Structural and Foundation Engineering MSc/Diploma

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


This programme is designed for graduates and practising engineers who wish to improve their knowledge of structural and foundation engineering. The structure and content of the programme has been carefully designed following liaison with a wide range of employers in the sector.

This programme builds directly on staff research activities which comprise experimental, numerical and theoretical work. Students also have access to excellent practical facilities for static, dynamic and impact testing. Advanced computer and networking facilities, including state-of-the-art parallel processing capability, are also available.

Flexible study options

This programme can be studied full-time, part-time or via Independent Distance Learning (IDL), ideal for those in employment or with other commitments, providing flexible study options that fit around work or family. As an IDL student you will not be required to attend any lectures, tutorials or other events at any of Heriot-Watt University’s campuses.

Programme duration

Mode of studyDuration



Independent Distance Learning (IDL)

1 year

2 years

2-7 years*

*An 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 an Accredited CEng (Partial) BEng (Hons) or an accredited IEng (Full) BEng/BSc (Hons) undergraduate first degree. See the Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) for further information.

Industry links

The direct relationship between the programme and industry needs is reinforced in two ways: through projects with an industrial context; and through specific aspects of the taught courses, for example, presentation of case studies and seminars. There are also opportunities for visiting lecturers from relevant sectors to get involved in teaching part of the courses.

This programme is also supported by the Civil Engineering Industry Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from major multi-national employers AECOM, ARUP, Balfour 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 Structural and Foundation 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

The curriculum of Structural and Foundation Engineering, led by Professor Laghrouche, covers the specialist technical and computational skills necessary for today’s construction industry and therefore offers excellent preparation for employment across an industry that includes consulting and contracting engineers, public authorities and local government. In addition, the programme also provides a suitable springboard for graduates seeking a career in a research lead environment.

Both MSc and Diploma students undertake the eight taught courses listed below. MSc students also complete a Masters dissertation.

Semester 1Semester 2
  • Indeterminate Structures
  • Stability and Dynamics
  • Ground Engineering
  • FEA & Stress Analysis A
  • Safety, Risk and Reliability
  • Earthquake Engineering
  • Foundation Engineering
  • FEA & Stress Analysis B 

Course descriptions

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

Indeterminate Structures

Semester 1(mandatory)

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.

Ground Engineering

Semester 1(mandatory)

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.

Safety, Risk and Reliability

Semester 2(mandatory)

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.

Earthquake Engineering

Semester 2(mandatory)

This course aims to provide students with an understanding of the nature of seismic forces and the response of structures subjected to such loading, as well as to provide learners with an introduction to earthquake-resistant design and the seismic assessment of structures.

Topics 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(mandatory)

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)

Research projects

The research activities of the programme involve combinations of experimental, numerical and theoretical work. The School has excellent practical facilities for static, dynamic, and impact testing and it has access to advanced computer and networking facilities that include a state-of-the-art parallel processing computer.


MSc students are also required to submit a research dissertation, the research topic normally aligns with the research interests of the staff in the School but can be tailored to suit the interests of the student or student’s employer. Distance learning and part time students are encouraged to suggest project topics based on their own work experience.


At the discretion of the Programme Leader, MSc students may choose to nominate a research project which enables them to investigate a problem they have encountered in their workplace or elsewhere. The research project can be undertaken in conjunction with a suitable industrial partner on campus or in industry if the industrial partner has the facilities to provide adequate supervision.

Programme leader

Professor Laghrouche is a Lecturer in Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics. His research interests lie in the general area of Applied Scientific Computing with a particular emphasis on elastic and acoustic waves, soil-structure interaction, non-reflecting boundary conditions, finite and infinite elements, meshless methods, non-linear modelling and parallel computing.

The additional staff members who deliver the programme have wide ranging expertise in specialist subjects which include reinforced concrete technology, dynamic and impact testing of materials, offshore engineering, structural safety, soil-structure interaction and numerical modelling.

Your career

Graduate profiles

Andrew MacLennan

  • Degree MSc Structural and Foundation Engineering
  • Present jobTrainee Structural Engineer for Saipem

Andrew graduated from the MSc Structural and Foundation Engineering programme in 2013 and now works as a Trainee Structural Engineer for Saipem in London.

Can you tell us about your current job?

I just started working as a Trainee Structural Engineer which initially involves an intensive 9 month training course. This will give me the opportunity to become familiar with the work that I will be carrying out. Saipem are involved in the Oil and Gas sector and this is the area that I will be working in. I will be involved in the design and installation of various components and will have the opportunity to work offshore for periods also.

What was your experience of doing a postgraduate degree at Heriot-Watt University?

I have greatly enjoyed studying for the Postgraduate degree at Heriot-Watt University. The classes are all very interesting and challenging which has meant that you are constantly learning and pushing yourself. The lecturers have also all been very helpful and welcome questions that you might have on any material. I think that the course has been well thought out to give the best possible Postgraduate experience.

Do you think your Heriot-Watt postgraduate experience gave you an edge in your chosen field and why?

I definitely feel that studying at Heriot-Watt gave me an edge when I was being considered for jobs. The University has very strong links to industry and this is something that is recognised by companies. Heriot-Watt also has a very good reputation and particularly so in the engineering disciplines so the course is very well thought of.

What advice would you give to a postgraduate student considering embarking on their journey of a lifetime at Heriot-Watt?

I would encourage any postgraduate student considering studying at Heriot-Watt to research all of the possible courses that are available to study and consider what line they really want to work in. I would definitely recommend speaking to the course leaders to get a good idea of what will be involved and also if it was possible to speak to current or previous students that would be really beneficial. That way you can make a decision on exactly the course that you want to study and will know what is involved. I would highly recommend studying at Heriot-Watt to anybody as it has been the best decision I have made to study here and one which will shape my career.

Atheer Al-Saoudi

  • Degree MSc Structural Engineering
  • Present jobPhD student at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia
Atheer Al-Saoudi

Can you tell us a bit about what you're currently doing?

I am in my first year as a PhD student doing research in increasing the sustainability of concrete bridges using Fibre Reinforced Polymers (FRP) materials.

How is the work you do influencing tomorrow's world?

Sustainable development is a key issue in tomorrow’s world, the research fits in the category of using new reasonably priced material in retrofitting concrete structures that will expand the service life of the structure with low cost of maintenance. 

Why did you decide to come to Heriot-Watt over other places offering similar courses?

I navigated via internet through many universities that offer MSc programmes in civil engineering and found that Heriot-Watt is unique in offering a degree in Structural and Foundation Engineering in addition to its excellent campus with beautiful Scottish environment. 

What was your experience of doing a postgraduate degree at Heriot-Watt University?

It was a nice experience for me personally as an international student. I found the modules during the first semester are slightly difficult but in the second semester I became more familiar with the teaching system. I made good friendships with many students and staff from UK as well as from other countries.    

I learnt new topics during the courses which provided me with a solid background of knowledge which has helped me a lot in my current PhD project. Also, I've gained very good skills through the experimental work that I’ve done in my research semester (dissertation).

What advice would you give to a postgraduate student considering embarking on their studies at Heriot-Watt?

Heriot-Watt University is unique in its diversity in programs; especially the School of Engineering, Geoscience, Infrastructure & Society has a wide spectrum of specialities that will fit in with the ambition of any student. Since my time at HWU I have encouraged many students in different countries in the world to complete their postgraduate studies at HWU. 

Sara Mezher

  • Degree MSc Structural and Foundation Engineering
  • Present jobPhD student, Heriot-Watt University
Sara Mezher

Sara Mezher graduated from the MSc Structural and Foundation Engineering programme in 2013.

Can you tell us about your PhD?

I am currently enrolled in a Railway Engineering PhD. The main purpose of the PhD research is related to the behaviour of railway track dynamics and the development of high-speed train performance. The objective of this study is to use and continue to develop a 3-dimensional dynamic finite element program that can model the behaviour of the high-speed train interaction with the track and ground. The program is called DART3D (Dynamic Analysis of Railway Track, 3-dimensions).

What was your experience of doing a postgraduate degree at Heriot-Watt University?

My Heriot-Watt postgraduate experience was unique and pleasant. It helped me develop my knowledge and expertise and boost my educational background with focusing on specialized fields. Moreover, faculty staff and the board of doctors were extremely supportive as they encouraged me to accomplish my dreams, widen my ambitions and aim for higher levels of education.

Do you think your Heriot-Watt postgraduate experience gave you an edge in your chosen field and why?

This experience was so beneficial because it honed my skills in learning analysis methods that are directly related to my PhD study such as Finite Element Analysis and focusing on important points and educational background that are needed in my PhD.

Furthermore, the Institute of Infrastructure and Environment held many seminars in different fields that were helpful in developing my understanding of major aspects related to my PhD. I also attended events organized by IIE that allowed me to meet PhD students and view their work which helped me in learning from their experience.

What advice would you give to a postgraduate student considering embarking on their journey at Heriot-Watt?

Since it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, they should seize every opportunity, strengthen relationships with their professors and colleagues and enhance communication skills which will help them in their future plans. I would advise them to work hard to develop their skills and find the right balance between studying and socializing to benefit completely from this great experience.

Career opportunities

Recent graduates have gained employment in a multitude of engineering consultancies, civil engineering contractors, local and national government organisations and research establishments.

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*Full-timePart-timeDistance Learning**
Scotland / Non-UK EU£5100£1162
England/Northern Ireland/Wales£5100£1162

* 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. This programme consists of 8 courses. MSc students are also required to submit a Masters dissertation.

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.