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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).