About the course
The MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management aims to equip the next generation of water professionals with the blend of skills necessary to make a significant contribution to sustainable water management pathways across competing priorities of water for ecosystems, food, energy, economic growth and human consumption.
The course is broken down into three thematic areas – water science, water and society, and water management.
The water science theme 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 area, as well as interactions throughout the hydrological cycle, and the role of society in altering natural hydrological processes and ecosystem function, and the impact this has on health.
The water and society theme 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, trans-boundary water, water economics, 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.
The water management theme integrates the knowledge and understanding of water developed in the other thematic areas to better enable you to tackle the big water management challenges that we face. Geographic case studies are developed to compare the trade-offs that occur between science and society in these contexts. Interactions with experts with different perspectives and expertise will help you to understand the challenges faced by water managers.
Teaching takes place through lectures, seminars and field visits, including a one-week field trip to the Ebro Basin in Spain during the Easter vacation.
The course comprises eight core modules within the three thematic areas. You also study two elective modules. Finally, you will write an individual dissertation of 15,000 words.
These 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. 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.
An independent and original dissertation is an integral component of the course. In order to equip you with the necessary skills to undertake high quality research, a suite of training activities is offered to develop key transferable skills in order for you to be able to execute high quality independent and original research, and to expose you to applied research methods used widely in academic and professional research.
Core faculty staff will lead a series of training sessions that will build core transferable research skills in the natural and social sciences.
- research ethics
- academic writing
- research design
- hydrological modelling
- water quality evaluation
- qualitative and quantitative research methods
- fieldwork health and safety
The skills training will focus on both strengthening capabilities to conduct high quality research for your dissertation and on future professional development.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the School of Geography and the Environment and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the School of Geography and the Environment.
The eight course modules are assessed by written examination. The two elective modules which are each assessed through a 4,000-word essay. You will also be assessed on your individual dissertation of 15,000 words, which will have been produced independently and contain original work.
The aim of the course is to train future decision makers, managers and policy makers in water policy and management.
Past graduates have gone on to obtain positions in a range of water-related jobs. Examples include policy positions in government departments (eg Environment Canada, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); Chinese Ministry of Works), business/enterprise (eg Arup, ERM, Halcrow, Mott MacDonald, Public Utilities Board-Singapore, SMEC, Global Water Intelligence, etc.), non-governmental organisations (eg WaterWise, Children's Hunger Fund, CSE, WWF) and international agencies (eg World Bank, UNICEF, European Commission, IFAD, GTZ, USAID, etc). A number of students use the course as a gateway to start DPhil (PhD) research.
The department's Alumni Office helps alumni keep in touch with each other and organises alumni events.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the School of Geography and the Environment
Oxford 1+1 MBA programme
This course can be studied as a part of the Oxford 1+1 MBA programme. The Oxford 1+1 MBA programme is a unique, two-year graduate experience that combines the depth of a specialised, one-year master’s degree with the breadth of a top-ranking, one-year MBA.
Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any discipline.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- Applicants should demonstrate a passion for water issues, demonstrated through their personal statement and, ideally, have previous experience (eg work, education, volunteer activities).
- The department does not require you to submit any publications.
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
English language requirement
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
After an offer is made
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
The School of Geography and the Environment undertakes world-class interdisciplinary research, addresses societal and environmental problems, and advances knowledge within an intellectually vibrant, interdisciplinary research environment that combines natural and social sciences and has geography at its core. The department has six research clusters, in biodiversity, ecosystems and conservation; climate systems and policy; landscape dynamics; technological life; economy and society and political worlds, which hold seminars throughout term-time. Graduate students are encouraged to attend these seminars and most MSc courses also hold their own seminar series and practical workshops.
The course has an Academic Director and a Course Director who look after the day to day running of the course. You will have a personal advisor who is a member of the School’s academic staff and who provides academic welfare support.
The University of Oxford has an extensive library system and the Radcliffe Science Library is the main lending service within the University for the material required for the course. The Social Sciences Library also holds collections which are valuable for you pursuing your geography programme. A tutorial on using the library and IT facilities will be provided at induction by the Geography Subject Librarian.
The department has a computer room available for all graduate students. There are dedicated IT times each day when you can seek help from IT staff. There is a dedicated social space for MSc students where you can meet and discuss your studies. Where appropriate, you will be able to use the departmental laboratories for your dissertation research.
Research skills training are provided in preparation for the dissertation. As well as developing an understanding of the research process, these sessions will cover such things as social surveys, data analysis and statistical techniques. Throughout the course, fieldtrips and visits to external organisations support the lectures and seminars and deliver valuable skills training.
The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources. Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the school's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2021-22
Annual Course fees
|Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,|
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
|Overseas (including EU)||£25,900|
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
Most costs associated with compulsory fieldwork are paid for by the department. This excludes the costs associated with obtaining the appropriate visa required to attend the non-UK based field trips. Non-EEA nationals might require a visa in order to travel to the country where the field trip is being held and any costs associated with obtaining the appropriate travel visa is the responsibility of the student. Students will also have to pay for some meals during the field course. Furthermore, as part of your course requirements you need to develop and research a dissertation topic. Depending on your choice of topic and the field work research required to complete it, you may incur additional costs (eg relating to travel, accommodation, field assistants, lab fees and/or research visas). You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants/bursaries from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management:
How to apply
You are not required to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
A maximum of 1,000 words
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- your reasons for applying
- evidence of your enthusiasm for the proposed area of study, over and above what would be expected from an undergraduate course of instruction
- the ability to present a reasoned case in English
- commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
- capacity for sustained and intense work
- reasoning ability
- ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.
Your statement should focus on the subject area rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations. This might be demonstrated by, for example, having undertaken independent fieldwork or research, vacation employment in a relevant discipline, or having already made research publications or presentations.
If you have already graduated, at least some of the time since graduation should have been spent on activities related to the proposed course of study, or a sound reason why this is not the case should be given.
One essay of a maximum of 2,000 words
The written work must be in English and can be either an essay you have written, a chapter(s) of a thesis, a published scholarly paper or even academic work written specifically to support your application.
This work should demonstrate your ability to write a good academic document though it does not need to be related to the proposed area of study. Multi-authored papers will not be considered.
An extract of the requisite length from longer work is permissible. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for evidence of good basic knowledge, understanding of problems, powers of analysis, ability to construct a coherent train of thought, and to shape an argument, and powers of expression. The quality of English expression and of presentation may also be part of the assessment. Students with disclosed disabilities will receive appropriate consideration according to their particular needs.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
Your references will support your academic achievements, interests, and personal motivation. In order to assist assessors in their consideration of applications references should be from experienced scholars and teachers of graduate students. In view of this, it is recommended that at least two of the three references are from academics.
Start or continue an application
Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.
Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.
Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.
Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds who meet the eligibility criteria;
- residents in a country listed as low-income by the World Bank (refer to the eligibility criteria);
- current Oxford graduate taught students applying for readmission to an eligible course; and
- additional applications to selected research courses that are closely related to your first application.
Step 5: Start your application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.