The course

Distance learning
Course type
Entry date
September, January



Water resource management is a global issue that is becoming increasingly important. With a rapidly growing world population, greater urbanisation and a changing climate putting pressure on freshwater resources, water resource management and the technologies that support it, will play a large part in providing fresh water to meet basic human needs.

Water Technology and Desalination is designed for science and engineering graduates, as well as practising engineers, who wish to gain specialised knowledge in water treatment with an emphasis on membrane technology.

The global scarcity of fresh water and ever increasing requirement for desalination and recycling creates a high demand for water technologists. This applied programme ensures students acquire the necessary skills to meet the current market demand.
Prof. Bhaskar Sen Gupta

The programme aims to provide a sound understanding of a range of technologies that can be developed to provide safe, accessible water supply from saline groundwater and seawater. In particular, there is a technical focus on the design parameters and processes underpinning their efficient performance and operation. Students will also develop a critical awareness of the wider issues of resource management within the context of global change and the challenges presented by the need for desalination to be delivered on a technically robust and sustainable basis.

Distance learning

Delivered only by Independent Distance Learning (IDL) this programme is ideal for those in employment or with other commitments and provides flexible study options that fit around work or family. Students receive comprehensive materials for each course through an online Virtual Learning Environment.

Our students and graduates

The programme is jointly offered through the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment at Heriot-Watt University and the International Desalination Association of USA (IDA) and is primarily designed for graduates in engineering, earth and environmental sciences or other related disciplines looking to extend their technical expertise, gain further learning to meet their desire for professional development or to advance their employment opportunities. We also welcome professionals from other backgrounds who have relevant experience in the water industry.

Programme duration

The Water Technology and Desalination Programme is designed to be completed within a 3 year period (and cannot be completed in less than 2 years), however students who are unable to complete the programme within this timeframe can take more time to finish their studies. The maximum period of studies for students on the MSc programme via Independent Distance Learning is 7 years (for the postgraduate diploma the maximum is 4 years). Most Independent Distance Learning students complete in 3-4 years.

Heriot-Watt University degree and IDA Certificate

Desalination AcademyUpon successful completion of the Water Technology and Desalination programme, students will be awarded with a Heriot-Watt University degree as well as an IDA Desalination Academy Certificate of Completion.

Teaching and research excellence

Water Technology and Desalination is jointly offered by Heriot-Watt University and the International Desalination Association’s Desalination Academy, two institutions with a reputation for excellence. Heriot-Watt University’s Water Research Group is a leader in its field, with research spanning flood engineering to water treatment.

The Desalination Academy’s Master Teachers represent the world’s leading authorities in all aspects of desalination, from technology and operations to the economics of desalination. Master Teachers bring with them a deep technical expertise along with extensive experience in the field.

Heriot-Watt University and the Desalination Academy together offer a programme that blends the foremost theoretical advancements in the field with real-world, technical expertise.

Course content

   Detailed course guide

Students study 7 mandatory courses and choose another course from two optional courses. At MSc level students will also complete a research dissertation.

  • Integrated Water Resource Management
  • Thermal and Hybrid Processes
  • Membrane Processes
  • Water Conservation
  • Intake, pre-treatment, post-treatment and Environmental Issues
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment
  • Desalination Economics and Management
  • Marine Water Discharges (optional)
  • Irrigation Water Management (optional)
  • Research dissertation

Please note that the courses listed above are subject to developmental change.

Integrated Water Resource Management


This course provides students with a solid understanding of the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management and the different policy instruments which govern the management of water resources at the regional and basin level. Topics covered in the course syllabus include:

Introduction to Integrated Water Resources Management and its associated policy agenda arising from the sustainability agenda (sustainability at the River Basin
level); Interrelationships between land, water and atmosphere; ecosystems, biodiversity and water resources; Water resources planning and management considerations (e.g. floods, droughts and environmental considerations); Environmental legislation governing river basins (EIA/SEA) and policy (Environmental Flow Allocations); Integrated management concepts in the Water Environment (IRBM/ICZM/IFM); Introduction to water governance and trans boundary issues and management.

Thermal and Hybrid Processes


This course will provide students with the theoretical and practical underpinnings governing performance and operating conditions of thermal and hybrid desalination technology and systems for seawater desalting. The course will focus on the basic understanding of Design and Operation of Multistage Flash, Multi-Effect Distillation Technology (MED) and Vapour Compression (MVC and TVC) processes as well as hybridization of Thermal and Membrane processes.

Water conservation


This course will enable students to understand the drivers for water conservation and how conservation measures are best implemented. The course focuses on both the technologies available for water conservation, as well as on the implications of implementation. Students will be encouraged to develop skills in tailoring water conservation solutions designed not only to comply with legislation but that also provide best benefit within the context of their use. Subjects in the syllabus include:

Drivers for water conservation; relevant legislation; water consumption; attenuation principles; design principles to reduce water consumption; rainwater harvesting; greywater recycling; green/living roofs; storage, control and distribution of reclaimed water and treatment of reclaimed water.

Membrane Processes


The aim of this course is to provide the students with a thorough understanding of the theoretical and practical concepts on the performance and operating conditions of reverse osmosis and nanofiltration technology for brackish and seawater desalting.

Water and Wastewater Treatment


The aim of this course is to enable learners to understand the processes and technologies for water treatment including conventional and advanced wastewater treatment and the sizing of various treatment units. The course also provides awareness for the learner of the importance of effective wastewater treatment for river pollution control. Specific topics covered in the course syllabus include:

Introduction to water & wastewater characteristics; fresh water treatment (e.g. coagulation and sedimentation, filtration, disinfection); desalination technologies for sea water treatment; wastewater treatment (e.g. preliminary treatment design, primary tank design/secondary treatment, advanced wastewater treatment); land-based, low-energy and sustainable wastewater treatment systems; sludge handling, treatment & disposal; effluent disposal (including re-use).

Intake, Pre-treatment, Post-treatment and Environmental Issues


An in-depth understanding of intake structures and pre-treatment is crucial to successful design for a seawater reverse-osmosis (RO) desalination plant. This course will equip students with a detailed understanding of principal fouling mechanisms; Scaling, Particle fouling, Colloidal fouling, Biofouling and Organic fouling, providing the theoretical and practical background on the performance and operating conditions of intake and pre-treatment of water for desalination purposes. Students will explore membrane pre-treatment, involving micro- or ultra-filtration and comparison with conventional sand or mixed-media filtration and other systems such as dissolved air flotation and the environmental considerations which surround this.

Desalination Economics


This course will provide students with a critical understanding of the economics of desalination. Students with an appreciation of the approach for industry standard budgeting (CAPEX and OPEX) in the desalination industry, with a general overview of water management and planning issues both for reverse osmosis (RO) and Thermal Plants.

Marine Wastewater Discharges


This course will provide students with a good understanding of the underlying physical processes controlling wastewater disposal in the marine environment and an awareness of commercial software available (e.g. CORMIX) for modelling wastewater discharges. It will also demonstrate the role of marine outfalls as part of a wastewater management strategy and provide students with an awareness of the relevant legislation controlling wastewater disposal. Topics in the syllabus include:

Introduction to turbulent buoyant jets and plumes (e.g. jet trajectories and dilution equations); Multi-port diffuser discharges in the marine environment (e.g. near-source merging of multiple 3D jets, dilution characteristics); Integral methods for buoyant jet modelling; Commercial software available for wastewater discharge modelling); Specific characteristics associated with hypersaline and particulate-laden discharges; The hydraulics of sea outfall design and performance (e.g. hydraulic requirements, outfall pipe sizing and diffuser arrangement, prevention of sea water intrusion, purging flows); The role of marine outfalls in wastewater management strategies; Legislative and social issues associated with marine wastewater discharges.

Irrigation Water Management


This course is designed to equip the students with the background knowledge and techniques required for managing soil and irrigation water in their own nations for crop production. After successfully completion of the course, students will be able to describe basic irrigation systems, assess plant water requirements in terms of water quality and quantity, and implement basic hydraulics principles for irrigation systems. The course will also focus on the evaluation of irrigation systems in terms of efficiency, economy, energy-use and environmental impact, defining the advantages and disadvantages of major irrigation systems and recognising the importance of efficient irrigation drainage as well as water supply.

The importance of irrigation and drainage for agriculture worldwide; water supply potential for the development of irrigation systems; climatic factors including rainfall, evaporation, evapotranspiration in irrigation development; irrigation and hydrology relationship; plant water use and crop water requirements, soils and water, soil moisture retention and movement, soil moisture measurement; irrigation scheduling; types of irrigation systems, deciding the most suitable irrigation system; irrigation drainage; re-use systems, management of irrigation systems.

Research dissertation

MSc students complete one research dissertation. The dissertation enables students to research and report in depth on a subject of relevance to the student's academic or professional career.


Students will be assessed using a variety of approaches. Students will submit coursework for which they will receive formative feedback, as well as undertake a summative assignment or assessment at the end of each course.