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Durham University


C103 Biological Sciences BSc Undergraduate  2021


Please note: 2020-21 courses may be affected by Covid-19 and are therefore subject to change due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Summaries of course-specific changes resulting from the impact of Covid-19 will be provided to applicants during August 2020.

For the latest information on our plans for teaching in academic year 2020/21 in light of Covid-19, please see

UCAS code C103
Degree BSc
Mode of study Full Time
Duration 3 years
Location Durham City
Typical Offers A Level
International Baccalaureate
Please also check Requirements and Admissions.
Alternative qualifications
Contextual Offers You may be eligible for an offer which is one or two grades lower than our standard entry requirements. Find out more.
More information Still have questions?
Department(s) Website

Course Summary


We operate a modular system in which you will study six modules each year. The Biological Sciences BSc (Hons) three-year degree course has been designed to allow you more choice between modules in each successive year so that you can follow specialised routes within Biological Sciences, or address specific areas of interest, as you progress.

Recommended module combinations (“routes”) to allow various themes of specialisation are available, although these still allow choice at each level of the course. We have specified recommended routes corresponding to the following subject areas:

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Biomedical Science
  • Cell Biology
  • Plant Science
  • Genetics
  • Ecology and Environmental Science.

Other module combinations are possible to give courses which specialise in “whole organism” biology, or plant sciences, or microbiology. Transfer to the four-year MBiol course is possible up to the end of Year 2.

Year 1

The first year covers fundamental aspects of biology including evolution, biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, genetics, physiology, and an overview of the diversity of organisms, through a set of four “core” modules covering the following topics:

  • Organisms and Environment
  • Animal Physiology
  • Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry and Cell Biology.

The module-linked tutorial system provides support for taught material and an introduction to essential scientific and transferable skills. 

The Year 1 course also includes an integrated “Fundamentals of Research” module which covers underpinning research skills, chemistry and maths designed to support learning in the other modules. A language module, provided by another department, can be taken as an alternative optional module.

Year 2

The second year of the course allows you to select a degree to meet your interests and career ambitions by choosing modules from those available. Second year modules provide integrated skills training in oral and written presentation, science communication, data analysis and acquisition and critical analysis skills through linked tutorials and workshops. Choices of modules made for Year 2 then feed forward into the third year. There is a wide range of module themes which have previously included:

  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Cell Signalling
  • Applied Physiology
  • Plant and Algal Physiology
  • Behaviour
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Evolution.

A compulsory Year 2 support module, “Research Skills” is also offered, in which skills required for research-led learning at Year 3 are covered. As in Year 1, learning is supported by a module-linked tutorial system.

Year 3

Year 3 of the degree places the strongest emphasis on research, with taught content directly linked to research being carried out in the Department. You will undertake three major pieces of work, each constituting its own module; a workshop/field course, a literature review and a research module.

The “Workshop” (laboratory based) or “Field Course” (field-based) module both involve research experience; field courses are currently held in South Africa or Scotland (residential field courses can incur an additional fee, which ranged from £150–£750 in 2017).

The "Literature Review" module involves the study of current research literature in a topic area selected by you, under personal supervision. The final year of the BSc (Hons) also includes the research module, which can be: a five-week laboratory or field-based Research Project; "Biological Enterprise", where you will develop the science and business case for a potential biotech-based product; "Biology into Schools", where you will gain hands-on practice of teaching at primary school level; or "Contemporary Issues in the Biosciences", where you will gain experience in the communication of bioscience by the production of a report.

In addition, you will study three modules linked to your interests from those offered. The Year 3 taught modules cover a wide range of topics, which previously have included:

  • Advanced Topics in Ecology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Ecology in the Anthropocene
  • Crops for the Future
  • Stress and Responses to the Environment
  • Advanced Topics in Development
  • Biochemistry and Biotechnology
  • Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering
  • Ageing
  • Advanced Cell Biology
  • Genomics
  • Biology of Disease. 

We review course structures and core content (in light of e.g. external and student feedback) every year, and will publish finalised core requirements for 2021 entry from September 2020.

Study Abroad

You may be able to take a year abroad between the second and third year at a selected partner university in a range of overseas destinations (including Canada, Australia and China). The year abroad is a normal year at the host institution, although marks for assessments and exams taken abroad do not contribute to the Durham degree outcome. The course leads to the award of a BSc “Biological Sciences Degree with Year Abroad”. Places are limited and are subject to a competitive selection process during Year 2.

Placement degrees

You can elect to follow a placement degree route, by transfer to a degree “With Placement”  during Year 2. Placements are obtained by personal application to suitable placement providers, with assistance from the Department. The 40-week placement is taken between the second and the final year, for the award of the BSc “Biological Sciences with Placement” degree. The Department has links with a wide range of private, public and voluntary sector bodies that provide work experience opportunities for undergraduates. 

Placements are typically with organisations such as the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Natural History Museum, biotechnology companies such as AstraZeneca, pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline, government agencies, such as the Food & Environmental Research Agency and NHS laboratories, such as those at the James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough.

Placement Year

You may be able to take a work placement. Find out more.

Course Learning and Teaching

You will learn by lectures, supplemented by practical classes and workshops. Lectures represent the largest proportion of the contact hours and allow the effective delivery of large amounts of knowledge, which forms the factual basis of a science subject.

At Year 1 the emphasis is on core knowledge across the broad spectrum of the sub-disciplines of biological sciences. At Years 2 and 3, there are more specialised modules enabling you to focus on a particular sub-discipline, with elements of choice in the course.

As the degree progresses, there is an increasing emphasis on showing that biosciences is based on experimental evidence gained through research. At Year 3 lecturing is research-led and based on staff research interests. The proportion of the course delivered through lectures is less at Year 3 than in preceding years, to allow a greater emphasis on your own research activities. The lectures are supplemented by timetabled surgery sessions, which are used for revision and problem-solving. Lecturing staff answer specific questions about the material they have taught through email, and by personal meetings when necessary; the Department has an "open-office" policy for responding to such queries. Typically, taught modules contain 35 one hour lecture slots, two workshops, and one surgery session. You will take five compulsory taught modules at Year 1, six taught modules at Year 2, and three taught modules at Year 3, with three modules aligned to major pieces of research work.

Practical classes are a major component of contact hours and are an essential part of training in an experimental science like biology. Year 1 classes are used to train you in the basic techniques required for experimental work in the full range of biological sciences, you will specialise in specific techniques and areas of experimental work through module choice at Year 2.

The practical classes are supplemented by workshops in which you will learn data handling techniques. At both Years 1 and 2, the load of practical classes overall is one-two three-hour sessions per week. There are no practical classes at Year 3 since you will carry out three research modules at this level. The first is a field course or laboratory-based extended workshop, both of which offer you approximately two working weeks' contact with staff. The second is a literature review, with a topic chosen from current areas of interest in biological sciences. This involves approximately six-eight hours of non-timetabled contact with a supervisor. The third research module is a project, either in the lab or in the field, or in interfacing with the commercial sector (biology enterprise), or in school-based education, or in research programme design, or in science communication of contemporary topics in biosciences. All will involve you in a large amount of contact time with staff that is not formally timetabled, but which averages approx. 16-40 hours.

The course philosophy is based on a directed programme of teaching and learning at Years 1 and 2, within which you are expected to develop self-guided and motivated learning, leading to a much greater emphasis on independent learning at Year 3.

Academic support is provided by a dual system of tutorials and academic advisers. Tutorials are in small groups and are used to deliver specific content related to academic support, whereas the academic adviser sessions are on a personal level, and are used to deal with issues relevant to you, such as feedback on exam performance. The tutorial/academic adviser system offers students fortnightly sessions with a tutor or academic adviser throughout their academic career. A course leader provides overall academic support.

Admissions Process

Subject requirements, level and grade

A level offerAAA including Biology or Chemistry or Human Biology plus another science subject.

BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma/OCR Cambridge Technical Extended Diploma DDD and A level requirements as above.

IB Diploma score37 with 666 in higher level subjects including Biology or Chemistry plus another higher level science subject.

In addition to satisfying the University’s general entry requirements, please note:

  • We welcome applications from those with other qualifications equivalent to our standard entry requirements and from mature students with non-standard qualifications or who may have had a break in their study. Please contact our Admissions Selectors.
  • Psychology, Maths and Geography are all considered sciences for the purposes of admissions. Although PE is accepted as a third A level, it is not a science for the purpose of admissions.
  • There is no advantage in applying for both MBiol and BSc degrees.
  • If you do not satisfy our general entry requirements, the Foundation Programme offers multidisciplinary degrees to prepare you for a range of specified degree courses.
  • If you are an international student who does not meet the requirements for direct entry to this degree, you may be eligible to take an International Foundation Year pathway programme at the Durham University International Study Centre.
  • We are pleased to consider applications for deferred entry.

Science A levels

Applicants taking Science A levels that include a practical component will be required to take and pass this as a condition of entry. This applies only to applicants sitting A levels with an English examination board.


English Language requirements

Please check requirements for your subject and level of study.

How to apply

Information relevant to your country

Fees and Funding

Full Time Fees

EU Student £27,350.00 per year
Home Student £9,250.00 per year
Island Student £9,250.00 per year
International non-EU Student £27,350.00 per year

The tuition fees shown for home students are for one complete academic year of full time study and are set according to the academic year of entry. Fees for subsequent years of your course may rise in line with an inflationary uplift as determined by the government.

The tuition fees shown for overseas and EU students are for one complete academic year of full time study, are set according to the academic year of entry, and remain the same throughout the duration of the programme for that cohort (unless otherwise stated).

Please also check costs for colleges and accommodation.

Scholarships and funding 

Open days and visits

Pre-application open day

Pre-application open days are the best way to discover all you need to know about Durham University. With representatives from all relevant academic and support service departments, and opportunities to explore college options, the open days provide our prospective undergraduates with the full experience of Durham University.

Please see the following page for further details and information on how to book a place:

Discover Durham Tours

Discover Durham tours offer a brief introduction to the University. The tour begins at one of our undergraduate colleges, where you will receive an introductory talk from a member of college staff, followed by a tour of the college by current students.

Overseas Visit Schedule

Department Information

Department of Biosciences


Bioscience is the fundamental science of life, and recent key developments make the twenty-first century a most exciting era, in which important biological challenges will be met and resolved. Our bioscientists are tackling challenges that include climate change and biodiversity conservation, developing new technologies for human healthcare, and feeding an increasing human population. As a Durham student, you will have access to state-of-the art technology for a range of techniques, including imaging using electron and confocal laser scanning microscopy, transgenic studies, genomics, DNA analysis and proteomics, bioinformatics, remote sensing, ecological field sampling and computer modelling.


  • 6th in The Complete University Guide 2020.


For a current list of staff, please see the Biosciences Department web pages.


We have custom-designed buildings, equipped with modern teaching aids that create a stimulating learning environment. During their Research Projects undergraduates have access to the latest technology for electron and confocal laser scanning microscopy, transgenic studies, DNA analysis and proteomics, bioinformatics, remote sensing, ecological field sampling and computer modelling. We are close to extensive woodlands and a botanic garden, which provide additional teaching resources and opportunities for fieldwork.


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