling, 10 river restoration, 30 on research type subjects (recent research, techniques, etc).

      It depends on what sort of career you are after, the REM masters has a good track record of people going onto do PhDs (at unis all over the country), and would be good for going into quite practical environmental consultancy/working for EA/DEFRA etc and/or doing something with river restoration/management. I don’t think there is a great deal of GIS though, so there may well be better courses out there if you know you want to go into something like flood modelling which is very GIS heavy. Likewise if you are interested in the water supply industry there will be more suitable courses (possibly the one over in Bham Civ Eng!) However don’t forget a 3rd of the course is the dissertation so you can use that to get extra skills like GIS through (I did a computer modelling dissertation using a gemomorphological model).

      Drop me an email at my Birmingham address if you want any further advice (just search for me on the internal address book – rather not post my email here!)


  10. Pingback: River Management Career Profiles | The River Management Blog

  11. Alex Henshaw says:

    Hi Simon

    Just found your blog while updating of some of the online marketing materials for our MSc Environmental Science: Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments at Queen Mary University of London. Good idea to collate all of this information as I know it can be tricky for students in this area to make an informed decision! We’ve revised our programme over the past couple of years so thought I’d add a summary in case any of your readers are interested.

    – New programme web site: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/postgraduate/coursefinder/courses/121459.html
    – Main topics covered: river assessment methods; river management and restoration; flood risk management and modelling; monitoring and management of pollutants, nutrient levels and greenhouse gas emissions in aquatic systems; catchment science and policy in practice
    – links with environmental agencies/industry through Advisory Board and summer research projects with partners
    – Fees and funding: £6450 (Home/EU students), School of Geography and Worshipful Company of Water Conservators bursaries available
    – Part-time and PGCert options available for those who want to combine work and study



  12. kamilia says:

    Hi Simon:
    Thank you so very much for this pretty useful post.
    Can I ask you please let me know if I want to continue for a master, mainly focusing on flooding risk, then, is there any chance I can find Queen Mary course something on my interest?
    Thanks in advance for your time and reply.


  13. James says:

    First and foremost thank you for compiling this list. As a Bsc Environment hazards graduate, and Fishery management Btec graduate with approaching 3 years of practical experience working for a company responsible for delivery of various projects for the EA, Natural England and civil engineers on our waterways, what opportunities are available for further learning around river and coastal engineering in a part time capacity?

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