Skip to navigation Skip to content


In this section

Established course with a strong focus on employable and professional skills.


With over 20 years’ experience in teaching GIS, and nearly 15 years of teaching via online distance learning, we have a significant track record in GIS education. The course is designed to provide a broad-based education in the principles and practice of GIS, leading to the award of Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma or Master of Science. Course content includes the representation, acquisition, management, manipulation and analysis of spatial data, remote sensing, spatial databases, web-GIS and GIS in the commercial environment. Optional modules including GIS work experience, spatial analysis and modelling, GIS for environmental management, and Customising GIS are also available. Students gain extensive practical experience using a variety of software, including ArcGIS, ERDAS Imagine, Excel, IBM-SPSS and a number of GIS extensions, plug-ins and open source applications.

Sign up for course updates

Sign up to receive regular updates, news and information on courses, events and developments at Ulster University.

We’ll not share your information and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

About this course

In this section


  • Study by fully online distance learning to PgCert, PgDip or MSc level
  • Modules may be taken in 'standalone' mode
  • Course can be taken part-time or full-time
  • Strong focus on employable and professional skills
  • Extensive hands-on practice with key software
  • Entirely assessed by coursework - no formal examinations
  • Established course with excellent reputation and feedback

In recent years the benefits of using geo-spatial data have become more widely understood within both government and business. In parallel, the need for GIS professionals has grown steadily across a wide range of sectors. Moreover, gaining GIS knowledge and skills is increasingly seen as an essential part of preparing for other types of employment, for example in the environmental sector.

Our students fall into two broad groups: (1) people who want to enter GIS-related employment for the first time, or who want to add GIS to their skill-set to enhance their employability (often new or recent graduates, but also including people wanting to change career); (2) people already in GI-related employment who want to broaden and deepen their GIS knowledge and skills with a view to making better use of GIS or improving career and promotion prospects. Student feedback shows that our course caters very well to the needs of both groups.

In addition to acquiring substantial theoretical knowledge of the subject, students gain extensive practical experience using a variety of software, focusing primarily on ArcGIS but also including ERDAS Imagine, PostgreSQL, PostGIS, MySQL, OpenLayers, Geoserver, QGIS, Excel, SPSS and a number of GIS extensions and plug-ins. One of the core modules provides experience of web-based programming languages such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript, while an optional module in customising GIS applications introduces Esri ModelBuilder and the Python programming language. After completing the PgDip modules, students may transfer to the Masters, which entails a substantial independent research project.

All students are provided with a free copy of ArcGIS, the remote sensing package ERDAS Imagine, and the data analysis package SPSS.


Fully on-line, full-time by distance learning. 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 may chose your own hours of study each week but all full-time students should expect to dedicate an average of 35-40 hours to the course per week.

Start dates

  • September 2017
How to apply


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.

In this section

Year one

Geographic information systems project

Year: 1

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 plan and two progress reports, together with a research paper.

Principles of GIS

Year: 1

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.

Spatial Data Management

Year: 1

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.

Remote Sensing

Year: 1

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 are expected to become familiar with theoretical foundations and are allowed to demonstrate technical principles through a series of software-based practical exercises using ERDAS Imagine 2013.

GIS Databases

Year: 1

This compulsory 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 about a range of spatial issues are incorporated within the lectures. A range of database skills are introduced which equip the student with knowledge of the potential and scope of databases within various applications. Students will be introduced to a range of open source DBMS and GIS software including MySQL, PostgreSQL, PostGIS and Quantum GIS.

GIS in Business and Society

Year: 1

This module is optional

This module introduces GIS-relevant management and decision making concepts in business and society. The module investigates the various decision-making capabilities of GIS, within management and spatial data analysis. Planning, design, error handling, decision support techniques and advanced spatial analysis are examined within the overall implementation of GIS projects, using lecture material, tutorial discussion and group work to enable students to gain an understanding of the potential value of GIS across a broad range of application areas. The module assumes no prior knowledge or experience of GIS.

Web-based GIS

Year: 1

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. The module is interactive and discussions about a range of programming issues are incorporated within the lectures. A range of programming skills is introduced which equip the student with knowledge of the potential and scope of programming within various applications.

Spatial Analysis

Year: 1

This module is optional

This module builds on the introductory material of EGM711 and EGM712, covering key concepts of spatial data analysis and modelling, and providing extensive practical experience of ESDA and spatial modelling within a GIS environment.

GIS for Environmental Management

Year: 1

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.

Customising GIS Applications

Year: 1

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.

GIS Work Experience

Year: 1

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.

GIS Workplace Project

Year: 1

This module is optional

This module consists of a project undertaken by students in GI-related employment, in which they undertake 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 contextualise their classroom-based learning in a professional environment relevant to careers in GI-related fields.

Biodiversity Management

Year: 1

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.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Year: 1

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.

Entry conditions

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.

In this section

Entry Requirements

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

Assessment is 100% by course work (no sessional examinations), which may involve a mixture of methods including practical reports, problem analysis, research projects, literature reviews, online tests and group work. The Masters element of the course takes the form of a substantial independent research project, written up in the form of an academic paper.

Students are able to use the University's extensive online resources of electronic journals, books and databases.

Careers & opportunities

In this section

Career options

Successful students develop a range of skills in the management, processing, analysis, interpretation and presentation of geo-spatial data, as well as skills in project management, report writing and problem solving.

Graduates of the course have secured employment in a variety of roles in Ireland, the UK, Europe and further afield (including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Middle East), in GIS positions including technicians and analysts, development and sales, lecturing and research, within organisations such as mapping agencies and GIS companies, environmental consultancies, resource management and environmental agencies, planning, health services, housing authorities, local government, rural development, utilities and infrastructure, education, mining and retail analysis. 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.

Work placement / study abroad

Recognising the value of gaining experience in the workplace, and of being able to apply academic learning within that context, we offer full-time students the option of undertaking a GIS Work Experience module. 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.


You can apply online here.

How to apply

Start dates

  • September 2017

Fees and funding

In this section

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

While the majority of reading material is available free of charge via the University's electronic library resources, students are 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. Students must obtain their own copy of Microsoft Office, but other software is either open source or else provided free of charge under academic licence (this applies to Esri's ArcGIS, the remote sensing package Erdas Imagine and IBM-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.


Course Director: Dr Sally Cook
T: +44 (0) 28 7012 4401

For admissions enquiries contact the Faculty Office:

T: +44 (0) 28 7012 4159



Here is a small selection of comments from past students:

“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”.

“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”.

“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”.