Edinburgh gains Government scholarships for MSc in GIS

Edinburgh has been successful in gaining several prestigious Scottish Funding Council Highly Skilled Workforce scholarships for its MSc in Geographical Information Science. The world-leading GIS programme at Edinburgh has been awarded three scholarships for full-time study and one for part-time study, available to Scottish residents and EU citizens. Bruce Gittings, the GIS Programmes Director, commented “We are very pleased to receive these SFC scholarships, which represent a very welcome response by the Scottish Government to the lack of trained professionals in the field of GIS”

Despite industry reports which point clearly to a growing demand for a skilled professional GIS workforce, increasing fees across the higher education sector and a declining number of institutions with the capability to offer resource-intensive GIS programmes has left a reducing number of graduates in the UK.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, GIS occupations will see growth rates ranging from 7%-54% between 2010-2020. In the UK the industry is estimated to currently employ between 8,000 and 10,000 staff providing GIS products and services, with a further 30,000 to 40,000 using the technology [ UK Location Market Study 2012, ConsultingWhere Ltd. ].  GIS salaries have climbed 20% in the year to Feb 2014 (www.itjobswatch.co.uk), with an average salary of £48,000.

The GIS sector is growing beyond the traditional GIS vendors (most of whom are US-based), local and central government, and the environment, to encompass alternative energy, large engineering companies, archaeology and numerous small GIS startups. Yes the output of UK universities numbers not more than 80-100 GIS graduates per year. If the UK is to remain a leader in GI, the government in London has to follow the Scottish Government in promoting this growing part of the IT sector. A strong university education is the route to effective professionals, with a breadth of skills and experiences which can then be further developed in the work environment.  If government does not support students and the universities price themselves out of the market, then the industry will either wither or be forced to develop its own training programmes, which are likely to be rather narrower than existing offerings. There are parallels: accounting firms are now taking school-leavers directly into professional training, avoiding the university sector. While this may have its place for technician-level training in the GI sector, the long-term needs of the industry and  individual professional staff would not be best-served.

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