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Undergraduate study at SAMS

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Study Marine Science

"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."

Pete Taylor (BSc Hons Marine Science 2011; PhD 2015)


Study marine science at SAMS, the university on the beach...

The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) is a world-class research institute and Scotland's oldest (est 1884) and largest independent marine science organisation. Since 2001 we have been delivering our honours degree programmes through the University of the Highlands and Islands

  • BSc (Hons) Marine Science

  • BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies

Our spectacular coastal location on the west coast of Scotland near Oban, our vibrant and dynamic international science community, a 'family' atmosphere, and the outstanding research and teaching facilites offer our students an unbeatable opportunity to learn about the marine environment, to become the best they can be, and to prepare for exciting careers.

"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."

John Bainbridge (BSc Marine Science 2009; PhD 2014)


Meet our core BSc education team

Programme Leader

Quality Manager

Registry Officer

 John-Howe-lecturing-SAMS Shona_crop2.jpg Polly.jpg
Dr John Howe Shona Magill Polly Crooks
E: E: E:
T: +44 (0)1631 559 257 T: +44 (0)1631 559290 T: +44 (0)1631 559335


Explore our location


Marine Science

Marine Science BSc (Hons)

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

The course is administered and awarded by the University of the Highlands and Islands and is delivered face-to-face at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban on the stunning west coast of Scotland.

Course strengths

  • diverse and highly relevant modules delivered by active world class researchers
  • integration into a dynamic, supportive and international research culture
  • small class sizes, easy access to lecturers, high fieldwork and practical content
  • excellent learning and research facilities including research vessels and aquaria
  • stunning marine location with access to diverse coastal habitats and outdoor lifestyle opportunities
  • 95% student satisfaction
  • Personal academic tutor throughout your four year study
  • Opportunity to transfer to Arctic Studies stream


Course structure

Each year, students study six 20 credit (10 ECTS) modules, usually three per semester.

Most modules are assessed through examination and continuous assessment. 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, poster presentations etc

Named qualifications are available to students leaving after any year of successful study - read more...

First year (more details...)

In the first year the new students develop solid foundations in the core sciences and develop the key skills they need in the laboratory, in the field, and for communicating their work. All six first year modules are mandatory.

  • Fundamentals of Marine Biology
  • Fundamentals of Marine Chemistry
  • Fundamentals of Marine Geology
  • Fundamentals of Marine Physics (Semester 2)
  • Mathematics and Statistics (Semester 2)
  • Field Course (Semester 2)


Second year (more details...)In the second year students deepen their knowlege of the core sciences and continue developing analytical skills.  Students study five mandatory modules and may chose one optional subject.

Mandatory modules
  • Chemical Oceanography
  • Marine Geology
  • Statistics and Experimental Design
  • Marine Biology (Semester 2)
  • Physical Oceanography (Semester 2)
Optional modules (choose one - Semester 2)
  • Marine Resources
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Third year (more details...)Mandatory modules
  • Literature review (either semester)
Optional modules (choose five)
  • Fisheries Ecology
  • Microbial Ecology
  • Marine Pollution
  • Marine Technology
  • Marine Zoology
  • Aquaculture (Semester 2)
  • Marine Conservation (Semester 2)
  • Marine Biogeochemical Cycling (Semester 2)
  • Marine Biotechnology (Semester 2)
  • Ocean Circulation and Climate (Semester 2)


Fourth year (more details...)Mandatory modules
  • Dissertation (double module - all year)
Optional modules (choose four)
  • Behaviour and Biomechanics of Marine Animals
  • Defining the Carbon Cycle
  • Marine Environmental Impact Assessment
  • Science Communication
  • Deep Sea Ecosystems (Semester 2)
  • Polar Seas (Semester 2)
  • Palaeoceanography (Semester 2)
  • Marine Modelling (Semester 2)

with Arctic Studies

BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies

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.

Why take it from us? Hear what our students have to say


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.


How to apply

How to apply

SAMS is a well established, international marine research institute and most lecturers teaching on the BSc (Hons) Marine Science programme are based at SAMS. The programme is, however, administered and awarded by our core partner organisation, the University of the Highlands and Islands.

You find all information on the application procedures as well as fees on their website:

You will need to apply via UCAS: our Marine Science BSc course code is F710 and the University of the Highlands and Islands' institutional code is H49.

Student life

Student life

About the area

Studying at SAMS is a dream come true for those who love an active outdoor life and don't miss the big city. The west coast of Scotland is stunning, diverse, with vestiges of real wilderness, and - very importantly for marine science students - is surrounded by an array of marine habitats. Our students don't only study marine science, they experience it...

Sailing, diving, kayaking, swimming, skiing, climbing, walking and mountain biking are just a few of the things our students and researchers are busy with outside their studies. 

The low population density has maintained an intact community spirit - many people don't ever lock their houses and there is little serious crime. People are welcoming and the community is full of clubs and societies keen for new members. At SAMS, young people are much less likely to feel lonely than in a big place and students and staff always comment on SAMS being one big family.

Click here for more information about accommodation and the local area.


Student associations and clubs

SAMS students are members of the Highlands and Islands Students' Association. At SAMS students have formed the UHI Sub Aqua Club, and several are members of the UHI Science Society


Cost of living as a student in Oban

Depending on the needs and personal choices the costs of being a student (excluding tuition fees) vary greatly. Below, however, is a summary of what a fairly frugal single student is likely to need:


Other costs to consider

  • Students can apply for exemption from Council Tax which otherwise has to be added to the cost and varies significantly with the type of property.
  • Medical expenses (glasses/contact lenses, prescriptions, treatments) or medical insurance has been excluded from the list as this cost varies from person to person.
  • Also excluded from the list are any loan repayments that may have to be made regularly.
  • If individuals choose to run a car the costs will go up significantly (consider: road tax, insurance, petrol, maintenance costs including MOT)
  • Another major expense that has to be considered is the cost and frequency to travel between your registered home and Oban.
  • International students may also have to pay a fee for their visa to enter the UK


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

at a glance
  • BSc (Hons) Marine Science
  • BSc (Hons) Marine Science with Arctic Studies
  • 4 years full-time (p/t available)
  • Highers: BBB
  • A-Level: BCC
  • IB: 28 pts
  • others (see details)
  • Institution: H49
  • Course: F710
Contact us
Education Department
Scottish Marine Institute
Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK
T: +44 (0) 1631 559 000
Education @ SAMS
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