Master of Science in Physical Land Resources (Soil Science)

Course content

The list of challenges facing humanity and the planet is huge: climate change, food and water insecurity, environmental degradation, a projected global population of 9 billion by 2050, and resulting from this, conflict, war and migration. These challenges are strongly linked with physical land resources, and soil and water in particular.

A thorough understanding of physical land resources and how to manage and engineer soil and water is thus essential in addressing current and future challenges, and particularly to optimise biomass production and other land uses while minimising environmental hazards. This is acknowledged by the international scientific community and policy makers, and resulted in international conventions such as the United Nations (UN) Convention to Combat Desertification, International Panel for Food Security, UN Convention for Biodiversity, International Panel on Climate Change. At the World Climate Summit 2015 held in Paris, soil management was identified as a formal part of the global response to the climate crisis.

We offer a top-rated, unique and international programme that was ranked first in recent programme evaluations by students. It is one of the few programmes worldwide with such a strong focus on soils in relation to climate change, food and water insecurity, environmental degradation and engineering applications and thus addressing directly and indirectly most of the new 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. The programme is taught in English and is followed by students from all continents, resulting in a unique international experience.

The programme is research-based and is worldwide one of the few programmes that still provides students a fundamental and in-depth understanding of physical land resources. Specific training is given on how to write and defend a research proposal, and an important part of the programme is allocated to the master dissertation. Students thus get the opportunity to be involved as junior researchers in cutting-edge research.

Course structure

The two-years (120 credits) interfaculty and interuniversity programme addresses soil materials from an agricultural, hydrological and geotechnical perspective, which is rather unique. The curriculum is tailor-made in that students have a great flexibility in developing their curriculum to their personal needs and interests.

87 (out of the total 120) credits are to be achieved by taking up elective courses and activities (including a master dissertation, on a research topic of choice). Students can also choose to follow a preparatory summer school.

We offer an attractive, balanced and coherent programme (from theory to laboratory to practice) with a wide range of different teaching methods including field work, excursions, laboratory work, computer workshops, group discussions, microteaching, scientific communication, classroom lectures and internship. Our students really appreciate this applied and practical approach to teaching, in combination with a solid academic and theoretical formation. Attention is not only given to the latest technological developments and equipment, but also to low-tech alternative solutions encouraging self-reliance.

The first year provides a fundamental basis in physical land resources, with a main subject in either Soil Science or Land Resources Engineering. The second year offers specialised courses in one of the two main subjects.

Main Subject: Soil Science
This main subject has a strong focus on agricultural use and applications. Graduates acquire the knowledge and skills to understand the development and evolution of soils under natural conditions or following human interference using field, map, laboratory and remote sensing data. They have the scientific knowledge to use and manage soil and water in a sustainable way, and to optimise land use under different natural and environmental conditions.

Main subject: Land Resources Engineering
This main subject offers training in non-agricultural use and application of soil and includes geotechnical aspects (use of soil as a building material or for foundations, slope stability and stability of excavations). It also offers training in the role of soil- and groundwater for water management and supply, soil management in relation to environment and land use (erosion, sediment transport and protection).

> Master's dissertation
An important part of the programme is allocated to the master dissertation. Guided visits to the research units of all lecturers are organised in semester 1 and offer students a full picture of all relevant research activities and the existing infrastructure. Students start collecting data and conduct field and lab work between semester 2 and 3 (summer holiday). In the 2nd year, students avail of the full 2nd semester for all the work related to the master dissertation. They have to integrate the acquired knowledge with (guided) self-study, which involves experimental work, data analysis and interpretation, writing and communication. The master dissertation is an important measure of the final competences obtained by the student.

Career perspectives

There is a great demand for experts in physical land resources to address the many challenges ahead of us, particularly resulting from the lack of similar programmes worldwide. Implementation of various environmental and climate change related directives and addressing the sustainable development goals, demands well-trained personnel in physical land resources, both in the Global North and South. The great majority of alumni are very satisfied with the programme and with the opportunities it created for their current jobs. Most alumni are employed in theory-oriented and applied research at universities or research institutes; policy making at (inter)governmental and non-governmental organisations; education, training, extension or rural innovation; design, management and interventions at small to medium-sized enterprises or corporate businesses; or take up a consultancy or advisory position.