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.

Great Polish Map of Scotland

Image1Since the 1970s, one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets has been the map constructed by Polish cartographers in the grounds of the Barony Hotel  at Eddleston in the Scottish Borders. Barony Castle had been a training base for Polish troops during the Second World War, and the map was created as a memorial to these men, who had escaped following the invasion of their country but were prepared to defend ours. Many were unable to return home after the War following the closing of the Iron Curtain and remained as valued members of the community. Some time ago I wrote a Gazetteer for Scotland entry on this unique map, which involved a visit.  It is truly a remarkable structure, a three-dimensional representation of Scotland, which is one of the largest maps of its type in the world – almost 50m in circumference.  Sadly, it is in a decaying state but an enthusiastic group – Mapa Scotland – are trying to raise funds for its restoration. I was asked by Historic Scotland to give an expert opinion on its significance, in particular its cartographic merit, and this opinion led directly to it being given the protection of B-listed status. This has all led to significant interest from a younger Polish Image2community who have come to live in Scotland more recently. These Poles have done a remarkable job in mapping out the many and varied cultural and historical links between Scotland and Poland and recently mounted an exhibition in Edinburgh to highlight these. Amongst the work they have undertaken was a  fascinating video which explains the importance of the map. Because of my interests in the map, I was asked to take part in the video. It was a great project and it was nice to be able to give something back to the community.  Like many in Scotland, I have a personal interest in the Poles who came to defend our country during WW2 – my aunt married one of these soldiers, who died a couple of years ago aged 101. Many Scots opened their homes to these men and the University of Edinburgh gave a home to Polish medical students, through its hosting of the unique Polish Medical School.

Geographical Puzzles

I like puzzles, especially geographical ones.  That’s what really interests me about my Gazetteer for Scotland project – its the interesting places, the unusual, the stories that can be told.  So when a gentleman contacted the School of GeoSciences to asking the following, I was intrigued:

As a youngster there was a story that went around to the effect that there was an underground stream/river that ran from somewhere in the Craiglockhart area and ran through Gorgie coming out at Roseburn roughly where Murrayfield stands today.

I had an inkling there was indeed more than one culverted stream in W Edinburgh, and inspection of the First Edition of the Ordnance Survey Six Inch map showed this to be true.  The stream the gentleman was eluding to was recorded as the Gorgie Burn, which once powered mills in that part of the city, mills which later became the Glue and Gelatine Manufactory of J & G Cox. According to the map, the stream rose in Craiglockhart Pond and fell into a mill lade, which abstracted water from the Water of Leith. Was the stream still there?  Well Craiglockart Pond drains into a concrete plug-hole, and having cycled down the route of the stream, according to the map, there was no sign and no clues.  I did find a modest outflow in Roseburn Park, beyond Murrayfield but was assured by a seemingly knowledgeable Council worker that this just drained floodwater from the rugby stadium.  Further map work suggested the stream began as the Meggetland Burn, becoming the Moat Burn and then the Gorgie Burn.  I contacted a friend who is involved with the Friends Of Craiglockhart Woods and Nature Trail. They had always wondered where the Pond drained to, but were able to put me on to a local historian, who had yet another name for the stream: the Megget Burn. I contacted the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and they had never heard of any of these and had no idea.  They were very interested if I turned up anything. They suggested Edinburgh Councrobinil, and with the help of their Flood and Water Services staff, a little more map work and a further bit of field work, the mystery was solved.  There is a stream, it run entirely in a culvert, and falls into the Water of Leith some distance west of its original outfall, because the old mill lade has long been filled in.  (The photo shows the rather unimpressive outflow).  So if you want to know how a Gazetteer for Scotland entry is written, that’s a pretty good explanation. You can read the entry on the Moat or Gorgie Burn for more information.

The Council had a further interesting comment: “Water courses are in riparian ownership, so are the property of the owner of the land through which they pass“.  I wonder how many landowners know this passes through their property, or will they get a shock when the culvert collapses one day?

One further point, illustrative of the tangents that are inevitable with a project such as this: John Cox of the Glue Manufactory (isn’t that a lovely word, so much better than the modern contraction “factory”) was concerned for the health of his fellow Edinburghers, so much so that he was responsible for creating the remarkable Royal Patent Gymnasium, and you can read all about that in the GfS entry for the little-known King George V Park. Enjoy!


Some of you might know that I like to grind an axe over the deprofessionalisation of science. Just as I wouldn’t ask one of my GIS students to pull out my sore tooth, or go to the nearest pub when I need a medical problem diagnosed, I have similar worries about projects like Open Street Maps or Wiki****a (can’t even bring myself to type the word!).  As an alternative to professional reference editing, Wiki****a brings bad research together with opinion and gives a here-today-gone-tomorrow cesspit of pseudo-facts over-used in student essays. It discourages academics from popularising their work because it is a massive plagiariser, which rarely credits sources. It is amusing that one of my 2012 GIS students is credited with the invention of a notable GIS data structure, which was actually conceived several years before he was born.  Anyway, to return to the point, we expect poorly-researched articles from the tabloid press, but this one tickled me – the Sun (that paragon of journalistic integrity) seems to have confused the gamer geeks (see my earlier post) with reality and become convinced a cybernetic eyeball is reality, rather than just a figment of a computer-gamers imagination!  Probably got its facts from Wiki****a.

Who’s got a mobile signal?

The BBC reports that the Advertising Standards Authority has ordered EE (the conjunction of T-Mobile and Orange) to change its mobile coverage checker after a customer complained it had wrongly told him he would receive excellent service in his area. Most phone suppliers proudly state they cover 99% of the UK population. Sounds great!  But as someone who regularly travels around Scotland and finds myself equally regularly without a signal, this got me thinking about what coverage actually means. Large areas seem to lack even a basic 2G service and often you can’t even send a text – which needs even less of a signal. I think its rather unreasonable to quote a percentage of the population when you are talking mobile communications, surely when you are moving around its the area covered which is important?  Its pretty obvious that 99% of the population isn’t going to be anything like 99% of the land area in Scotland.  But how much is it?

Of course mapping mobile phone coverage is a classic example of spatial analysis, involving the locations and power of transmitters and a digital terrain model.  A little online investigation found a recently-published Scottish Government report “Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland” which gives results of such analyses. This report is revealing: basically 27.5% of Scotland doesn’t even have 2G coverage from any operator.  I am usually looking for a 3G signal to hook up the laptop and keep my Gazetteer for Scotland up-to-date, yet something around 75% of the Highlands and Islands, along with sizeable areas (c.50%) of Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders, Stirling and Dumfries & Galloway, has no 3G coverage from any operator – a dire situation.  Perhaps acceptable if roads and railways were covered, but there are notable “no-spots” along many of these transport arteries.  There are anomalies: North Uist has better 3G coverage than 2G. I’ve experienced that, its basically because “3” aka Hutchison-Whampoa have a solitary transmitter on South Clettraval.  So why so much concern about 4G when there is still so much to do on the existing network?


What’s in a name?

If you hadn’t realised, I am fascinated by places, how they are named and how these names evolve.  So listening to the BBC World Service tonight, it was interesting to learn that the New Zealand Geographic Board officially gazetted names for the country’s two principal islands.  After considerable thought and research, these names have been officially recorded as “North Island” and “South Island” – think we might have heard these before somewhere, but apparently they were never formalised. They have also included Maori names for each: “Te Ika-a-Maui” and “Te Waipounamu”, which mean “the fish of Maui” and “the waters of greenstone”. The BBC has more information.  Shame the UK doesn’t have an equivalent body to record our names.  There is the “The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use” which is funded by the British Government, and tries to regularise and record names for every country in the world EXCEPT the UK (and Antarctica). Incredible!  In Scotland we have tried to fill this space with a Definitive Gazetteer of Placenames (created by yours truly), although its uptake around Government is as yet limited.

— Bruce

Let the gamers out of their darkened bedrooms?

It’s interesting that Ordnance Survey have released their OpenData in Minecraft format. Perhaps this might get some spotty teenagers out of their bedrooms and they may realise what an interesting REAL world we actually live in.  However, I doubt it will persuade many parents that the real world may actually be safer than the online world these days.  Am I being cynical?  I don’t think I could ever be called a Luddite, I love useful technology, and even have an appreciation that the online world itself provides an interesting new ‘space’ for geographers to explore and map, but I also constantly renew my interest in the world around us and its infinite complexity.

— Bruce