Course description

The MSc/MPhil course comprises:

  • Seven core modules within three thematic areas which are assessed by written examination;
  • Two electives which are assessed through essays and/or coursework for MSc students, or three electives for MPhil students;
  • A piece of original research which is assessed through a dissertation; and
  • Training in research skills.

Core modules and elective modules are taught in the first two terms, leaving the third term for examinations and dissertation preparation. For full details, see the module outlines in the Annex to the handbook.

Core Modules
Climate & Catchment ProcessesWater Policy, Politics and LawInstitutional Governance & Regulation
Water QualityWater and HealthWater Economics*
 Water Management 
ElectivesResearch SkillsDissertation

For more detailed information on course content, please see the Course Handbook.

Teaching methods and contact hours

The teaching is concentrated in the first two terms. The course is taught through a combination of lectures for core modules, small group teaching for elective courses (maximum class size 10), practical sessions, fieldtrips and study days. In each week, there are approximately 12-14 hours of formal contact time. For core modules, there are normally 8-10 hours of lectures per week, delivered through two-hour lecture sessions. Electives are normally delivered in 4-6 sessions across the term, each lasting 90 minutes to 2 hours. Individual extended reading is an important part of the course programme and up to 3 hours of reading may be set in preparation for each two-hour class. In weeks with fieldtrips or study days, the number of contact hours will be greater.

Core Modules

Water Science - this thematic area develops knowledge and understanding in physical, chemical, ecological and epidemiological aspects of water science in temperate, tropical and semi-arid zones. It provides a foundation in basic processes in each key subject areas, as well as interactions throughout the hydrological cycle, and the role of society in altering the "natural" hydrological processes and function, and the impact this has on health.

Water and Society - this thematic area explores how contested domains of power, interests and knowledge influence water decision-making, illustrated through institutional, socio-economic and policy analysis. This covers areas of water security and governance, law and regulation, transboundary water, water access, ownership and rights, water for development, and interactions between the state and civil society within dynamic and varied political, cultural, social and economic contexts.

Water Management - this thematic area helps students to integrate the knowledge and understanding of water developed in the other thematic areas to better enable them to tackle the big water management challenges that we face. Geographic case studies are developed in the Basins Under Pressure sessions to compare the trade-offs that occur between science and society in these contexts. Interactions with experts with different perspectives and expertise will help students to understand the challenges faced by water managers.

* Economics of the Environment (MT): 8 classes

Module Leader: Dr Dustin Garrick

The Water Economics module has been refined to the 'Economics of the Environment' module. The Economics of the Environment module equips MSc students in SoGE with the foundational concepts, methods and analytical tools to navigate the interface of economics and the environment across a range of contexts, scales and threats. In 2017-18, the module will be organised in two phases during Michaelmas term, leveraging the world-class interdisciplinary economic research and teaching across the School. Phase I covers the foundations of economics and the environment, examining the economic roots of environmental problems and providing a survey of economic approaches to environmental policy ranging from pricing to property rights. The second phase of the module shifts from foundations to applications, organising the students into specialised tracks tailored to each MSc with interactive lectures and exercises. The specialised tracks in phase II are problem-based, fostering critical examination and application of economics to water challenges.


An independent and original dissertation is an integral component of the course. It is expected that the best of dissertations will be of publication quality, and all should show originality in and/or competent and creative scholarship. In order to equip students with the necessary skills to undertake high quality research, a suite of training activities to develop key transferable skills in order for students be able to execute high quality independent and original research, and expose students to applied research methods used widely in academic and professional research.

Research Skills

Core faculty staff will lead a series of training sessions that will build core transferable skills in the natural and social sciences. Components include: research ethics, academic writing, research design, hydrological modelling, water quality evaluation, and qualitative and quantitative research methods. The skills training will both focus on strengthening capabilities to conduct high quality research for their dissertation and for their future professional development.

Elective Modules

Elective Modules offer a tutorial-style teaching and discussion environment within smaller groups, based on a suite of contemporary research themes that reflect the specific interests of core faculty and visiting research associates. They involve eight hours of instruction that may be organised in different formats. Each student has the opportunity to identify elective modules of particular interest, though there is a selection process for these electives through committee at the start of term. As such, the teaching aim is to foster discussion and debate between academic staff and students to identify and explore theory, methods and practice in an academic space that encourages a critical dialogue.

Fuller details of our current range of electives are contained in our elective handbook. The portfolio of electives on offer may change from year to year.

Electives currently offered are listed below:

  • Analytical Skills in GIS
    Dr Robert Dunford, ECI
  • ASEAN Environments
    Dr Paul Jepson and Dr Mari Mulyani, SoGE
  • Behavioural Economics and Field Experiments
    Prof Bob Hahn, SSEE
  • Cities, Mobility and Climate Change
    Dr Tim Schwanen, TSU
  • Climate Change and Extreme Weather
    Prof Myles Allen, ECI
  • Climate Change, Communication and the Media
    Dr James Painter, Reuters Institute
  • Corporate Social and Environmental Accountability
    Prof Gordon L Clark, SSEE
  • Development, Environment and Health
    Dr Proochista Ariana, Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, and Katrina Charles, SoGE
  • The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
    Dr Erik Gómez-Baggethun, SoGE
  • Ecosystem Services for Development
    Dr Alex Morel and Dr Mark Hirons, ECI
  • Energy and the Environment
    Dr Chris Jardine and Dr Sarah Darby, ECI
  • Energy Policy
    Prof Nick Eyre, ECI
  • Environment and Development
    Dr Camilla Toulmin, IIED
  • Environmental Governance and Development
    Dr Ariell Ahearn, SoGE
  • Environmental Risk: Experts, Uncertainty, Publics
    Dr James Palmer, SoGE
  • Flood Risk Management
    Prof Edmund Penning-Rowsell, SoGE
  • The Forest Governance Group
    Dr Connie McDermott, ECI
  • Gender, Geography and the Environment
    Dr Carmen Hopkins and Dr Kerrie Thornhill, SoGE
  • Global Environmental Change and Food Systems
    Dr Rebecca White, ECI
  • Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
    Dr Tom Thornton, ECI
  • International Environmental Law
    Dr Catherine Mackenzie, SoGE
  • Multidisciplinary Environmental Research as a Social Process: The MaRIUS project
    Dr Catharina Landström, SoGE
  • Resiliency Thinking and Community Organising for Environmental Action
    Dr Paul Jepson, SoGE and Robert H. McNulty
  • Rewilding
    Dr Keith Kirby, Oxford Martin School
  • Tackling Climate Change: Innovation, Society and Policy
    Dr Rob Bellamy, InSIS
  • Transformations Towards Sustainability: Sharing Economy as the Lens
    Dr Yuge Ma, ECI
  • Urban Ecologies
    Dr Maan Barua, SoGE
  • Urban Water and Wastewater
    Dr David Johnstone, SoGE
  • Water, Climate and Society in the Middle East
    Dr Troy Sternberg, SoGE

Fuller details of our current range of electives are contained in our elective handbook.

Please note: The actual course content may vary from the information provided online and should therefore be taken to be indicative rather than tightly prescriptive.