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Postgraduate Diploma in Safety Critical Systems Engineering

Overview & Contacts

For general information:

Heather Taylor
CPD & Postgraduate Programmes Administrator

Tel: +44 (0)1904 325536
Fax: +44 (0)1904 325599

For informal discussion:

Dr Mark Nicholson
Course Leader

Tel: +44 (0)1904 325568
Fax: +44 (0)1904 325599
E-mail: mark.nicholson@

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Full Time and Part Time - This course is available on both a full-time and part-time basis.

9 Assessed Modules - 7 of which are Core (C) - 2 Optional (O) - Plus a two person-month individual literature survey project.

Upgrade is possible to the MSc SCSE course.

This modular advanced Diploma course is designed to prepare students for work in the demanding field of System Safety Engineering (SSE) by exposing them to the latest science and technology within this field. The discipline of SSE has developed over the last half of the twentieth century. It can be viewed as a process of systematically analysing systems to evaluate risks, with the aim of influencing design in order to reduce risks, i.e. to produce safer products. In mature industries, such as aerospace and nuclear power, the discipline has been remarkably successful, although there have been notable exceptions to the generally good safety record, e.g. Fukushima, Buncefield and the Heathrow 777 accident.

Various trends pose challenges for traditional approaches to SSE. For example, classical hazard and safety analysis techniques deal poorly with computers and software where the dominant failure causes are errors and oversights in requirements or design. Thus these techniques need extending and revising in order to deal effectively with modern systems. Also, in our experience, investigation of issues to do with safety of computer systems have given some useful insights into traditional system safety engineering, e.g. into the meaning of important concepts such as the term hazard. The course therefore offers a number of optional modules looking at software safety.

The courses may be used as part of a Continuing Professional Development programme for The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) or The Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) members.

Any of the modules listed for this course can also be taken as an individual Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course. To apply as a short course attendee please go to the short courses pages.

Learning Outcomes

The course aims to provide participants with a thorough grounding and practical experience in the use of state-of-the-art techniques for development of safety critical systems, emphasising their software; together with an understanding of the principles behind these techniques so that they can make sound engineering judgements during the design and deployment of such a system, particularly when software is involved. Graduates completing the course will be equipped to play leading and professional roles in safety-critical systems engineering related aspects of industry and commerce. New areas of teaching will be developed in response to new advances in the field as well as the requirements of the organisations that employ our graduates.

The course aims to equip students with knowledge, understanding and practical application of the essential components of Safety Critical Systems Engineering, to complement previously gained knowledge and skills in Computer Science. A York Safety Critical Systems Engineering graduate will have a solid grounding of knowledge and understanding of the essential areas, as represented by the core modules. The optional modules give students the opportunity to gain knowledge in other areas which are of interest to them and which are taught by recognized experts in those areas.

Transferable Skills

Information-retrieval skills are an integrated part of many modules; students are expected to independently acquire information from on-line and traditional sources. These skills are required within nearly all modules.

Numeracy is required and developed in some modules. Time management is an essential skill for any student on the course. The formal timetable has a substantial load of lectures and labs. Students must fit their private study in around these fixed points. In addition, Open Assessments are set with rigid deadlines which gives students experience of balancing their time between the different commitments.

All students in the University are eligible to take part in the York Award in which they can gain certified transferable skills. This includes the Languages for All programme which allows students to improve their language skills.


The Diploma in Safety Critical Systems Engineering is a part time course comprising:

  • Nine assessed modules, seven of which are mandatory. The remaining two are chosen from the available optional modules.
  • A two person-month individual project carried out either at York or on site in industry.

The course is taken over two years part-time and one year as full-time study.

Each module is taught full time in York for one week. Its associated assessed exercise, which may be completed on or off site, takes approximately 35 hours in addition.  Students are also expected to undertake 30hrs of private study.   All assessed exercises are open, comprising a report, case study, or documented piece of software. There are no closed examinations. The project is examined by dissertation; the amount of time required to complete it is approximately two person-months.  Students are expected to allow one study week at York during the project phase.

Each student is allocated a personal supervisor from within the Department who meets the student regularly to discuss progress during both the teaching and project phases. In addition, industrial supervisors will be responsible for the day to day supervision of projects that are undertaken in industry.

All modules are delivered at York unless otherwise specified.

Module timetable:

Module Title 2017/182018/19Core/
Foundations of System Safety Engineering (FSSE) 18/09/17 17/09/18 C
Systems Engineering for Safety (SEFS) 09/10/17 08/10/18


Hazard and Risk Assessment (HRAS) 06/11/17 05/11/18 C
Software Requirements (SWRE) 20/11/17 19/11/18 O
System Safety Assessment (SSAS) 04/12/17 03/12/18 C
Safety Management Systems (SMSY) 08/01/18 07/01/19 C
Safety Case Development & Review (SCDR) 22/01/18 21/01/19 C
Human Factors for Safety (HUFS) 12/02/18 11/02/19 O
Computers & Safety (CASA) 05/03/18 04/03/19 C
Through Life Safety (TLSA) 19/03/18 18/03/19 O
Security for Safety Critical Systems (SESA) 23/04/18 22/04/19 O
PG Dip Critical Evaluation (PRCE)

Project Submission: September

  • All modules occupy 5 days, starting on Monday
  • Modules may be cancelled if there are insufficient numbers.
  • Any cancellations may incur a charge.
  • Core (C) and Optional (O) modules are assessed.
  • A choice of three Optional modules are to be taken for the Diploma.
  • SCSE=Safety Critical Systems Engineering; SSE = System Safety Engineering.

Please note that this is a provisional timetable and may be subject to change.

How to Apply

You can apply through our online application system.

Apply online now button


Typically applicants for the Diploma in Safety Critical Systems Engineering will have achieved at a first degree in a numerate, technical discipline. Industrial experience is also useful. This course is specifically directed at those with several years of industrial experience. Applicants who do not have a first degree but who have relevant expertise will be considered on a case by case basis.

We welcome students of all backgrounds and circumstances. 

Applicants are required to nominate two referees, of which at least one should be from the applicant's current employer or place of study. Applicants are normally interviewed before acceptance either in person if UK based or by telephone for international students.

The University welcomes international students - read more information specifically for prospective international students

Non-English speaking candidates are required to have certain English language qualifications prior to admission.


This course is suitable for Safety Engineers wishing to renew, refresh and extend their knowledge in the area of System Safety.

To this end, we present many of the ideas of classical safety engineering as well as dealing explicitly with the new issues raised by the widespread use of computers in safety related applications. Thus, the courses aim to provide participants with:

  • A thorough grounding, and practical experience, in the use of state-of-the-art techniques for design and development, validation and verification of safety critical systems.
  • Understanding of the principles behind these techniques so that they can make sound judgements during the design and deployment of such a system;
  • A flexible course structure which is suitable both for full-time and part-time students and for industrial clients who wish to attend a short, intensive course on a particular aspect of safety critical system technology.

Fees and Funding

2017/18 non-standard annual tuition fees for postgraduate students can be found here: Fees and funding for taught Masters degrees 2017/18  

Fees all include all relevant course materials, tuition and examinations and are payable in advance. They do not include text books or living expenses. VAT is not applicable. 

Modules on this course can be attended individually as a short course.

Meeting IET Principles

IET Position Statement on Safety-Critical Systems – A response

The IET position statement issued in October 2009 sets forward 10 principles and two recommendations for Safety-Critical Software-based systems in safety-related applications. Here we show how the System Safety Engineering course can be used to address this position statement. Please note that only one optional module is available for the certificate and therefore some software specific aspects will not be covered at this level.

Principle 1: The fundamental starting point for the development of any SCS is the creation of a rigorous and and consistent statement of user requirements.
Addressed by:
Core modules: Foundations of System Safety, Hazard and Risk Assessment and Safety Critical Project Management
Optional Modules: System Engineering 1, Software requirements and software testing

Principle 2: Every SCS must have a comprehensive hazard analysis carried out
Addressed by:
Core modules: Hazard and Risk Assessment, Hazard and Risk Management, System Safety Assessment
Optional Modules: Computers and Safety, Through-Life Safety

Principle 3: The architecture of the SCS should avoid major hazards wherever possible.
Addressed by:
Core modules: Hazard and Risk Assessment, System Safety Assessment, Hazard and Risk Management
Optional Modules: Computers and Safety, Systems Engineering 1, Software Requirements, Sensors and Effectors, Electronic System Design

Principle 4: Where overall safety depends on correct actions taken by human operators, the human-computer interface and the training of operators should be considered.
Addressed by:
Core modules: Foundations of System Safety
Optional Modules: Human Factors for Safety

Principle 5: Every SCS must have a documented safety analysis
Addressed by:
Core modules: System Safety Assessment
Optional Modules: Computers and Safety, Software Testing

Principle 6: Showing that a particular set of development processes have been followed is never sufficient to demonstrate that the resulting system meets its safety target
Addressed by:
Core modules: Foundations of System Safety, Hazard and Risk Assessment, Hazard and Risk Management
Optional Modules: Computers and Safety, Software Implementation, Software Testing

Principle 7: Developer’s competencies [should be] appropriate to their project roles and kept current.
Addressed by:
Core modules: Foundations of System Safety, Safety Critical Project Management
Optional Modules: Ethics of SCS work dealt with throughout the course

Principle 8: Software systems are mathematically formal objects and it is possible to reason about their behaviour and to prove that they have certain properties
Addressed by:
Optional Modules: Software Requirements, Software implementation, software testing

Principle 9: It is generally impractical to rely on test based evidence in advance of putting a system into widespread service
Addressed by:
Core modules: Foundations of System Safety, Hazard Risk Management
Optional Modules: Software Requirements, Software implementation, software testing, Computers and Safety

Principle 10: There should be regular reviews of systems in service to assess whether the threat profile has changed and whether risks are still as low as reasonably practicable
Addressed by:
Core modules: Through life safety, hazard and risk management, safety critical project management

The IET Recommends:

  • Use of tools and approaches that are  industry best practice
    Addressed by:  all modules
  • Research and development effort and financing directed towards extending the scale and range of system properties that can be proven through analysis
    Addressed by:

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