Postgraduate study
This course examines crop improvement through advances in resource use efficiency and modern crop improvement and breeding techniques.
MSc Crop Improvement
1 year full-time
Entry requirements
2:2 (or international equivalent) in any biological, chemical or physical science subject
6.0 (no less than 5.5 in any element)

If these grades are not met, English preparatory courses may be available
Start date
UK/EU fees
£8,235 - Terms apply
International fees
£24,030 - Terms apply
Sutton Bonington Campus



Focusing upon the understanding of plant to crop systems, and with an emphasis on research training, the course is ideally suited to those wishing to pursue careers in research institutes, plant breeding, agro-industry and advance to higher research degree (PhD) study.

Whilst the course is based at the School of Biosciences, Sutton Bonington Campus, students will have an opportunity to see practical aspects of agriculture in other parts of the UK through visits to growers, farms, research stations and other academic institutions.

Key facts

The University has one of the largest plant and crop sciences divisions in the UK with 20 permanent academic staff, based at the Sutton Bonington Campus. Students have an exciting opportunity to study with world renowned researchers in this important and rapidly advancing field which offers major career opportunities in agro-industry, academia and research institutes.

  • The school is ranked the no. 1 research environment in the UK for agriculture, veterinary and food science in the Research Excellence Framework 2014; 97% of our work in the Schools of Biosciences and Veterinary Medicine and Science was judged to be of international quality
  • Specialist facilities include modern glasshouses and controlled environment growth rooms in which plants and tissue cultures can be raised, together with excellent facilities for fieldwork
  • The school also has a Tropical Crops Research Unit in which computer controlled glasshouses are available for research on a range of tropical species

Full course details

Through taught modules and a research project, the course aims to give you an advanced knowledge and comprehensive understanding of the theoretical, practical and transferable skills of crop improvement and allied industries.

You will also develop an awareness of the latest developments and requirements of agro-industry in the area of crop improvement. 

Finally, this course will give you the technical knowledge and practical skills required to undertake research and/or develop a leading career in the field of crop improvement and related agro-industries.

Course location

The school is based on the Sutton Bonington Campus, a self-contained site only 20km south of Nottingham. Sutton Bonington is an easy bus or car journey to University Park Campus and to Nottingham City, with free bus service connections between campuses. Two other major UK cities, Derby and Leicester are nearby. East Midlands International Airport is 7Km away, plus there are fast rail links to London close by.

Students can choose to carry out their research project at the University’s Malaysia Campus.



Core modules

The programme requires 180 credits for completion and is based on two semesters of taught modules (120 credits) and a Research Project (60 credits) which spans both semesters and the summer period. All modules are compulsory.

Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants

This module introduces students to the origins of crop plants, basic breeding methods and examines how biotechnology may be able to contribute. Crops covered include temperate and tropical, annual and perennial, inbreeding and out-breeding, with an emphasis on how genetic improvement will be achieved in the near future, while recognising the potential of novel techniques and varying priorities in the face of a changing climate. In particular, the value of molecular markers, genomic approaches, genetic modification and the development of physiological ideotypes to produce progress in commercial breeding programmes will be examined. These different strands are drawn together at the end of the module to examine how genetics, breeding and physiology can all play a part in a modern crop breeding programme.

Resource Capture by Crops 

This module introduces the key processes by which crops capture and use physical resources, principally solar radiation, water and nutrients. Emphasis is first placed on the underlying physical and biological mechanisms of capture and utilisation by both individuals and communities of plants. For example: an appreciation of crop canopy structure, plant physiology (photosynthesis and respiration) and the physical nature of light is required to understand the limitations to crop radiation use efficiency. Case studies are used throughout. Secondly, strategies for crop improvement and management to improve resource use efficiency are discussed.

Principles of Crop Science

This module considers the characteristics and management of the major soil groups and how cropping is affected by soil type. The principles of crop nutrition are introduced alongside the principles of cultural and chemical control of pests and weeds in arable crops, and the potential impact on the environment of these practices. The module concludes by considering how rotations, nutrition and crop protection can be considered together in an Integrated crop management system.

Plant Biotechnology Industrial visits

The module will cover the application of the latest and emergent biotechnology options for crop improvement. In relation to crop production, this will involve consideration of the genetic engineering of plant species to introduce new traits and new genetic mapping techniques as an aid to conventional plant breeding programmes. The students will visit research institutes and Agri-Biotech companies to see the latest technologies in action. The visits will include days spent at Rothamsted Research, NIAB, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and several plant breeding companies. Instruction will be in the form of lectures and practical demonstrations including cereal transformation, molecular approaches to varietal analysis and image analysis for varietal profiling.  A visit to Elsoms Seeds will enable students to see seed quality testing, breeding strategies for vegetable crops, trialling and tissue culture for homozygous plant production.

Statistics and Experimental Design for Bioscientists

This module explains the major principles and techniques of statistical analysis of research data without becoming too involved in the underlying mathematics.  Now that computer software is very well established for data analysis, it is more important to understand WHAT a statistical test is doing (and thus whether or not it is appropriate) than to be able to perform the underlying calculations by hand. It is equally important to collect data in an appropriate and planned manner for later analysis.At the end of the course, participants should have an overall grasp of the major analytical techniques available, and how they relate to each other, and have developed abilities in experimental design, data analysis using appropriate software and presentation of results.

Advanced Molecular Methods in Biotechnology

This module provides in-depth understanding of manipulating cells and its processes together with the application of this knowledge to genetic engineering. Practical methods involve isolating, characterising and functionally analysing genes. Now we are in an era of ‘’Omics’’. Over the past few years major developments have been made regarding the study of genomes. With advent of next generation and third generation sequencing, whole genome sequences of many species is now available. Such information is revealing a high degree of similarity and conservation between different species and organisms, which in turn is revolutionising the way in which gene function analysis is carried out. An extensive range of post-genomic technologies have been established based on this information and these are revolutionising the analysis that is possible. Case studies will be presented detailing how different approaches have been used to study genomes and how such developments are influencing the way genetic analysis and biotechnological improvement can be made. Particular emphasis will be paid to the importance of bioinformatics and IT in the study of genomes and the commercial biotechnological applications of gene isolation. Hands-on experience of these approaches will be provided via problem-based lab and computer training sessions. The methods explained through way of lectures, tutorials and practical’s are applicable to plants, microbes and animal cells.

Monitoring and Phenotyping

This module provides students with the opportunity to familiarise themselves with techniques for crop research with emphasis on resource capture and utilisation by plant communities. The principles of measurement, data acquisition and interpretation, meteorological measurements and soil and plant analysis are all considered in this module. A central (and popular) part of this module is the ‘crop monitoring exercise’ in which students design and  conduct their own field experimentation by monitoring  growth and development in a crop of their own choice. Modern equipment is used for measuring plants and the environment.

Current Issues in Crop Science

This integrative module considers future options and possible strategies for crop production in UK and world agriculture. Students are introduced to a number of issues that have current or possible future impacts on crop production systems and the environment. Examples of issues that will be addressed include: the future of genetically modified crops, impact of crop production on biodiversity and prospects for organic crop production. The content will change every year to reflect current issues in crop science.

Integrated Disease Management

The objective of this module is to introduce the concept of integrated disease management in sustainable crop production. Successful disease management strategies are based on specific information regarding the socioeconomics of the farming system, associated environment, crop and pathogen population dynamics and availability of multiple integrated measures to control important diseases below economically damaging levels. This module will cover (1) the principles of plant disease epidemiology and crop loss including the use of epidemiological studies to devise effective control strategies against crop diseases; (2) the use and formulation of integrated control methods- regulatory, cultural, biological, genetic and chemical to successfully manage important diseases below economically damaging levels in temperate and tropical crops. 

Literature review, experimental plan and research project

Project areas reflect the current research expertise within the Plant and Crop Sciences Division.  Recent examples include: Response to drought in Bambara Groundnut (Vigna subterranea); Identifying hyperspectral radiometry and chlorophyll signatures for biomass productivity and disease in wheat cultivars; Analysis of genes associated with anther and pollen development and self-incompatibility in barley; All projects involve laboratory and/or field work and many involve the introduction and expression of agronomically important genes into crop species using molecular techniques. Prior to commencement of their project students are required to write a comprehensive research proposal inclusive of literature review and experimental plan for assessment in spring semester.

The above is a sample of the typical modules that we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Due to the passage of time between commencement of the course and subsequent years of the course, modules may change due to developments in the curriculum and information is provided for indicative purposes only.


Fees and funding

UK/EU students

General information on funding for both research and taught degrees, applicable to UK/HEU students is available on the University's Graduate School pages. 

Government loans for masters courses

Masters student loans of up to £10,906 are available for taught and research masters courses. Applicants must ordinarily live in the UK or EU.

International and EU students

Masters scholarships are available for international and EU students from a wide variety of countries and areas of study. You must already have an offer to study at Nottingham to apply. Please note closing dates to ensure you apply for your course with enough time.

Information and advice on funding your degree, living costs and working while you study is available on our website, as well as country-specific resources.


Careers and professional development

Graduates have a wide range of career options. The reputation of the School of Biosciences as a centre of excellence means that a large proportion of our graduates continue with studies leading to a PhD either at Nottingham or elsewhere. The course is also ideal for those wishing to pursue careers in research institutes, plant breeding and agro-industry. Many graduates obtain employment in the agricultural industry as advisors or practitioners, or at research institutes in the UK or overseas.

Some example careers include:

  • Crop Scientist within the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) – Africa
  • Crop Trials Research Manager
  • Research posts in Government Agriculture Departments
  • Agronomist
  • Technical and Sales positions in the Agro-Food Industry

Average starting salary and career progression

In 2017, 100% of postgraduates in the School of Biosciences who were available for employment had secured work or further study within six months of graduation. The average starting salary was £28,000 with the highest being £65,000.*

* Known destinations of full-time home undergraduates 2016/17. Salaries are calculated based on the median of those in full-time paid employment within the UK.

Career prospects and employability

The University of Nottingham is consistently named as one of the most targeted universities by Britain’s leading graduate employers** and can offer you a head-start when it comes to your career. 

Those who take up a postgraduate research opportunity with us will not only receive support in terms of close contact with supervisors and specific training related to your area of research, you will also benefit from dedicated careers advice from our Careers and Employability Service

Our Careers and Employability Service offers a range of services including advice sessions, employer events, recruitment fairs and skills workshops – and once you have graduated, you will have access to the service for life.

** The Graduate Market 2013-2017, High Fliers Research.


This online prospectus has been drafted in advance of the academic year to which it applies. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content) are likely to occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for the course where there has been an interval between you reading this website and applying.

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Dr Rumiana Ray
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