Civil Engineering MSc/Diploma

  • Delivery: Distance Learning
  • Programme type: Taught Programme
  • Study location: Edinburgh
  • Entry date: September, January (DL only)


This programme is designed to equip graduates with the knowledge and skills to work at a high level in the design and construction of major infrastructure projects. Its structure allows students to choose from a broad range of courses including foundation engineering; safety, risk and reliability; water and wastewater treatment and project management, among others. This programme design allows students to select courses which best fit their personal and professional needs, ensuring maximum added value to each individual’s study aspirations.

Distance learning

Delivered only by Independent Distance Learning (IDL) this programme is ideal for those in employment or with other commitments, providing flexible study options that fit around work or family. Students receive comprehensive materials for each course through an online Virtual Learning Environment.

Our students and graduates

Our students are recruited mainly from the civil engineering profession and are typically looking to broaden their knowledge base, extend their technical expertise or gain further learning to meet the needs of the professional institutions. Applicants from other backgrounds planning to develop a career in civil engineering will also be considered. Graduates of this programme are much sought after by civil engineering employers, working in areas such as transport, water and wastewater engineering and the energy sector.

Programme duration

An Independent Distance Learning (IDL) programme - whether at PgDip or MSc level - can be completed in a minimum of 2 years. On average, our PgDip programmes studied via IDL are completed in 2-3 years, while MSc programmes are completed in 2.5-7 years. Most students intend to complete their studies via IDL within 2-3 years.

Professional recognition

This degree is accredited as meeting the requirements for Further Learning for a Chartered Engineer (CEng) for candidates who have already acquired a partial CEng accredited undergraduate first degree. See for further information.

Industry links

This programme is supported by the Civil Engineering Industry Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from major multi-national employers AECOM, Arup, AtkinsBalfour Beatty, Halcrow, Jacobs and WSP Group. This committee convenes regularly and advises on the programme content and structure, ensuring quality, up-to-date content and relevance to industry needs.

The Institute for Infrastructure and Environment (IIE)

This programme is delivered by Heriot Watt University’s Institute for Infrastructure and Environment. As a Civil Engineering postgraduate student you will be part of the Institute’s Graduate School, connecting you with staff, research associates and fellow students engaging in cutting-edge research in areas such as water management, ultra-speed railways, construction materials, geomechanics and more.

Teaching and research excellence

The School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society has a strong record in built environment research. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2014), more than 70% of our overall rating was classed ‘internationally excellent’ or ‘world-leading’.

Programme content

This programme, led by Dr. Alan Cuthbertson, is composed of eight optional courses for those studying at PGDip level, each assessed by examination. For those looking to complete the programme at MSc level two synoptically-linked research projects are also required.

Semester 1 Semester 2

Students choose four courses from the following optional courses:

  • Environmental Geotechnics
  • Environmental Hydrology & Water Resources
  • Ground Engineering
  • Indeterminate Structures
  • Sustainability in Civil Engineering
  • Project Management: Theory & Practice

Students choose four courses from the following optional courses:

  • Earthquake Engineering
  • Foundation Engineering
  • Safety, Risk and Reliability
  • Urban Drainage and Water Supply
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment
  • Project Management: Strategic Issues

Course descriptions

Please find below the course descriptions. For more information on courses, please contact the Programme Leader.

Environmental Geotechnics

Semester 1(optional)

This course aims to give students an appreciation of the role of contaminated land within geotechnical engineering, developing understanding of current UK legislation and government policy relating to methodologies for dealing with contaminated land. In this regard, the course enables learners to understand the practical relevance of the remediation technologies within the context of site contamination and to gain knowledge of the engineering measures adopted at landfill sites for the safe disposal of waste. Subjects and topics covered include:

Historical pollution sources and extent; qualitative and quantitative risk assessment; site investigation; remediation methods; legislative background; characteristics of landfill sites and wastes.

Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources

Semester 1(optional)

The aim of this course is to provide the students with a thorough understanding of the hydrological basis of water resources assessment, planning and management. In this regard, the course is designed to provide the learners with a board introduction to hydrological modelling, as well as a detailed appreciation of the following topics:

Methods of meteorological data collection & analysis techniques; surface water resources; collection and analysis of low stream-flow data; reservoir planning & design; uncertainty analysis in water resources planning; groundwater occurrence, evaluation & management.

Ground Engineering

Semester 1(optional)

The overall aim of this course is to provide the students with detailed knowledge and understanding in ground engineering for geotechnical engineers, extending the knowledge gained in undergraduate geotechnical courses to allow the learners to apply theoretical design and analysis to practical problems.

Subjects covered in this course include: Site investigation and soil sampling techniques; analysis of slope stability problems and failure modes; earth pressure analysis and retaining walls; application of geotextiles in geotechnical, highway & railway engineering; methods of ground improvement through compaction, grouting, consolidation and drainage.

Indeterminate Structures

Semester 1(optional)

This course aims to provide students with a variety of techniques to analyse forces and displacements in linear, statically determinate and statically indeterminate skeletal structures. In this context, the course enables learners to strengthen their ability to model such structures and to understand the relationship between the mathematical models used in analysis and the behaviour of the real-world structures. It also introduces the safe and efficient use of commercial software packages for the static analysis of linear elastic beam and the plastic analysis of frames structures, as well as the modelling of structural behaviour in a laboratory environment, providing an awareness of health and safety issues in the latter.  Subjects covered in the syllabus include:

Statically indeterminate structures; moment distribution; plastic analysis of frames.

Sustainability in Civil Engineering

Semester 1(optional)

This course aims to equip students with the interdisciplinary attitudes, skills and knowledge necessary to allow them to contribute to the delivery of sustainable development within the civil engineering industry. This will include a broad introduction to the concepts, drivers and definitions associated with sustainability, as well as an overview of the history of sustainable development.

More specific topics covered in the course syllabus include: Urban design qualities and sustainable cities; the planning & leglislative framework; strategic environmental & environmental impact assessments; project design and planning; national and international sustainability indicators; audits and certification for sustainability and available assessment tools and methodologies. 

Project Management: Theory and Practice

Semester 1(optional)

This course aims to provide the student with an understanding of the concepts and practices of construction project management used to provide value added services to clients. The course develops understanding of the issues related to the management of construction clients and other project stakeholders and how their needs can be co-ordinated, managed and delivered from the project’s design stage through production to occupation and maintenance within the context of client satisfaction and the overarching construction project constraints of time, cost, quality sustainability, health and safety management. 

Subjects covered in the course syllabus include: Construction project management concepts; standards and services; organisational structures for delivery of project management services; management strategies for clients and stakeholder briefing; issues related to management of construction project design process, and budget setting; tools/techniques for construction project planning and control of costs, time, risk and quality; issues relating to TQM and health and safety; teamwork and leadership roles.

Earthquake Engineering

Semester 2(optional)

This course aims to provide the student with an understanding of the nature of seismic forces and the response of structures subjected to such loading, as well as to provide an the learner with an introduction to earthquake-resistant design and the seismic assessment of structures. The main subjects covered in the course syllabus include:

Introduction to engineering seismology; waves in elastic media; introduction to Eurocode 8; simplified and multi-modal response spectrum analyses; elastic & inelastic systems; time history and frequency domain analyses; soil-structure interaction – transmitting boundaries; methods of seismic structural assessment; structural repair and strengthening techniques.

Foundation Engineering

Semester 2(optional)

The overall aim of this course is to provide the student with knowledge and understanding of the geotechnical design process, equipping learners with appropriate methods of analysis for settlement and bearing capacity calculations, as well as in examining appropriate national codes and Eurocodes and their implications in geotechnical design.

The syllabus includes the following topics: Introduction to foundation types (e.g. shallow footings; piled foundation types); deformation due to surface loading (e.g. stress distributions; elastic displacement; settlement theory; bearing capacity; consolidation); bearing capacity of foundations (e.g. shallow footings; active/passive pressures; general bearing capacity methods); Piles (e.g. forces and load transfer; capacity; soil types; pile group behaviour)

Safety, Risk and Reliability

Semester 2(optional)

This course aims to provide the students with an appreciation and understanding of the basic principles of structural reliability theory. It provides an introduction to concepts of structural safety and risk, as well as probability theory and probability distributions.

Specific topics covered in the course syllabus include: Probabilistic modelling of strength and loads; first order second moment and first order reliability methods; reliability-based code calibration; Monte-Carlo simulation and variance reduction techniques; Introduction to causes of structural deterioration (corrosion, fatigue and fracture); risk based inspection strategies using Bayesian methods.

Urban Drainage and Water Supply

Semester 2(optional)

This course introduces the learner to the broad theme of Urban Drainage and Water Supply, with the aim of providing understanding of the following topics: runoff estimation, rainfall estimation, system layout/design, pump system design, sediment transport, Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, the role of computer simulations, service reservoirs, water distribution practice and groundwater supply. The course includes instruction on the use of Infoworks CS. Subjects covered in the course syllabus include:

Performance requirements (e.g. technical, public safety, whole-life operational, amenity and sustainability); combined and separate sewerage systems; rainwater quantification/climate change; overview of sewer sediments; storm Sewer Design; hydrodynamic flow models; SuDS; service reservoirs; water distribution practice; groundwater supply; leakage.

Water and Wastewater Treatment

Semester 2(optional)

The aim of this course is to enable learners to understand the processes and technologies for water treatment including conventional and advanced wastewater treatment and the sizing of various treatment units. The course also provides awareness for the learner of the importance of effective wastewater treatment for river pollution control. Specific topics covered in the course syllabus include:

Introduction to water & wastewater characteristics; fresh water treatment (e.g. coagulation and sedimentation, filtration, disinfection); desalination technologies for sea water treatment; wastewater treatment (e.g. preliminary treatment design, primary tank design/secondary treatment, advanced wastewater treatment); land-based, low-energy and sustainable wastewater treatment systems; sludge handling, treatment & disposal; effluent disposal (including re-use).

Research projects

Research Project 1 & 2 

Semesters 1,2,3 [Mandatory (MSc only)]

The Research Project courses aim to enable learners to develop a capacity to research and report in depth on a subject of relevance to the student's academic or professional career. 

Being synoptically-linked, Research Project 2 (D21RR) continues to develop and expand the research skills that students have undertaken in Research Project 1 (D21RQ). Students are supported throughout both projects by an allocated supervisor. There is no formal syllabus, the research project process is supported by the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) with online resources including PowerPoint slide packs and written guidance material on aspects of good practice in preparing the research project work. Students are introduced to the research project requirements early in the semester and are guided in the completion of the research project.


In the MSc marks are gathered from a combination of examination and project work – overall 66% examination and 33% project work. Students are supported and guided by coursework to prepare them for taught course examination assessments.

Additional information

The MSc programme consists of 8 taught courses followed by two research projects you meet the MSc progression standards in the taught courses. The progression standards are an average mark of 50% or higher and no course marks below 40%.

The Postgraduate Diploma programme consists of the same taught courses but does not continue to the research project phase. PG Diploma students must achieve an average mark of 40% or more and have no marks below 35%. PG Diploma students may choose to transfer to the MSc cohort if they meet the MSc progression standards stated above.

Your career

Graduate profiles

Uchechi Umunna

  • Degree MSc in Civil Engineering
  • Present jobCivil engineer at Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company

Uchechi Umunna studied an MSc in Civil Engineering by Independent Distance Learning (IDL), graduating in 2012. He works as a civil engineer in Nigeria.

Can you tell us about where you work, and describe your role briefly?

I work as a civil engineer with a gas processing company in Nigeria called Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company. My main responsibilities include carrying out civil engineering reviews to ensure that designs, construction, modifications and structural repairs are fit-for-purpose to meet technical, regulatory, safety, operating, and maintenance requirements. 

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on at the moment?

A project I am currently working on is an upgrade of one of the company’s marine offloading facilities. The upgrade is meant to address the degradation of the existing earth retaining sheet pile wall around the berth. The facility was initially design as a temporary facility to be decommissioned five years after its construction. Therefore, no corrosion protection measures were applied to the steel structures. However, the company has now made a decision to extend the service life of the facility, hence the upgrade. 

Why did you choose Heriot-Watt and the programme that you studied?

I chose Heriot-Watt because of its strong reputation and track record in teaching engineering. Making the decision to study an MSc was a fairly easy choice for me having worked as a civil engineer for over five years at the time. I was looking to expand on the knowledge from my bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and gain more in-depth understanding in the areas of foundation and ground engineering. While I was researching the course contents of the various universities, I was glad to find out that Heriot-Watt offered a very rich mix of optional courses on their MSc in Civil Engineering Programme. I decided on the distance learning route having carefully analysed the loss of potential earnings associated with studying a full time programme.  

How was your experience of studying by Independent Distance Learning?

The thought of combining a full time job with an MSc programme seemed initially daunting. However, with time I was able to learn how to balance the workloads from work and school. I was motivated by the opportunity to add more value to myself and to grow my career. As the programme allowed me to work and study at the same time, I was able to immediately put into practice a large proportion of the learning from the programme. Overall, it was a wonderful experience.

Can you tell us about some of the things you liked best about your Heriot-Watt experience and the programme you studied? 

I was quite impressed by the fact that even though I was thousands of miles away from school, it often felt like I was sitting right there in the classroom. Each time I asked a question, I received a very prompt answer from the lecturer which to me suggested a high level of commitment. I also enjoyed the fact that a large volume of information was very easily accessible via the resources at my fingertips. 

I enjoyed every bit of the courses I undertook while studying the MSc in Civil Engineering, particularly Sustainability in Civil Engineering. This course helped me better appreciate the concept of sustainability in terms of effective protection of the environment, prudent use of natural resources, stable levels of economic growth and employment, a better quality of life and social progress for all. 

Do you have any advice for students interested in working in your field?

Civil engineers have a positive impact on the quality of people’s lives. Civil engineering structures ranging from highways, bridges, water treatment plants, buildings, etc. all contribute to improving the overall quality of life. If you are motivated by the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the quality of life in your environment and the society as a whole, then you should look into a career in civil engineering. 

For more graduate profiles, please visit our Postgraduate profiles page.

Entry requirements

For MSc level entry applicants must have:

  • Minimum of 2:2 honours degree or equivalent academic qualification in cognate and semi-cognate subject area. For PG conversion programmes, non-cognate degrees will be considered. Corporate (or chartered) membership of relevant professional institutions will also be considered.

For PG Diploma level entry applicants must have:

  • Third class honours degree in a cognate or semi-cognate subject area PLUS 2 years of relevant experience at an appropriate level completed post qualification.
  • Cognate or semi-cognate ordinary degree PLUS 3-4 years of relevant experience at an appropriate level following graduation. 
  • Candidates who do not meet the above entry requirements or have no formal academic qualifications will be considered individually based on their CV and interview. Admission via this route will be at the discretion of the Director of Admissions and the number of successful applicants will be restricted. 

There is no entry at PG Certificate level except through exceptional agreement with approved learning partners.

Non-graduating study at masters level:

  • Entry is based on CV or on formal academic qualifications or graduate (or incorporated) membership of a relevant professional institution. 

English language requirements

If English is not the applicant’s first language a minimum of IELTS 6.5 or equivalent is required with all elements passed at 6.0 or above. 

Applicants who have previously successfully completed programmes delivered in the medium of English language may be considered and will be required to provide documentary evidence of this. Examples would be secondary school education or undergraduate degree programme. A minimum of at least one year of full time study (or equivalent) in the medium of English language will be required. 

We offer a range of English language courses to help you meet the English language requirement prior to starting your masters programme:

  • 14 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with no more than one skill at 4.5);
  • 10 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with minimum of 5.0 in all skills);
  • 6 weeks English (for IELTS 5.5 with minimum of 5.5 in reading & writing and minimum of 5.0 in speaking & listening)

Distance learning students

Please note that independent distance learning students who access their studies online will be expected to have access to a PC/laptop and internet.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees for 2016 entry (by residency status)
Status*Distance Learning**
Scotland / Non-UK EU£1162 / £830***
England/Northern Ireland/Wales£1162 / £830***
Overseas£1162 / £830***

* If you are unsure which category you fall in to, you should complete a fee status enquiry form, which allows us to assess your fees.

** Fee per course

Additional fee information

*** £1162 per course, £830 per Research Project, £1660 per Dissertation, (£2260 per Premium Course where offered). This programme consists of 8 courses. At MSc level students complete 2 research projects.

For Independent Distance Learning fees, please check the IDL Tuition and Exam Fees document.

Scholarships & bursaries

We aim to encourage well-qualified, ambitious students to study with us and we offer a wide variety of scholarships and bursaries to achieve this. Over £6 million worth of opportunities are available in fee and stipend scholarships, and more than 400 students benefit from this support.

View our full range of postgraduate taught scholarships and postgraduate research scholarships.