School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science

UKZN Launches Exciting New Degree in GIS and Earth Observation

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The 4th Industrial Revolution has seen an increase in the use of spatial data for decision-making in line with promoting evidence-based and knowledge driven economies. Responding to these paradigm shifts, a new programme (BSc GIS-EO), has been created in the School of Agricultural Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES).

The programme, which offers a three-year study in Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (Remote Sensing), aims to develop and build high level theoretical and practical skills in spatial data analysis and environmental monitoring using GIS and remote sensing technologies. The programme provides an intensive educational opportunity designed to equip students for either a career in the Geographical Information industry or to build scientific understanding and practical know-how in preparation for postgraduate studies. On completion, the graduates will be able to engage critically in current debates on development initiatives, and formulate spatial management strategies in decision-making.

Ideas for a new programme started a few years ago after the realisation that many organisations in South Africa and the region continue to experience rapid growth in the volumes of spatial data, resulting in a growing demand for skilled personnel in GIS and earth observation. The introduction of the programme was also triggered by the identification of Earth Observation, Space Science and Technology being among five grand challenges in the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) 10-Year Innovation Plan, which is a Cabinet-approved instrument supporting the South African National Space Agency Act, 2008.

Training of students is therefore a key priority area for the successful implementation of the Earth Observation and Space Science programme. Currently, many universities in South Africa offer a few GIS courses as part of Environmental Science or Geography major degree programmes. While these courses provide basic theoretical and practical understanding of the subject, the introduction of a fully-fledged GIS-EO programme will enhance skill sets and produce rounded graduates with data acquisition, processing (including programming and cloud computing), storage and sharing expertise, coupled with an understanding of environmental processes and changes thereof in the face of climate change.

Following approval for the programme, the Dean and Head of School, Professor Fhatuwani Mudau, said: ‘As a School, we are happy to offer a programme which will tackle the societal needs of our communities. The programme will enable our students to be able to respond to the 4th Industrial Revolution and inspire greatness in our society.’

Since the programme is interdisciplinary in nature, its development involved a number of disciplines, including Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, Geography, Physics and the Biological Sciences, whose representatives converged to introduce key and relevant modules that could build the programme. Facilitation from the School and College leadership as well as Quality Promotion and Assurance (QPA), yielded a watertight coordination of the programme development.

Having been fully registered as a Higher Education Qualification Sub Framework (HEQSF) qualification on the National Qualifications Framework level 8 (NQF), as per South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) letter dated 28 April, 2021, the programme will be fully operational as from 2022.

Entry requirements are 30 NSC points, including Maths (Level 5), Physical Science, Life Science or Agricultural Science (Level 4).

For further information contact: Professor Onisimo Mutanga.

Words: Onisimo Mutanga

Image: Supplied