Postgraduate Diploma/Master of Science
Faculty of Life and Health Sciences
School of Geography and Environmental Sciences
This course is taught online so you can study where you want, when you want.
Established course with a strong focus on employability and professional skills.
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With 25 years' experience of teaching GIS, and nearly 20 years via online distance learning, we have a long and successful track record in GIS education. This course teaches the concepts behind GIS and provides in-depth practice using both commercial and open-source software. You can study either full-time or part-time, and can aim for a Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma or Masters degree.
We look at how to obtain, analyse, problem-solve and communicate with maps and spatial data, with modules on GIS, remote sensing, spatial data management and databases, web-GIS and GIS in the commercial environment. Optional modules include GIS work experience, spatial analysis and modelling, GIS for environmental management, and Customising GIS. You will gain extensive hands-on experience: in addition to developing core skills using ArcGIS, you will use a wide range of software including ERDAS Imagine, Excel, SPSS, QGIS, OpenLayers, GeoServer, PostgreSQL and PostGIS, together with GIS extensions, plug-ins and programming languages. If you opt to complete the Masters project you can focus on a topic of your own choosing.
Our graduates have a high success rate in obtaining GIS employment (over 95%, according to graduate surveys). People taking the course who already have GIS work experience say they benefit significantly because the course enables them to broaden, deepen and formalise their knowledge.
Sign up to register an interest in the course.
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Why Study with Us?
Our students come from a wide range of backgrounds, but broadly speaking fall into two groups.
Graduate feedback and employment rates show that our course caters very well for both of these groups. Students consistently describe the course as both challenging and enjoyable, and frequently remark on the high quality of online support they receive. Many of our students decide to join the course on the recommendation of previous students.
Why Study GIS?
The benefits of GIS are increasingly recognised within government, business, education and the voluntary sector, and the applications of geospatial data technologies are steadily growing. Using GIS, it is possible to combine data from a broad range of sources and in a variety of formats, such as paper and digital maps, routinely collected administrative data, censuses and population surveys, satellite imagery, aerial photography, GPS tracking and surveys, LiDAR and crowd-sourcing. The uses of GIS are very diverse, and include mapping, spatial analysis, planning and decision-making within a wide range of disciplines and sectors – common examples include environmental management and conservation, resource management, emergency service planning and humanitarian assistance, health care provision, land use planning and urban development, the utilities, transport, geo-demographics, mineral extraction and retail analysis. Increasing uptake of GIS and associated techniques and technologies means that there is a growing demand for qualified personnel who have the skills to manage spatial data effectively. Strong industry links help ensure that our course is relevant to the needs of employers.
The course is designed to help people gain understanding and experience of GIS concepts, functionality and applications. Content focuses on the representation, acquisition, management, manipulation and analysis of spatial data. It also includes modules on remote sensing, spatial databases, web-GIS and GIS in the commercial environment. Additional optional modules include GIS work experience, spatial analysis and modelling, GIS for environmental management, and Customising GIS.
After successfully completing the PgDip modules, you may transfer to the Masters part of the programme. This requires the completion of a substantial independent research project, written in the form of a research journal article (which may, with agreement of your supervisor, be submitted for publication).
As part of the course resources, you will be provided with a free copy of ArcGIS, the remote sensing package ERDAS Imagine, and the data analysis package SPSS.
This course is fully online and full-time. You do not need to visit Ulster at any stage to successfully complete this course.
As a distance learning student you can choose your own hours of study each week but as a full-time student you should expect to dedicate an average of 35-40 hours to the course per week. Note that you can also enrol for the course as a part-time student (see separate prospectus entry for course duration and study hours per week).
The course is delivered through a teaching platform (Virtual Learning Environment, VLE), called Blackboard, through which we provide teaching materials, assignment instructions, links to electronic library resources and other reading materials, as well as discussion boards and other communication tools. Teaching materials consist mainly of lectures in various formats (e.g. as illustrated documents or podcasts) and practical exercises (written instructions with screenshots or screencasts), which may be supplemented by additional reading or video content, tutorial exercises, quizzes etc. The format of delivery provides you with the flexibility to study at your own pace, any place and at any time, and you are not required to attend the campus at any stage during the course.
Learning is supported by lecturers and e-tutors via discussion forums, email, phone or video-conferencing tools. Discussion forums encourage participation from the whole class and offer opportunities for you to learn about issues and problems from different perspectives as well as getting to know your fellow students.
Assessment involves a mixture of methods including practical reports, problem analysis, research projects, presentations, blogs, online tests and group work. The Master’s element of the course takes the form of a substantial independent research project, written up in the form of an academic paper, which may subsequently be considered for submission to a scientific journal. You will be assessed by coursework only and there are no sessional examinations.
Once registered you will be able to use the University's extensive online library resources of electronic journals, e-books and databases.
The content for each course is summarised on the relevant course page, along with an overview of the modules that make up the course.
Each course is approved by the University and meets the expectations of:
As part of your course induction, you will be provided with details of the organisation and management of the course, including attendance and assessment requirements - usually in the form of a timetable. For full-time courses, the precise timetable for each semester is not confirmed until close to the start date and may be subject to some change in the early weeks as all courses settle into their planned patterns. For part-time courses which require attendance on particular days and times, an expectation of the days and periods of attendance will be included in the letter of offer. A course handbook is also made available.
Courses comprise modules for which the notional effort involved is indicated by its credit rating. Each credit point represents 10 hours of student effort. Undergraduate courses typically contain 10- or 20-credit modules (more usually 20) and postgraduate course typically 15- or 30-credit modules.
The normal study load expectation for an undergraduate full-time course of study in the standard academic year is 120 credit points. This amounts to around 36-42 hours of expected teaching and learning per week, inclusive of attendance requirements for lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, fieldwork or other scheduled classes, private study, and assessment. Part-time study load is the same as full-time pro-rata, with each credit point representing 10 hours of student effort.
Postgraduate Master’s courses typically comprise 180 credits, taken in three semesters when studied full-time. A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) comprises 60 credits and can usually be completed on a part-time basis in one year. A 120-credit Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) can usually be completed on a part-time basis in two years.
Class contact times vary by course and type of module. Typically, for a module predominantly delivered through lectures you can expect at least 3 contact hours per week (lectures/seminars/tutorials). Laboratory classes often require a greater intensity of attendance in blocks. Some modules may combine lecture and laboratory. The precise model will depend on the course you apply for and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. Prospective students will be consulted about any significant changes.
Assessment methods vary and are defined explicitly in each module. Assessment can be a combination of examination and coursework but may also be only one of these methods. Assessment is designed to assess your achievement of the module’s stated learning outcomes. You can expect to receive timely feedback on all coursework assessment. The precise assessment will depend on the module and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Coursework can take many forms, for example: essay, report, seminar paper, test, presentation, dissertation, design, artefacts, portfolio, journal, group work. The precise form and combination of assessment will depend on the course you apply for and the module. Details will be made available in advance through induction, the course handbook, the module specification and the assessment timetable. The details are subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Normally, a module will have 4 learning outcomes, and no more than 2 items of assessment. An item of assessment can comprise more than one task. The notional workload and the equivalence across types of assessment is standardised.
Calculation of the Final Award
The class of Honours awarded in Bachelor’s degrees is usually determined by calculation of an aggregate mark based on performance across the modules at Levels 5 and 6, (which correspond to the second and third year of full-time attendance).
Level 6 modules contribute 70% of the aggregate mark and Level 5 contributes 30% to the calculation of the class of the award. Classification of integrated Master’s degrees with Honours include a Level 7 component. The calculation in this case is: 50% Level 7, 30% Level 6, 20% Level 5. At least half the Level 5 modules must be studied at the University for Level 5 to be included in the calculation of the class.
All other qualifications have an overall grade determined by results in modules from the final level of study. In Master’s degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.
The University employs over 1,000 suitably qualified and experienced academic staff - 59% have PhDs in their subject field and many have professional body recognition.
Courses are taught by staff who are Professors (25%), Readers, Senior Lecturers (18%) or Lecturers (57%).
We require most academic staff to be qualified to teach in higher education: 82% hold either Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Practice or higher. Most academic staff (81%) are accredited fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) - the university sector professional body for teaching and learning. Many academic and technical staff hold other professional body designations related to their subject or scholarly practice.
The profiles of many academic staff can be found on the University’s departmental websites and give a detailed insight into the range of staffing and expertise. The precise staffing for a course will depend on the department(s) involved and the availability and management of staff. This is subject to change annually and is confirmed in the timetable issued at the start of the course.
Occasionally, teaching may be supplemented by suitably qualified part-time staff (usually qualified researchers) and specialist guest lecturers. In these cases, all staff are inducted, mostly through our staff development programme ‘First Steps to Teaching’. In some cases, usually for provision in one of our out-centres, Recognised University Teachers are involved, supported by the University in suitable professional development for teaching.
Figures correct for academic year 2019-2020.
Here is a guide to the subjects studied on this course.
Courses are continually reviewed to take advantage of new teaching approaches and developments in research, industry and the professions. Please be aware that modules may change for your year of entry. The exact modules available and their order may vary depending on course updates, staff availability, timetabling and student demand. Please contact the course team for the most up to date module list.
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This module provides students with the opportunity to undertake a substantial piece of research in an area of particular interest to the student. The student will be assessed on their project proposal and two progress reports, together with the final research paper.
This module introduces the theory and practice of Geographic Information Systems, and is intended to provide an understanding of the breadth of potential GIS applications and to equip students with key concepts and skills relating to the input, management, manipulation, analysis and output of spatial data. Lecture-based teaching of key concepts is reinforced by linked practical exercises which allow students to develop competence in ESRI's ArcGIS package. The module assumes no prior knowledge or experience of GIS.
This module builds on the knowledge and practical skills gained in EGM711 to provide students with further experience in the acquisition, manipulation and analysis of spatial data. Methods for generating and collecting digital spatial data from primary and secondary sources are considered, and data processing, selection, integration and analysis extensively practiced. Lecture and practical sessions include digitising, geo-registration, GPS, accessing and using secondary sources, spatial join and overlay, network analysis and 3D modelling, and incorporate experience of a variety of large and small scale vector and raster datasets. The module also incorporates practice in statistical analysis and interpretation. Development of GIS software skills focuses on ArcGIS and extensions.
This postgraduate module offers students the opportunity to study the principles and applications of remote sensing and image analysis and to explore links between remote sensing and GIS. Students will become familiar with theoretical foundations of remote sensing and will develop technical skills through a series of software-based practical exercises and assignments using ERDAS Imagine.
This module examines the role of databases within the GI industry. It aims to enable students to appreciate the need for database skills that are used in GIS applications. The module is interactive and discussions are encouraged about spatial issues. A range of database skills are introduced which equip the student with knowledge of the potential and scope of databases within a range of different applications. Students will be introduced to a range of open source DBMS and GIS software including PostgreSQL, PostGIS and Quantum GIS.
This module is optional
This module investigates the GI industry from the perspective of the GI professional, the GI customer/user and the various functions and processes behind the successful implementation of GIS in real world scenarios. The module aims to give students a firm understanding of GIS in the commercial world, an appreciation of the economic and social value of spatial data and the importance of decision-based techniques in spatial analysis within GIS applications. The module assumes no prior knowledge or experience of GIS.
This module is optional
This module examines the role of programming within the GI industry. It aims to enable students to appreciate the need for programming skills that can be used to customise and develop applications. A range of programming skills is introduced which equip the student with knowledge of the potential and scope of programming within various applications.
This module is optional
This module builds on the introductory material of EGM711 and EGM712, covering advanced concepts of spatial data analysis and modelling, and providing extensive practical experience of ESDA and spatial analysis and modelling within a GIS environment.
This module is optional
This optional module examines the application of GIS to environmental management, modelling and impact assessment. It aims to enable students to appreciate the need for properly researched information to support strategic and operational environmental management decisions, and to be aware of the means by which such information can be obtained and evaluated.
This module is optional
This module develops programming skills using specialised programming languages such as Python and automating work flows using ESRI ModelBuilder. The module seeks to provide students with key skills in the development of more advanced GIS applications. The module aims to develop academic writing skills and programming skills.
This module is optional
This module consists of a GI-related work experience placement designed to allow students the opportunity to contextualize their classroom-based learning in a professional environment relevant to a career in GI-related fields and to enhance their employability through work-based learning.
This module is optional
This module consists of a project undertaken by students in GI-related employment, in which they carry out a systematic analysis of current GIS implementation within their workplace and devise and evaluate potential additional applications. The module allows students who have professional experience the opportunity to contextualize their classroom-based learning in a professional environment relevant to careers in GI-related fields.
This module is optional
Biodiversity managers make decisions based on understanding ecosystems and by applying ecological principles to achieve their objectives. This module covers key scientific topics, which are crucial for developing effective biodiversity management plans in different ecosystems. It exemplifies how ecological-social-economic factors interact to influence our ability to conserve and manage biodiversity.
This module is optional
This module introduces the concepts and requirements of environmental impact assessment, the methodology of planning and carrying out an environmental audit and the use of environmental management systems.
We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.
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The normal requirement is an Honours degree (2:2 or above) with a substantial component of geography, environmental science or computing, but we will consider applicants with other equivalent and relevant qualifications or experience on an individual basis.
English language requirements for international applicants
The minimum requirement for this course is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. Trinity ISE: Pass at level III also meets this requirement
Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.
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GIS and geospatial technologies underpin a rapidly growing, multi-billion dollar industry, and are becoming increasingly mainstream within both the public and private sectors, resulting in a need for graduates who have a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical skills.
Graduates of this course have secured employment in a variety of GIS-related roles worldwide, in GIS positions including technicians, analysts, scientists, surveyors, data specialists, mapping officers, consultants, project managers, development, sales and marketing, customer support, GIS training, lecturing and research (including funded PhD projects). The breadth of potential uses of GIS ensures a great diversity of job opportunities; for example, our graduates have found employment with mapping agencies, GIS and SatNav companies, environmental consultancies, ecological and marine resource management and environmental agencies, renewable energy companies, forestry, fisheries, town planning departments, heritage agencies, health and emergency services, housing authorities, local government, aid agencies, countryside recreation, rural development, retail analysis, utilities and infrastructure, Further and Higher Education, mining and mineral exploitation and the oil industry, among others. Knowledge and understanding of geo-spatial data are also increasingly required in a variety of jobs outside of the GI profession, making a GIS qualification a valuable asset enhancing employability in a range of fields.
You can find out more about our graduates' early career profiles here.
Gaining experience in the workplace and being able to apply academic learning within that context is very beneficial for students preparing to enter the workplace, so we offer the option of undertaking a GIS Work Experience module to full-time students. This entails working within an organisation for 2.5 days per week over a six-week period. Placements (which are unpaid) may be in the public sector, private companies, charities or education. Students who take this module find it extremely helpful for both their professional and personal development and refer particularly to benefits such as broadening their technical skills, gaining experience of team-working and of independent problem-solving, improved confidence and of learning about the geospatial industry and employment through exposure to real-world applications of GIS.
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Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland (OSNI) award an annual prize for the best Distinction level Masters.
This course has very few additional mandatory costs and the majority of reading material is available free of charge via the University's electronic library resources. Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of online books and journals but you will be expected to purchase a small number of textbooks during the course. However, costs are kept as low as possible and are not likely to exceed £150 in total.
You must obtain your own copy of Microsoft Office, but other software is either freely available (open source) or else provided free of charge under academic licence (e.g. Esri's ArcGIS, the remote sensing package Erdas Imagine and SPSS for statistical analysis).
You will need a PC or laptop with a minimum of 4 GB RAM (preferably higher) and a CPU speed of at least 2.2 GHz. As ArcGIS and Erdas Imagine only run on Windows, a Windows-based PC or laptop (rather than Mac) is required.
Tuition fees and costs associated with accommodation, travel (including car parking charges), and normal living are a part of university life.
Where a course has additional mandatory expenses we make every effort to highlight them. These may include residential visits, field trips, materials (e.g. art, design, engineering) inoculations, security checks, computer equipment, uniforms, professional memberships etc.
We aim to provide students with the learning materials needed to support their studies. Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of books and journals as well as first-class facilities and IT equipment. Computer suites and free wifi is also available on each of the campuses.
There will be some additional costs to being a student which cannot be itemised and these will be different for each student. You may choose to purchase your own textbooks and course materials or prefer your own computer and software. Printing and binding may also be required. There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines. Additional costs vary from course to course.
Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs as well as tuition fees.
Please contact the course team for more information.
Here is a small selection of comments from past students:
“I have not been disappointed with my choice at any point. The course offers comprehensive content, experience and support in addition to excellent value.”
“Getting a job with a GIS company, being promoted within a year and implementing skills learned… [and having] the confidence that I can pursue more challenging and complex GIS tasks should be evidence that the course is a success.”
“I’ll just take this opportunity to say that I think this course has been brilliant and I think that the teaching staff, lecturers, e-tutors etc. have all been great…..I was really impressed with the level of organisation of the is course , especially as a distance learner. I felt well connected with the teaching staff and other students. I thought the course content was excellent and provided a good introduction to using GIS in a professional environment… Overall, I found the course very interesting and enjoyable and am pleased that I took part…. I was dubious about taking part in the MSc online, but in fact I found the level of organisation better than my previous MSC at a different university where I was an on-campus student!”
“I came to the course with no prior knowledge and considering this, I felt that the basics were very well explained and at a good rate. I felt like my skills progresses quickly but with enough detail that I felt I thoroughly learnt the skills….. I have learnt so much from the course, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has also greatly helped my job prospects.”
“The teaching staff were very approachable and helpful. The course content is very varied and covers all the main topics, giving students an excellent grounding in the principles and applications of GIS. The course has a very strong practical element which I really liked. My aim was to come out of the course having gained new skills that I could immediately apply to my work and to my personal research interests and the course certainly facilitated this. In fact, I have been applying my GIS skills to my work in many ways over the last two years which, considering I had never even used ArcGIS, is saying something.”
“Fantastic level of support from tutors and e-tutors. For me the past experience as a distance learner with the OU meant I had high expectations in terms of the support, feedback on assignments and general accessibility and structure of the course. This course offers all of this, all tutors were quick to respond to queries, offer support and offer constructive feedback. The structure of the course allowed for the development of skills over time with each module adding a new skills(s) as the year progressed. Definitely recommend, as a distance learner I felt very included even though off campus – the discussion forums in particular keep you in touch. The structure and support systems are excellent.”
“Before starting this course, I was a bit sceptical about distance learning. The course has overcome my expectations. The immediate support and the very detailed instructions minimized the intrinsic limitations of distance learning and enhanced its benefits. I am very satisfied with the course.”
“I found the feedback delivered from assignments very useful and referred back to it continuously to identify any weaknesses in my report writing. All the tutors were more than helpful when I approached them for advice…. As a GIS professional who has worked in the industry without the qualification, I have found the course to be both engaging and relevant. The technologies described and used in the practicals were all up to date, and the knowledge obtained has been put to good use within my day to day job.”
“The course met my expectations and more. I was put out of my comfort zone a lot with learning new areas… but thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Doing this course has already had a positive impact on my career and a big thank you to all the staff and fellow students who helped with great support. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”