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Established course with a strong focus on employability and professional skills.
With over 20 years’ experience in teaching GIS, and 15 years of teaching via online distance learning, the School of Geography and Environmental Sciences at Ulster University has a significant and successful track record in GIS education.
This course has been designed to provide a broad-based education in the principles and practice of GIS, and you can choose to study for the award of Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma or Master of Science. You may take the course full-time or part-time.
Content focuses on the representation, acquisition, management, manipulation and analysis of all types 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. Over the duration of the course you will gain extensive practical experience using a variety of commercial and open source software. In addition to development of core GIS skills using ArcGIS, you will also get hands-on practice with packages such as ERDAS Imagine, Excel, SPSS, QGIS, OpenLayers, GeoServer, PostgreSQL and PostGIS, together with a number of 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.
The relevance of the course to the workplace is demonstrated by the very high success rate of our graduates in securing GI-related employment.
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About this course
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Why Study with Us?
- Join an established course with excellent reputation and feedback.
- Get support and advice from experienced lecturers, tutors, librarians, e-learning and IT staff.
- Access a wide range of online resources such as e-books, digital lectures and podcasts, discussion boards and video-conference tools all within a dedicated e-learning platform.
- Develop and improve your employability, professional and academic skills and gain extensive hands-on practice with key software.
- Obtain free student copies of GIS, remote sensing and statistical software.
- Be assessed entirely by coursework – there are no formal examinations.
- Pay your fees by instalments.
- With a fully online course, you can study from almost anywhere and there is no need to travel to classes.
- You can enrol to study part-time or full-time and choose the times you study each week to suit yourself.
- Substantial relevant work experience may be accepted in place of standard entry requirements.
- Study for a Master’s degree, a PG Diploma, PG Certificate or enrol for individual modules.
Our students come from a wide range of backgrounds, but broadly speaking fall into two groups.
- New or recent graduates wanting to enter GIS-related employment for the first time, or to add GIS to their skill-set to enhance their employability or change career.
- People who are already in GI-related employment but want to broaden and deepen their GIS knowledge and skills with a view to making better use of GIS or improving their career and promotion prospects.
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. The fact that many new students join the course on the recommendation of previous students testifies to the satisfaction levels of graduates of the course.
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 is taken as a full-time programme. You do not need to visit Ulster at any stage to successfully complete this course.
- The PgCert takes 3-4 months full-time
- The PgDip takes 8 months full-time
- The MSc takes 12 months full-time
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).
- September 2017
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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Applicants are generally expected to have a minimum 2.2 honours degree with a substantial component of geography, environmental science or computing.
Applicants with qualifications in other relevant disciplines or with academic qualifications below 2.2 honours will also be considered on individual merit. In such cases, previous experience of GIS and competence in day-to-day computing will be an advantage, and should be explained in detail on the application form.
English Language Requirements
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.
Teaching and learning assessment
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.
Careers & opportunities
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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 is 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.
Work placement / study abroad
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.
Fees and funding
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Fees (total cost)
Important notice - fees information
Please note fees displayed are for 2017/18 Academic Entry. Fees are correct at the time of publishing. Additional mandatory costs are highlighted where they are known in advance. There are other costs associated with university study.
View Ulster University’s 2017 fees policy
- Northern Ireland & EU:
Where the postgraduate course selected offers multiple awards (e.g. PG Cert, PG Dip, Master’s), please note that the price displayed is for the complete master’s programme. Postgraduate certificates and diplomas are charged at a pro-rata basis. Find out more
Scholarships, awards and prizes
Land and Property Services award an annual prize for the best Distinction level Masters.
Additional mandatory costs
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).
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.”