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Undergraduate study at SAMS

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As Scotland's premier independent marine research organisation we teach two undergraduate courses under the auspices of the University of the Highlands and Islands:

  • BSc (Hons) Marine Science
  • BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies

Students will be based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science near Oban for at least three of the four years of a full-time course.


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Contact information

Marine Science

BSc (Hons) Marine Science
Call our course line:
01631 559335

Welcome to the course page for one of the most exciting courses in marine science in the UK!


This four-year course is Scotland's only multidisciplinary course in marine science, integrating the studies of marine biology, physical and chemical oceanography and marine geology and leading to a rounded understanding of the marine system. Students also gain a diverse range of numerical, technical, analytical, field sampling, time management and communication skills.

Course strengths include:

  • diverse and highly relevant modules delivered by researchers
  • much hands-on fieldwork
  • integration into a dynamic research culture
  • small class sizes (max of 30 per year)
  • excellent learning and research facilities including research vessels and aquaria
  • stunning marine location with access to diverse coastal habitats

The course is delivered predominantly face-to-face at the Scottish Association for Marine Science. Named qualifications are available to students leaving after any year of successful study - read more...

Previous BSc (Hons) graduates have gone on to postgraduate programmes and employment as teachers, lab technicians, scientists or in positions in the petroleum industry, government agencies, aquaculture etc


Course structure

Each academic year, full-time students must successfully study six modules, usually three per semester. Each single module will attain 20 credits / 10 ECTS, double modules carry 40 credits / 20 ECTS.

Most modules are assessed through examination and continuous assessment. examinations usually accoutnfor 40 5 of the final mark, but some modules may vary. The continuous assessment will be designed to best suit the module and subject area but ranges from lab reports, field course reports, essays, oral presentations, posters etc.

The Programme Leader for the Marine Science Undergraduate programe is Dr Tim O'Higgins


First year

In the first year of the BSc (Hons) Marine Science course the new students develop solid foundations in the core sciences and learn key skills they need in the laboratory, in the field, and for communicating their work. All eight first year modules are mandatory. The first year leader is marine biologist Shona Magill. Read more…

Second year

In the second year students apply the general science principles acquired in the first year to the marine environment. In this year they develop a good overview of marine science. five second year modules are mandatory, and one module can be chosen by you. The second year leader is marine biogeochemist Dr Henrik Stahl. Read more…

Third year

In the third year only one of the eight modules is mandatory - a research project - while students chose seven modules from a range of biological and non-biological topics. This year students begin to delve into more detail, and explore the many ways people use and interact with the marine environment. The third year leader is marine policy expert Dr Maeve Kelly. Read more…

Fourth year

In the honours year, students put a significant focus on their research dissertation (a double module), and study with increasing independence. They can select five optional modules from a list of topics and will conduct a mandatory case study. The fourth year leader is marine ecologist Dr Adam Hughes. Read more…


Entry requirements and application information

Click here to view entry requirements to study the BSc (Hons) Marine Science.

For application information please visit the course pages of the University of the Highlands and Islands website


Further information

 Dr Tim O'Higgins (programme leader)

with Arctic Studies

BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies
Stand out from the crowd and gain a unique degree

The BSc (Hons) Marine Science degree offers its students the fantastic opportunity to spend up to one year studying environmental sciences in the Arctic. We have established a link with the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), a Norwegian run teaching and research centre on the island of Spitsbergen (Svalbard archipelago). It is located at 79ºN in the land of midnight sun, 24-hour-darkness in winter, snow, ice, northern lights and polar bears. All courses have a strong fieldwork element working on glaciers, at field camps or on research ships.

Skidoo tracks Svalbard by John Howe  crop pbear  Arctic water sampling

The UNIS courses follow three strands:

  • Arctic Biology
  • Arctic Geology
  • Arctic Technology

To graduate with a BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies students have to enrol on the BSc (Hons) Marine Science course in the first instance and pass the first two years successfully.  They can apply to UNIS and, if successful, can spend one or both semesters of their third year in the Arctic. Credits from the semester/year will be transferred back to UHI, so that students can progress straight into their fourth year. When taking the Polar Seas module in the honours year and producing a dissertation in an Arctic Studies topic, students can choose to graduate either with a BSc (Hons) Marine Science or a BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies.

Why do it?

1. A unique study opportunity and life experience
2. Very topical as the Arctic undergoes great environmental and economic change
3. Live in a multi-national community for a year and make good friends from around the world
4. Personal challenges and development
5. A highlight of your CV: stand out from the crowd!

What is UNIS?

unisThe University Centre in Svalbard opened in 1993 and has recently expanded into a modern teaching and research facility. It exists to provide university level education in Arctic Studies and carry out high quality environmental research. UNIS uses the 'natural laboratory' for observations of the arctic environment and uses the extensive research infrastructure in and around Longyearbyen. It offers 44 University level courses with a community of 350 students from 20 nations.

What can I study at UNIS?

Arctic Biology

  • Terrestrial Arctic Biology
  • Marine Arctic Biology
  • Arctic Environmental Management
  • Polar Ecology & Population Biology

Arctic Geology

  • Tectonic and Sedimentary History of Svalbard
  • Quarternary History of Svalbard
  • Physical Geography of Svalbard
  • Arctic Marine Geology: Processes and Environments

Arctic Technology

  • Arctic Water Resources
  • Pollution in the Arctic

Click here for UNIS' online course catalogue.

How much will it cost?

There are additional costs associated with this course of study. Living costs are higher on Svalbard than in Scotland, and there is the cost of travel to Svalbard. We estimate that it will cost students an additional £1300 per semester to take up this opportunity.

However, SAMS has established an Arctic Bursary to assist students with these costs, there is a UHI fund to apply to, and there is support from European student mobility schemes. Students have also applied successfully to trusts for support. The additional cost has to be balanced against the spectacular and unique experience that is on offer.

How do I sign up?

Students who are interested in transferring to Marine Science with Arctic Studies have to make that decision in their second year of study. Applications are made to UNIS in April and students will be selected by UNIS in open competition with all other applicants. SAMS UHI can therefore not offer any guarantee that a student will be accepted to study at UNIS.

For more information, contact Dr Finlo Cottier.

Student experience

Jill in the Arctic

In 2008-09 the first two SAMS UHI students went to UNIS to spend an entire year in this extreme environment. In 2010 they became the first two students in the UK to qualify with a BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies. Read here a short summary of the experience by one of them, written in 2012 when he was doing an Arctic focussed PhD...

In 2009-10 one student took up the challenge. She made a small film to show you what UNIS and the town of Longyearbyen are like - click here to watch it on YouTube...

Click here to read the blog from our 2013-14 cohort of students in Svalbard...


What our marine science undergrads say...

"Studying at SAMS is a unique experience with a level of intimacy and engagement between staff and students which you won't find at larger universities. Having experienced life on a campus university and lectures with more than 80 students my preference would always be for smaller class numbers and lectures which are more like tutorials, which is the norm at SAMS, as you just learn much more and faster. That said,  Oban is a small town and there aren't 50 student clubs to choose from, or a student union bar, or indeed many other students, but situated as it is on the coast and in the Highlands there are huge opportunities to embrace the outdoor life with a very active community at SAMS.

John Bainbridge, undergraduate student 2006-2009, PhD student 2010-present


"Coming to study Marine Science at SAMS is one of the best decisions I have ever made. The teaching staff are friendly and at the forefront of science. Being situated in a small West Highland town has certainly not turned SAMS into a scientific "sleepy hollow", there is a sense of purpose and drive in the place that sweeps you along with it...

Even when the essays aren't going well and the work is getting to you, SAMS is great: the cafe has what must be one of the best views in the world, so a cup of tea and five minutes looking out the window and all seems good again."

Pete Taylor, BSc (Hons) Marine Science honours year student 2011


"I chose to come and study at SAMS largely because I have always grown up around the sea and I never saw myself with an office job. This Marine Science degree balances theory with practical skills right from the very first semester so you never feel like you are missing out on the action! I’m learning so much with every project I do and I’m so lucky to be in such a beautiful location. I’ve had so many opportunities so far and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for my future here at SAMS."

Ruth Paterson, BSc (Hons) Marine Science second year student 2011


"The Scottish Association for Marine Science, in association with the University of the Highlands and Islands, has given me to date I believe an un-paralleled undergraduate degree experience in marine science.  Like few other universities the wealth of practical, highly relevant field experience, small class sizes and access to research leaders on offer to us as undergraduates is phenomenal."

Paul Rhodes, BSc (Hons) Marine Science second year student 2011


"SAMS is a great place to study, but you have to put the work in to get the most out of it. The course is great, but don't expect to come along and gaze in awe at pretty fishes and dolphins all day! You also have to have a bit of your own get up and go - you won't be spoon fed and your classmates will get very annoyed very quickly if you rely on them to do everything for you!"

Tammy Green, BSc (Hons) Marine Science first year student 2011


Comments from parents

"My daughter has known the Oban area all her life and the opportunity to live and study there was a dream come true.  She moved 400 miles from home but quickly settled and made new friends. SAMS' BSc course in marine science was interesting, varied and developed her ability and confidence in so many ways.  She is now in Norway furthering her education on a Masters course but intends to return to Argyll on completion.  I can recommend SAMS to anyone considering a future in learning about our world."

John Peterson


"When Pete was accepted to SAMS it was a great day for my family and I. It marked the day when Pete started to chase his dreams. Since then he has been very happy at SAMS, living near Oban.  Although I was concerned that the town is too isolated for someone used to city life, he quickly made friends with his class mates and got involved with a few activities that you just can’t do very easily when you live in a city. After he graduated, Pete was able to stay on at SAMS, still doing what he loves, while building a career in academia."

Ruth Taylor


“As Oban is our home, we were delighted when our daughter was accepted to study Marine Science at SAMS. She has had fantastic opportunities during her degree including the chance to take part in research in state-of-the-art laboratories, a 2 week research cruise to the Arctic and a she also spent 4 months studying at UNIS in Svalbard (at 78°N!).  She’s since gone on to be a PhD researcher at Glasgow University”

David and Sandra McColl

Examiner comments

External examiner comments

About the BSc (Hons) Marine Science and BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies programmes:

  • ''..the programme has a number of strengths, underpinning knowledge, great choice of modules with lecturers continually developing the breadth and depth (of) materials. Lecturers are active researchers and offer a high standard of fieldwork and practical experience."

taken from exam board minutes 11 Feb 2011

  • "This is an excellent degree programme both progressive throughout the years and providing students with breadth / depth of knowledge. The student performance particularly in the final year is very good - as a result of motivated students.  The opportunity for students to spend a year in Svalbard is a particular strength of programme."
taken from external examiner report 2010

  • "This is a remarkable degree programme that is carried out by a highly motivated group of staff. Increased recruitment indicates that the word is getting out that this is a superb degree to do. I remain convinced that this is some of the best marine science training in the UK." 
taken from external examiner report 2009

  • "The quality of the work I saw was of the highest standards, and certainly better than an average cohort of students in the larger universities I am familiar with. This is probably a reflection of the small class sizes and the extra effort that can then be fostered on the students. However, this particular degree gives students an excellent training in a full range of marine science topics, much wider than will be taught on other Marine Science courses in the UK and Europe."
taken from external examiner comments 2007


  • "Students seem very happy at SAMS with plenty of support being provided both formally and informally.  They particularly like the fact that they are within a research community, which means that they benefit from the research work being carried out by staff at SAMS, the majority of whom are research scientists who are active in the field.  The undergraduates also have the opportunity to help with some aspects of the postgraduate researchers’ work, which provides them with invaluable insight into the world of research, and also practical elements of the courses which they are studying.
taken from Academic Partner Review Final Report, April 2007

  • "This is simply a quite remarkable degree and the students are having an experience that is not on offer in any other UK university that I know of. The teaching is of the highest standards and the students without hesitation recognise this and are appreciative of the experience."
taken from external examiner report 2006/7

  • "The high level of pastoral care shown to the students is commendable. Again this is easier to accomplish with a small class size. However, it is an important part of this degree, and all of the students are appreciative of this aspect of doing their degree in SAMS."
taken from external examiner report 2006/7

  • "The learning environment for undergraduate students of marine science is exceptional given not only the physical rooms and the varied resources available to them but also the fact that they are considered an integral part of the general environment of a highly active large marine laboratory and its staff."
taken from external examiner report 2005/6

  • "The environment of SAMS is one of the most outstanding features of this course. All the students recognise the opportunities afforded by studying in a research environment. Access to advanced equipment and field work opportunities that would be the envy of any undergraduate is also a hugely beneficial features of the course."
taken from external examiner report 2003/4

  • "This is a super course! It is varied, interesting and bang up to date. All my experiences with the course have been first rate. I am confident that the course is managed to the highest level of professionalism. As last year, I could like to commend that the teaching team on delivering a first-class product, one which UHI can be justifiably proud of".
taken from external examiner report 2001/2
Contact us
Education Department
Scottish Marine Institute
Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK
T: +44 (0) 1631 559 000
Education @ SAMS
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