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Environmental Sciences – Course Development

Throughout the nineties, there has been a significant change in the pattern of environmental courses at both graduate and postgraduate level. During the earlier years, there was considerable expansion in the number and diversity of degree courses available at universities and higher education colleges. This rapid growth was supported by both the popularity of environmental issues and the initial shortage of trained environmental practitioners. The establishment of a large number of new universities contributed to the increase in the environmental degree courses offered.

By 1995, supply had overtaken demand in the UK job market. Since then, there has been a drop in student numbers and some re-organisation of the pattern of existing courses. Modular programmes have become increasingly common, giving a wider range of choice and greater flexibility in the nature and content of the courses offered. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the range of postgraduate courses.

At the last count, there were over fifty higher education institutions offering postgraduate courses in environmental subjects. These can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Policy: Environmental Planning and Policy, Rural and Regional Planning, Conservation;
  • Management: Environmental Management, Auditing, Monitoring, Assessment, Risk Assessment, Environmental Law;
  • Specialised: Ecology, Pollution Control, Contaminated Land, Waste Management, Water Technology, Marine Studies, Coastal Zone and Estuarine Management, Energy.

The third and ‘Specialised’ category is probably the largest and most diverse, whilst the first two categories are more general and interdisciplinary.

Courses are usually of one year in duration, but a part-time option spread over two years is often available. With the modular system now in place for most courses, it is possible to take a shortened course to diploma level. Entry requirements are usually an honours degree in a related subject, but a good deal of flexibility is exercised in considering equivalent qualifications (including work experience, which is mainly for mature entrants).

Courses in the Policy and Management categories are primarily of benefit to those seeking employment with private consultancies, local authorities or government agencies. The courses in the Specialised sector will appeal to those with an interest in particular subject areas, and will have a broader employer spectrum that includes industry and research.

The content of postgraduate courses is carefully designed to match the requirements of potential employers, and there is frequent consultation between the course managers and industry/commerce to keep up with the latest developments. The ‘Specialised’ courses contain substantial elements of fieldwork and laboratory work, often carried out in conjunction with companies or external organisations. These give students experience of live projects and contact with industry. Additional provision is made within most courses for the teaching of research methods and skills, data analysis techniques, and additional skills training in areas such as IT.

Postgraduate courses under the title of ‘Environmental Sciences’ are likely to vary in content, and may relate more to one area of subject matter than another. The proportions of pure science, laboratory-related work and fieldwork may also vary, and it is necessary for prospective entrants to ascertain the details in advance of an application in order to select the course that fits their requirements.

International Dimension
There is a wealth of possible postgraduate courses available within UK higher education institutions, and these places are readily available for suitably qualified overseas applicants. Environmental science is, by its nature, of international or global significance, and the skills gained in these courses can be utilised all over the world. Environmental management principles will remain the same, though their application may vary from region to region. Whether they relate to water, marine, pollution control or energy management, the same methods can be adopted in Europe, the Far East or the USA. The universality of approach is clearly demonstrated by the fact that UK environmental industries are major exporters both of consultancy skills and equipment as significant market leaders worldwide.

Employment Prospects
Since 1992 and the Rio Summit Conference, global involvement in environmental issues has become of increasing importance. As in the UK and most major nations of the world, the demand for trained environmental scientists and practitioners in varying disciplines has been increasing. In Europe, the European Union legislation has created a volume of mandatory requirements for both governments and industry, which need application and understanding by specialists. This is mirrored in the USA and other countries. The Kyoto Protocol, following on from previous international agreements, has set targets for the reduction of emissions to the atmosphere to which all nations subscribe. Pollution control is thus a global area of environmental action, that is generating a demand for particular knowledge and skills.

Other global environmental problems, such as marine fish reserves, desertification and the destruction of rain forests, wildlife depletion, renewable energy sources and urban regeneration all create the need for more trained and qualified professionals. The range of postgraduate training available in the UK is a unique resource aiming to meet this need.

Dr. RA Fuller
Honorary Secretary
The Institution of Environmental Sciences


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