If you love soil so much that you want to learn everything about it, then you are spoilt for choice for course options in the United Kingdom (UK). Here, I've made a list of all the courses and degrees I could find and write about in the space of 5 hours. Therefore whilst I've spent hours compiling this list, it is by no means exhaustive. Ultimately though, I want it to be the most comprehensive guide on soil science courses available to study from the UK! Please get in touch if I've missed something off!
There are of course programs with soil science modules. For example, most geography programs will have a soil science component as will agricultural focused courses. It is not my intent to list these. Instead these lists are courses with soil science fundamentals, understanding soil importance and/or managing soil as the primary focus. Ultimately if you're splashing hard-earned cash on a course, it is worth contacting the course co-ordinators to get an understanding of what you will and will not learn.
They are in no particular order and I've split them into free, mostly free and pay for options. Anyway, without further ado, here's the current list of soil science courses I have come across that are available to study if you're based in the UK.
Although theoretical training in soil science is a great start, ultimately practical experience is hands down the best way to learn about soil. This is what you pay for in paid courses. That and being able to question the experts.
Free soil science courses
If you're wanting to get a basic, and in some cases, what seems like quite a detailed understanding, of soil then you can't go wrong with these courses. They are free! Who doesn't love free?! The quality of these will vary hugely. Some seem downright excellent and others, well they are free, so what do you expect?! I'd love to get the time to review them thoroughly for you, and one day I may. For now, leave a comment below if you found any of these particularly good.
- I'm super intrigued by this virtual field trip to Devon offered by The OpenScience Laboratory at The Open University and The Wolfson Foundation: "Sorting Out Soils". You'll need to sign up for a free account to access the materials.
- This section wouldn't be complete without listing YouTube as an option. Just search for "soil science" and copious videos will appear for your viewing pleasure, most focused around brief <5 minutes introductions. In fact, amazingly, there is a whole university-level soil science course playlist from Jonathan Russell-Annelli at Cornell University. This is insane! This is an amazing resource that I want to shout out.
- "Climate-smart Soil and Land Management" run by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. A course designed for an understanding at a basic level of soil management and its importance. Also available in Spanish, Arabic and French.
Free soil science courses that have options you may need to pay for
These courses typically take the form that they are free to learn but you will have to pay extra if you want a certificate and/or grading.
- Alison has an incredibly detailed selection of free to view/learn soil science courses. The "Advanced Diploma in Soil Science and Technology" looks to be one of the most comprehensive. I mean they even have an "Advanced Diploma in Unsaturated Soil Mechanics" so there's some effort been put into here! If you want to get a certificate at the end, then you will need to pay about £20 to £30.
- Wageningen University in the Netherlands through edX runs MOOCs such as "Sustainable Soil Management: Soil for Life". Although the time varies when they are available, they have regular new starts. You'll need to pay £143 if you want to access graded assignments and a certificate, though most of the learning materials will be free.
Soil science courses you'll need to pay for
If you're seriously wanting to go down the soil science career route then these are the best options for you. The UK has a wealth of expertise in soil science and these course options will take advantage of that. You'll gain practical and hands-on experience delivered by experts in the field. Some of these will be more theoretical and academic and some more applied.
There is a wide variety of price points, which I haven't specified here. However I've split them into different levels which will have a general increase in cost. These are continued professional development (CPD)(i.e. shorter standalone courses), college level and undergraduate, and postgraduate (MSc level only). I'm not including PhD level courses here because any institution that runs undergraduate and postgraduate MSc level programs will most likely be able to accommodate PhD level study.
Continuing Professional Development Courses to access any time
- Lancaster University's Future Learn course, Soil Science: Exploring the World Beneath our Feet. Currently (August 2022), £32 to do as a one-off course. To quote their blurb; "Discover how soil is crucial for life on Earth, how humans impact this fragile system, and what we can do to better protect it." Of 231 reviews on Future Learn, it gets a 4.7/5.
- Udemy has a small range of soil science courses that'll cost you £15.99. You'll need to delete the site cookies if you want to reset the 'limited time offer' countdown timer. The "Microbial Analysis for Growers" course by Mary Lucero piqued my interest. Other options include "Soil Mechanics" and "Introduction to Building Better Soils".
- "Soil Management (Agriculture)" by ACS Distance Education looks quite comprehensive and as the name suggests, has a focus on agriculture. It costs £308.80 which includes a 5% online discount.
- Learning Cloud has the first course I found aimed at teaching soil management for gardeners ("Soil Management Horticulture"). They have a couple of others as well. Based in Ireland.
Continuing Professional Development and other courses which have (or may have) specific start dates
These are generally institutions or organisations that run soil science courses on an ad-hoc basis. They may vary through the year so keep an eye on them to make sure you don't miss out. This one is not an exhaustive list. There are an awful lot of local agricultural training groups who don't have great web presence. These types of providers will give you great local, hands on and practical advice for soils in your area. It's worth asking around your region if this is what you are looking for. If you are running semi-regular soil courses and you're not on this list, please get in touch and I'll add you on.
- Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur seems to run a lot of soil-based courses, through for example Swayam, NPTEL and Alison. Some of these videos are available on YouTube.
- The British Society for Soil Science (BSSS) runs practical classes like soil classification in the field at various times. It's worth keeping up with their events page to find any that interest you.
- BASIS have lots of agronomy focused, practical courses and through certified training providers occasionally run soil focused ones. At the time of writing these include "Basis Soil and Water Management Course" and "Advanced Quality of Soils (Level 6)". There's not much info (i.e. none) about the courses on their website so you'll need to contact them to find out more.
- Further to the above point, GrowTrain Ltd run some soil courses including the Advanced Quality of Soils (Level 6) at a cost of £1100.
- Harper Adams University runs residential soil courses including "Soil Management and Cultivations" for £750. It's not clear when the dates are for these.
- The University of Lincoln also runs soil courses including the "BASIS Quality of Soils" for £1155. They have course dates.
- Various soil-focused courses including "Soils and Cultivations" by Chelmsford and West Essex Training
- The Soil Science Society of Australia runs periodic webinars and short online courses.
Undergraduate Level Degree Courses
There are not many in-person degree level soil science courses in the UK... If you want to seriously consider doing a degree with significant soil components, then you'll need to look in detail at courses within the degree programs. Universities such as Reading, Lancaster, Warwick, Bangor, Cranfield and Edinburgh all have significant soil science research departments, but don't offer a focused degree. It's also worth considering agricultural programs too as these will likely have significant soil husbandry teachings if more on an applied rather than academic basis.
- BSc Plant and Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen; four year degree at £1820pa if you're from Scotland and £9250pa from the rest of the UK.
Postgraduate MSc Courses (Taught and by Research)
There are also few postgraduate level, in-person soil science courses in the UK.
- MSc Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen. This is where I hail from, having an MSc in Soil Science by research so no bias here ... . The University of Aberdeen has a long history of producing and employing distinguished soil scientists so it's a great option if you want to study soil science at an advanced level. Fees vary according to what part of the world you come from, but it's currently (2022/23) £11,800 if you come from the UK for an MSc or MRes.
- MSc in Soils and Sustainability at the Scottish Rural College in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh. To quote SRUC; "This course is designed for students interested in a career in land-based management or environmental protection, and teaches the importance and role of soils in the 21st century." Costs £8300 (Scotland) and £8700 (rest of UK).
- If you're looking for a more geotechnical angle then Imperial College London offers an MSc in Soil Mechanics. For UK entry it's £15,400 for the one year degree.
Courses I haven't yet verified exist...
As I mentioned above there are potential local agricultural course providers with poor web presence that I can't currently verify whether they still exist. Without contacting them directly, which isn't a current priority on my to-do-list... I can't help much more than list them here in the hope they are a pointer for you.
- DJL Agonomics; includes "Soil Dynamics" and based in Lincolnshire
If you know of a course that exists, send me a message and I'll get it added. I haven't left anything out deliberately!