Algal Biotechnology and Bioeconomy MSc

Course code C903

What is special about this course?

Algal biotechnology is a rapidly expanding discipline that seeks to understand and harness the resources of some of the most diverse groups of organisms on the planet.

Algae are comprised of microscopic photosynthetic organisms and macroscopic seaweeds, and are key to human life on earth, producing much of the oxygen that we breathe and underpinning the base of freshwater and marine food chains. Furthermore, algae and their natural products have a huge range of current and potential applications for humans: developing applications include pharmaceuticals, pigments, nutraceuticals, biofuels, enzymes, fertilisers, and bioremediation materials, on earth and even for space applications.

The aim of this programme is to produce highly motivated and trained scientists in the sphere of Algal Biotechnology, with the skills, knowledge and abilities to compete effectively within the employment market of this rapidly expanding area of research and commercial application.

Special features

  • Learn from experts in the algal biotechnology field
  • The course is delivered by scientists from: the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), a leading institute in algal research; the wider UHI network; and other sector experts
  • Theory and practical sessions, including residential experiences
  • Train using the latest equipment at SAMS and CCAP
  • Small class sizes, plus networking across courses and modules
  • Amazing marine location in the highlands and islands of Scotland
  • Opportunities to carry out research abroad
  • Opportunities to participate in professional skills courses, which cover a range of topics such as: presentation skills; poster design; CV and grant writing skills; science communications; and the art of networking

Entry requirements

  • 2:2 honours degree or above in a relevant biological or other biology- related STEM subject
  • Other degree routes, third or ordinary degrees will be considered on application and based on interview
  • Applicants whose first language is not English must also have a minimum overall IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent – please see our English Language requirements guide for further details
  • All applicants will be required to attend an interview

Applying for September 2024 intake:
We are now accepting applications for our next intake of students starting in September 2024.

We will be running an online event on 26th October 2023, where you will have the opportunity to speak to experts in the algal biotechnology field and find out more about the theory and practical sessions that form part of the course. Further details about this event can be found on our Open Days page.

If you would like more information about the course, application deadlines, funding or visas, please contact us.


There may be scholarships and bursaries available to fund your studies. For further information, please view our Fees/Funding tab.

Access routes


You will study the following modules.

Semester 1 (September to early January):

Key skills for Phycologists
You will learn the research approaches that are essential for becoming an expert phycologist, including:

  • core practical phycological skills  (aseptic technique, preparation of medium, identification, enumeration)
  • isolating and characterising new algal cultures, and nurture and assess the biotechnological potential of phototrophs
  • statistical approaches focused on designing experiments for optimising the phototroph output: yield or production or sequestration of compounds (of commercial or research interest)
  • management of approaches covering aspects of policy and promotion of research outcomes

The overall goal of the module is to help you gain the practical expertise to pursue your chosen career in applied or academic phycology
Managing biological lifecycles – micro and macroalgae
This module will allow you to:

  • gain extensive, detailed and critical knowledge of the main features, techniques, current research and policy on micro- and macroalgal cultivation globally
  • use a significant range of standard and specialised research equipment and techniques which are applicable to the systems used in the production of micro- and macroalgae
  • gain a critical understanding of how the aquaculture industry manages the biological life-cycles of micro- and macroalgae
  • critically review, consolidate and extend knowledge applicable to the critical points of production and the wider environmental and socio-economic impacts that the industry can have on coastal waters

The overall goal of this module is to help you gain a detailed and critical understanding and practical application of micro and macroalgal aquaculture production.
Introduction to R and Data Visualisation (online only)
Analysing data often begins with visualising it, observing the relationships that appear, and discovering anything unexpected. This module will teach you how to use the open source statistical software R to visualise data including cleaning, preparing and summarising the data sets. 

Alongside the data visualisations, reproducible reporting mechanisms will be introduced, using a document format that mixes code and text. The skills learned in the module are used in many fields and are applicable for use with many datasets, regardless of size. R is a widely used tool throughout various industries and businesses. It has a large open source community who contribute to the development of new tools and techniques, along with providing community support. 

Other industry tools, including an integrated development environment and version control, will also be used throughout the module.




You will study the following modules.

Semester 2 (end of January to end of May):

Blue Biotechnology
This module combines the theory and practice of algal biotechnology for both micro and macroalgae. It will cover topics including the taxonomy, systematics, and physiology of micro- and macro-algae. Research will focus on the biotechnological exploitation of these organisms, in particular their use as:

  • human/animal food; hydrocolloids
  • fine chemicals
  • green fertilizers
  • feed-stock to produce algal biofuels

Issues such as the environmental impacts of macro-algal farms, disease susceptibility and techno-economics will be covered. Overall, the module will allow students to be proficient in working within a wide range of academic departments through to commercial biotechnological enterprises.  
Genomics and Metabolomics in Algal Biotechnology
This module will provide the theoretical and practical knowledge and skills in the use of genomics and metabolomics. Knowledge in these areas is highly sought after across a wide range of research, commercial and industrial biotechnological settings, not least in the field of algal biotechnology. 

You will develop: 

  • critical, theoretical and practical skills in the use of genomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics in topics such as nucleic acid extraction, polymerase chain reaction, gene expression, primer design, phylogenetics and DNA sequencing and analysis, metabolite extraction and analysis
  • knowledge of ICT applications and data analysis/statistics software relevant to the use and practice of genomics and metabolomics
  • data mining skills and visualisation relevant to algal biotechnology (informatics and bioinformatics)
  • a learning of the critical genome and metabolomic laboratory skills as related to algal biotechnology

Algal Scale up and Processing
This module combines the theory and practical aspects of algal scale up and processing, supported by access to CCAP – Europe’s largest collection of microalgae – and a visit to the University of Cambridge Algal Innovation Centre (AIC).  

As part of this module, topics will include the process of microalgal scale-up from cells on small agar tubes or liquid vials to 70+L algal bioreactors in the SAMS-CCAP ARIES system. The types of scale are considered in the lectures, and harvesting processes (centrifugation and membrane filtration) will be taught as part of lectures and practical sessions. Productivity units in terms of aerial and other units will be taught. 

The off-site visit to the University of Cambridge Algal Innovation Centre will introduce you to different ways of growing and harvesting algae in larger settings. There may also be opportunity to visit industrial algal growth companies in the UK, and attend conferences and professional development courses and seminars during your studies.


You will study the following module.

Semester 2 (January to August):

This module will be undertaken from January to the end of August and will provide you with an opportunity to undertake a sustained and independent project in an area or topic within Algal Biotechnology, under academic and/or industrial supervision depending on where your research is based. 

Dissertation projects can be based at SAMS, SAMS Enterprise, or anywhere at a UHI institute (by agreement). It is possible for students to be based at an external academic group or industrial partner, either in the UK or internationally. Funding to cover non-SAMS placements should be explored by students and course administration staff during the year.

How will I study my course?

  • Full-time
  • You will learn through a combination of face to face lectures and tutorials for all modules, with the exception of the Introduction to R module, which is held online via Inverness UHI
  • All modules at SAMS contain a mix of theory and practical classes
  • There will be a field trip to other algal growth facilities, such as the Algal Innovation Centre at the University of Cambridge, in semester 2
  • The research dissertation can be hosted at SAMS or other external industry or academic sites, in the UK or abroad, if funding allows
  • For further course information, please see the SAMS site page

How long will my course last?

  • Full-time: 1 year @ 35-40 hours per week

Number of hours per week indicates the total number of hours you should dedicate to the course, which includes time spent in lectures and your own time spent on individual study and research.

Where can I study my course?

  • Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI

Start date

  • September


The following fees apply to this taught postgraduate course:

For students normally domiciled in Scotland or the rest of the UK (England, Wales and N. Ireland, including Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), studying this course on-campus the following fee applies:

This includes

  • EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status in the UK,
  • EEA/Swiss nationals with settled status in the UK
  • EEA/Swiss nationals with pre-settled status who are self-employed or migrant workers in the UK.
  2023-24 2024-25
MSc (180 credits), full-time £9,000 £9,500

Fees are payable in advance each academic year unless otherwise agreed.

International students

For students who do not normally reside in the UK or are otherwise assessed as international for fee purposes, studying this course on-campus, the following fee applies:

  2023-24 2024-25
MSc £12,800 £14,994

Students will need Student Route visa sponsorship to study in the UK.

EU/EEA and Swiss nationals without settled or pre-settled status in the UK

Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the Scottish Government confirmed that EU/EEA and Swiss nationals, who do not have settled or pre-settled status, are considered as international for fee purposes. From 2024, students will get an automatic fee scholarship for this course.

This includes EEA/Swiss nationals with pre-settled status who are not self-employed or migrant workers in the UK.

  2023-24 (with scholarship) 2024-25 (with scholarship)
MSc £9,600 £11,245

Fees are payable in advance each academic year unless otherwise agreed.


Eligible Scotland-domiciled students studying full-time can access loans up to £11,500 from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). This comprises a tuition fee loan up to £7,000 and a non-income assessed living cost loan of £4,500. 

Eligible Scotland-domiciled students studying part-time can apply for a tuition fee loan from SAAS.  You must be intending to complete the course in no longer than twice the length of time it would take for a full-time student. For example, if your course is available to full-time students as a one-year programme, you will be funded for a maximum of two years' part-time study. If your course does not have a full-time option, you must complete within three years. You can apply for a tuition fee loan up to £7,000, which will be paid pro-rata for each academic year of study. 

Full details can be found on the SAAS website. Applications for loans open in April.

Students from the rest of the UK who meet the eligibility requirements may be able to apply for a loan from the Student Loan Company.



Additional costs

There is a short, off-site, residential excursion to the University of Cambridge Algal Innovation Centre during semester 2 of the course.  Standard travel and accommodation will be arranged and covered by the course but extra costs incurred (such as meals etc) will need to be covered by the student. Bursaries to help with these ancillary costs may be available on a case by case basis.

Some students may want to carry out their dissertation research outside the SAMS facilities (eg at an algal industry site or other academic partner). The course will not directly fund such off-site projects beyond that allocated for the project, but we will mentor any students wishing to look for extra funds if required (eg. for travel and accommodation).

What can I do on completion of my course?

Once you have successfully completed this course, you might like to consider the following career paths:

  • Companies growing algae at scale for high value products or aquaculture
  • Starting your own company
  • Scientific research assistant

Can I progress into further study?

You may wish to progress from MSc Algal Biotechnology and Bioeconomy to PhD research in Algal Biology and/or Biotechnology.

Is there more information available online?

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Apply for Algal Biotechnology and Bioeconomy MSc

I want to start in Aug/Sep 2024

We are delighted that you are thinking about studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands. We operate a fair and open admissions system committed to equality of opportunity and non-discrimination. We consider all applications on merit and on the basis of ability to achieve, without discrimination on grounds of gender, age, disability, ethnicity and socio-economic background. We welcome applications from all prospective students and aim to provide appropriate and efficient services to students with disabilities.