Courses Overview >> Taught Postgraduate Programmes >> Ecological Food Systems >> MSc Ecological Food Systems Programme Structure

MSc Ecological Food Systems Programme Structure

student examining plant cells on a sustainable horticulture courseThe MSc Ecological Food Systems is a full-time one-year programme, starting in January. 

There are six taught modules spread between January and July, followed by an 18 week dissertation period. 

There are six taught modules between January and July, followed by an 18 week dissertation period. 

Module 1: Living Systems

Module 2: Plant Science and Botanical Diversity

Module 3: Agroecological Design and Practice in Horticulture

Spring Break

Module 4: Research Methods in Ecological Food Systems

Module 5: Food Systems in a Post-Carbon World

Module 6: New Food Economy

Each taught module is worth 20 credits and the dissertation module is worth 60 credits. The taught modules consist of a variety of teaching styles and modes, including lectures, action learning, seminars, tutorials, panel discussions, practical sessions, experiential work and field visits. 

Students may study the full Masters part-time over two or three years, starting with the PG Certificate material (Core Taught Modules 1, 2 and 3) in the first year, followed by either:

  • the remaining Taught Modules and Dissertation in the second year; or
  • the remaining Taught Modules in the second year and the Dissertation in the third year.

The MSc may also be taken on a part-time basis over two to three years, using three different pathways.

It must be started with the 3 core modules in the first year, followed by either:

  • the remaining modules in the first year and the dissertation in the second year (Pathway 1)
  • the remaining modules in the second year and the dissertation in the second year (Pathway 2)
  • the remaining modules in the second year and the dissertation in the third year (Pathway 3)

Postgraduate Diploma

Postgraduate Diploma students do not write up a dissertation, but must complete all six Core Modules including Research Methods.

Students may study the PG Diploma part-time over two years, starting with the PG Certificate (Core Taught Modules 1, 2, and 3) in the first year, followed by the remaining Taught Modules in the second year.

Postgraduate Certificate

Postgraduate Certificate students take Core Modules 1, 2 and 3 only.

There is no part-time option for the Postgraduate Certificate. 


All modules are assessed by 100% coursework, designed to reflect the requirements and work modes in the professions and career routes relating to this course. Assessments will take a variety of forms and can include essays, written journals, and presentations.


Module 1: Living Systems

This module explores how our awareness of sustainability is evolving – from the modernist and mechanistic towards an understanding of socio-ecological systems. It will draw upon ecology, Gaia theory and complexity theory to introduce important concepts which can be meaningfully applied to the future of food systems. You will develop your systems and resilience thinking across the food web including design and production, diets and food cultures, society and enterprise. The module couples ecological literacy with ecological design through theory, practice and experiential work and provides the foundations for Schumacher’s approach to the future of food.

Module 2: Plant Science and Botanical Diversity

This module introduces production horticulture based on biological principles. The focus will be on the biology of plant establishment, soil ecology and soil protection, compost production and nutrient cycling, water conservation and the role of a diverse ecology in pest, disease and weed management. The module will also cover plant taxonomy, genetic resources and the importance of botanical diversity in sustainable horticulture.

Module 3: Agroecological Design and Practice in Horticulture

Agroecological design aims to create diverse, locally adapted agricultural systems that minimise impacts through integration with living processes. You will learn about the principles and practice of ecological design, for a variety of agricultural systems. You will develop skills for interpreting the characteristics of local environments, and their influence on system productivity and ecology.  

Module 4: Research Methods in Ecological Food Systems

Conducting quantitative and qualitative research project requires skills in experimental design and data analysis, safety assessment, project management and applying for grants. The module will also cover written, verbal and graphic communication skills for research, teaching, and public understanding of science, career mapping and development.

Module 5: Food Systems and the Post Carbon World

This module will explore current land use practice, food systems and food cultures in the UK, and evaluate the impact of future low carbon scenarios. Alternative production and processing will be considered and demonstrated. A range of practicals will enhance knowledge of implementation of alternative land use practice and diets.

Module 6: The New Food Economy

Mitigating impacts of rising fuel prices and climate change coupled with a proactive focus on resilience is driving changes in the scales of production and food chains. Adapting production and optimising ecosystem services in terms of soils, water and biodiversity is expanding the diversity of foods and will influence processing, marketing and consumption. Strengthening community, both in terms of health and identity, is changing the nature of the business model and opening new opportunities for enterprise. The New Food Economy Module will explore this emerging landscape and support you in co-creating your own pathway be this you as an individual or part of a larger organisation.


As part of the MSc course you will design and undertake a 60-credit dissertation project. Generally, dissertations will be written up in the format of a report or journal paper but can also take more novel and creative form in discussion with your supervisor. A number of exciting opportunities for research exist at Schumacher College (based on the 1,200-acre Dartington Estate), Plymouth University and partner organisations, as well as outside the UK. Project supervision is provided by Plymouth University in conjunction with partners. Students are encouraged to undertake research leading to publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Collaborating institutions in our postgraduate programme

Plymouth UniversityPlymouth University is committed to social and environmental sustainability and was top of the People and Planet Green League of Universities in 2010.



Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)CAT aims to empower people to live a more sustainable life. Through a combination of post graduate, short, and school courses and practical onsite examples.


campaign for real farmingThe Campaign for Real Farming was set up by advocate, journalist and biologist Colin Tudge to promote Enlightened Agriculture – “Farming that is expressly designed to feed people without wrecking the rest of the world”.


Organic Research CentreThe Organic Research Centre is leading a European-wide project to support the development of plant breeding focused on the needs of organic producers. Funded through the CORE Organic II Eranet, with Defra providing the financial support for ORC and other UK work, the project aims to improve seed quality and health, promote genetic and crop diversity, and encourage the adoption of suitable materials by organic producers