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Courses: Time for industry to step up?


Applications for geotechnical masters courses are declining while the demand for graduates grows. What can the profession do to encourage more interest in geotechnics? 

With Crossrail opening later this year, Tideway charging ahead, and the Institution of Civil Engineer’s (ICE) and government’s Year of the Engineer, civil engineering is enjoying its moment in the spotlight. And while there is hardly a day goes by when civil engineering isn’t in the news, geotechnics is often forgotten. Even within the industry. So how can the profession ensure it has enough graduates to fill demand and how it can encourage more undergraduates to study geotechnics at post graduate level?

“We’ve seen UK applications for 2018/19 drop by a third for the MSc engineering geology course,” reports Leeds University’s engineering geology programme leader Mark Thomas.

He believes a mixture of increased course fees and the lack of scholarships available, could be the cause. “When I first started in this role four and half years ago, we had five industry scholarships, this year we have two currently confirmed,” he explains.

This surprises Thomas. “Perhaps because there is an increased demand for jobs, that companies don’t feel they need to get more involved as much,” he says.

At Imperial College, Stavroula Kontoe who is course leader for the MSc courses, reports that they too have seen a decline of applications: “We have seen a gradual decrease is applications in the past couple of years, not major, but we have seen a dip.”

Imperial has a larger intake of students from the EU than most and Kontoe believes that although Brexit is looming, she cannot be sure that it has not had an effect on application figures.

Despite this, compared to other MSc courses at Imperial, the geotechnical courses have a higher percentage of UK based students, and Kontoe puts this down to the availability bursaries.

“We have strong links with industry and are able to provide bursaries for UK students,” she says. “Because we don’t get that many UK applications, the chances are quite high of getting a bursary. Depending on their qualifications and CV of course.”

Imperial has around six to seven industry bursaries a year, which are contributed by fourteen firms, including Arup, Atkins, Fugro and Tony Gee.

At University of Dundee, there are no industry bursaries, but funding is available through the Scottish Funding Council and other sources such as the Innovation Councils in Scotland.

The MSc course has been identified as one in need and the university has access to extra funding for students. In fact, all students on the MSc course at Dundee will be offered an award that will cover their course fees and a contribution towards living expenses. “Normally if a student is keen on coming, they receive an offer, they will get an award,” says University of Dundee course leader Andrew Brennan.

Leeds’ Thomas feels there is an issue with the disparity in starting salaries after completing a geotechnical MSc, compared to other areas of geoscience related employment - specifically compared to jobs working in the oil industry.

“The average starting salary [in geotechnics] is around £25k,” he says. “If you take into account how much a MSc costs - £10k in course fees and then around £10 - £15k living expenses, you can see why students might not choose geotechnics.”

However, Thomas believes that profession might have a more fundamental issue. “Students arrive on an undergrad course and they don’t know geotechnics exists. It’s not taught through A level, and often not on undergrad courses. It needs to be taught throughout the system.”

At University of Dundee they see a number of MSc applications from its own civil engineering undergraduates and increasingly from students with geology backgrounds looking for a route towards civil engineering.

“We find that our own undergraduates are very well versed in geotechnics, because it is a research strength of the department - the students complete a geotechnical module every year,” says Brennan.

Brennan believes that increasing the visibility and attractiveness of geotechnics within the undergrad programme helps. “Our own graduates very often go in to geotechnics as a career, even if they don’t take the MSc, because they are more aware of it as they see a lot of it from their undergraduate programme,” he explains.“If graduating students knew more about geotechnics, that would help them.”

Imperial’s Kontoe thinks that promoting the larger projects would also help. “We should be promoting the high-profile projects,” she says. “When we see applicants for the undergraduate courses and we ask what they associate with civil engineering with, it is always something structural. They don’t tend to think underground but we try to teach that through the degree.”

According to Thomas, it’s not all doom and gloom though: “We will always have those students who will come through regardless, but the profession does need help.

“The industry has a role to play in helping. They need to put their hands in their pockets and to help ensure the continuation of good quality graduates.”

University of Birmingham

MSc Geotechnical Engineering

This programme has been running since 1956 and is offered full-time over 12 months or part-time over 24 or 36 months. The programme includes lectures, design studies, laboratory classes, a site visit and individual projects. In addition, external lectures are provided by experts and leaders from industry. Subjects covered include: physical, chemical and mechanical properties of soils and rocks; ground investigation; field and laboratory testing; engineering geology and site investigation; analysis, design and construction of foundations, retaining walls, tunnels, embankments and slopes including methods of ground reinforcement and improvement. The research project allows for detailed study into a particular area of geotechnical engineering and can focus upon laboratory testing, numerical modelling or management of geotechnical processes/applications.

School of Engineering Postgraduate Admissions Team
0121 414 3597


MSc Geotechnical Engineering and Management

This programme is designed to support high level training and enhance the technical and managerial skills of recent graduates or experienced personnel who work in, or aspire to a career in, the construction or related industries.

It is aimed at civil engineers and geologists who wish to widen their professional scope or to specialise in geotechnical engineering with the addition of modern managerial skills. Teaching concentrates on four essential aspects of the subject: physical, chemical and mechanical properties of soils and rocks, ground investigation, field and laboratory testing; engineering geology and site investigation; analysis, design and construction of foundations, retaining walls, embankments and slopes including methods of ground reinforcement and improvement; managerial skills for the construction industry, including groundworks and risk management, and building information modelling.

School of Engineering Postgraduate Admissions Team
0121 414 3597

Cardiff University

 MSc Applied Environmental Geology

This full-time course accredited by the Geological Society of London has two distinct stages. The first lasts from September to April and comprises taught modules and fieldwork with contributions from industry professionals. Themes covered include principles of geotechnical engineering and geophysics, land contamination, environmental regulation, and behaviour of soils and water. Students passing this stage will progress to a five month professional project from May to September culminating in a dissertation. Where possible this will be carried out through an industrial placement. The course encourages communication and teamwork, and students will be asked to work in teams in laboratories and on field-trips.

Peter Brabham
Tel: 029 2087 4334

University of Dundee

MSc Geotechnical Engineering

This full-time 12-month course is multi-accredited and supported by a number of full scholarships with industry-linked projects (details on course website). It covers subjects including oil and gas, marine renewables and aquaculture; foundation design; earthquake engineering; and ground improvement. The course is assessed by coursework and examination.

Andrew Brennan
01382 384348

University of Exeter

MSc Geotechnical Engineering

Offered full-time over one year, or part-time over two or four years, this research-led course is modular and flexible. The full-time programme begins in September and taught elements are concluded by May. The research project, under the personal supervision of an expert in the chosen area, continues until September. The programme is delivered through a mix of lectures, workshops, tutorials, practical activities, case studies, industry visits, computer simulations, project work and a dissertation. The taught part of the programme is structured into two semesters. Field visits and practical field-based assignments are used.

Camborne School of Mines
01326 371801


MSc Applied Geotechnics

This Engineering Council-accredited one year full-time or three-year part-time course provides specialist knowledge of tunnel, surface and underground excavation design and applied hydrogeology and risk assessment.

It is research and practice-led with the taught programme structured in two terms with field visits. The project is undertaken from June to September, after the second semester examinations. Completed dissertations must be submitted by mid-September.

Camborne School of Mines
01326 371801


MSc Mining Engineering

This Engineering Council-accredited one year full-time or three-year part-time course provides skill enhancement for engineers and geologists already employed in the mining, minerals, quarrying and civil engineering industries. It is also suitable for geology and engineering graduates wishing to specialise in either of the following main study areas: mine and general management; excavation (geotechnics and tunnelling. It is research and practice-led with the taught programme structured in two terms with field visits. Students are encouraged to undertake projects directly linked with industry, which may result in industrial placements for their project period.

Camborne School of Mines
01326 371801

Imperial College London

MSc Soil Mechanics (single subject or with Environmental Geotechnics, Engineering Seismology, or Business Management)

Established in 1950, the multi-accredited soil mechanics MSc cluster at Imperial has become internationally renowned. It can be undertaken as a single-subject masters or combined with a second subject. The course is concerned with the application of soil mechanics in engineering practice; and is known for making key advances in soil mechanics. It comprises two terms of lectures, tutorials, laboratory classes and individual coursework assignments, plus one term devoted to a research dissertation. The dissertation may be undertaken at college or in collaboration with industry.

This course is available full-time over 11 months from October or part-time on term release only. Between five and 10 bursaries are awarded to successful applicants on excellent academic and professional records, supported by relevant references and a strong personal statement. Priority is given to UK-based applicants. Deadline is 31 May.

 Stavroula Kontoe
020 7594 5996

University of Leeds

MSc Engineering Geology

The one year full-time or two-year part-time, multi-accredited engineering geology course gives a grounding in geological principles and their application in civil and mining engineering. The course comprises two terms of lectures (class and computer-based practical work) and laboratory classes, followed by around four months of individual work, leading to the submission of a dissertation.

Students will also take part in supervised fieldtrips and ground investigation and construction site visits. The course includes seminars given by colleagues from professional practice, and site visits that allow students to see current practice in the field.

Postgraduate admissions
0113 343 4307

Newcastle University

MSc Geotechnical Engineering

Students will gain advanced knowledge of: soils and rocks and their engineering properties; site investigation, testing, interpretation and reporting; construction practice and awareness of safe operation; key aspects of geotechnical design, such as foundations and slopes; application of mathematical methods and computational tools. The multi-accredited course includes compulsory modules plus optional modules, followed by a research project written up as a dissertation.

The teaching methods include more formal teaching alongside group work, laboratory work, fieldwork and site visits.

Academic secretary
0191 208 7337


MSc Engineering Geology

Multi-accredited, this course covers: engineering geology principles and applications; site investigation, testing, interpretation and reporting processes; analysing diverse geological evidence to assess hazards and risks arising from natural and man-made phenomena; and geotechnical design. Students will study compulsory and optional modules in blocks of one or two weeks. Assessment is by formal written examinations, course work and oral presentations. Research projects will be written up as dissertations. Teaching methods include contributions from prominent construction industry figures.

Academic secretary
0191 208 7337

University of Portsmouth

MSc Civil Engineering with Geotechnical Engineering

One year full-time or two year part-time accredited course designed to extend understanding of the core disciplines of civil engineering and widen professional scope to include expertise in geotechnical engineering.

The course is divided into three stages, the first two stages are generally taught through formal tuition, with stage three covering independent research in an academic or industrial setting. Teaching will focus on small lectures, seminars and discussion groups.

School of Civil Engineering and Surveying
023 9284 5566


MSc Engineering Geology

This one year full-time or two year part-time course is accredited by the Geological Society of London. It provides students with advanced skills to carry out detailed investigations into surface and subsurface geology, identification of adverse ground conditions and the design of suitable remedial measures for engineering structures. The course is divided into two parts. The first part comprises the lecture, workshop, practical and field work elements of the course, followed by a five-month independent research project.

The course is a mixture of taught units and research project covering topics including site investigation, soil mechanics and rock mechanics, geotechnical engineering design, contaminated land, slope stability and rock engineering.

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
023 9284 5566


MSc Environmental Geology and Contamination

This one year full-time or two year part-time course is designed to provide students with expertise required for dealing with contaminated sites and covers topics including: groundwater hydrology, geochemistry, site investigation, geotechnics and contaminated land assessment. The course is divided into three parts. The first two comprise the taught units of the course covering the key conceptual, institutional and applied bases of the subject. The third focuses on a dissertation.

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
023 9284 5566

University of Surrey

MSc Advanced Geotechnical Engineering

This European-accredited programme aims to enable students to address real-world ground engineering problems and the technological challenges faced every day by the geotechnical engineering profession. This programme is studied over one academic year (full-time) and between two and five academic years (part-time or distance learning).

It consists of eight taught modules and a dissertation.

01483 682222

University of Warwick

MSc Tunnelling and Underground Space

This multi-accredited course is offered full-time over 12 months or part-time over two years. It is made up of eight core modules and a project. For full-time students, the project is a piece of group design giving excellent preparation for industry. Part-time students undertake an individual project.

Contact time for each module is in one week, Monday to Friday, enabling part-time students to continue working, and also enabling people working in industry to take single modules as a short course. Some scholarships and bursary options are available.

Postgraduate office
024 7652 2046


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