This month, the 20th annual intake of UNIGIS MSc students have started their coursework towards this highly regarded professional qualification in Geoinformatics and GIScience. In early 1994, the first committed group of dedicated Masters students embarked on their journeys towards a postgraduate degree in GIS at the University of Salzburg, Austria. Meeting for their first residential workshop, the dedication of the 1994 cohort was very similar like this year’s, but of course back then no reassuring role models were available for these enterprising spirits.
Credit goes to the University of Salzburg for allowing such a groundbreaking initiative to happen through establishing the original 1993 curriculum. Degree programs via distance learning supporting in-service professionals were considered a major breakthrough (or risk?) back then, shared with our partner universities in Manchester and Amsterdam. Since then, this idea has spawned partner programs worldwide, with numerous study centres in Asia and Africa affiliated with UNIGIS Salzburg.
The degree of innovation and change over those 20 years of course was staggering. The idea of doing class assignments with GIS software installed on personal computers at home was pushing a few limitations, and mailing learning materials obviously was the precursor to today’s online Learning Management Systems. The ambition of developing one’s geospatial knowledge and skills as a foundation for a career in a challenging field was just the same like it is today, though.
In the meantime, more than 1500 students have graduated from UNIGIS Salzburg alone, owing their success to their farsighted commitment to hard work, a dedicated faculty and support from GIS industry facilitating access to professional software for study purposes when campus and student licensing were virtually unheard of in our discipline.
While many parts of the curriculum have evolved and now include open geospatial standards, distributed architectures and mobile sensors, competences in cartographic communication, spatial data models and spatial analysis methods are key elements of the unique qualification shared by what likely is the biggest alumni community in the geospatial world.
The University of Salzburg has since then established a full suite of academic programmes with a bachelor level ‘minor’ plus a geospatial element for teachers training, an international MSc in ‘Applied Geoinformatics’ and a highly regarded doctoral college for GIScience. Reaching out to many academic institutions worldwide, the UNIGIS framework still serves as a blueprint and curricular ‘gold standard’ for professional graduate qualifications for geospatial experts.
Congratulations to all who have made it through the UNIGIS Salzburg programme – and we continue to welcome students dedicated to their goals!