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  • Geoinformatics Education and Training at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

    Mohamad Nor Said Mohamad Ghazali Hashim

    Department of Geoinformatics Faculty of Geoinformation & Real Estate

    Universiti Teknologi Malaysia 81310, UTM Skudai




    Human resource development is a part of the major components that constitute a successful implementation of Geographical Information System (GIS). Technical knowledge and skill is always required in ensuring a GIS is applied effectively, no matter for what purpose. Hence, a properly designed curriculum at various levels of teaching and learning of the subjects related to the discipline is very important. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) has taken a lead in this very demanding field by offering a bachelor degree program in Geoinformatics since 1994. The curriculum was initially designed by referring to various academic development and GIS applications and implementation throughout the world. It is further improved from time to time to suit and fit the local requirements both by the industries and the government authorities such as Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA). Having a current number of about 500 graduates, the GIS industries seem to grow significantly and thus help the government speeding up various development projects with the use of GIS. At a higher level, UTM also offers postgraduate programmes mainly to carry out researches related to various issues related to GIS implementation and developments. With the establishment of Malaysian Centre for Geospatial Data Infrastructure (MaCGDI), UTM plays greater roles in collaborating with this agency in providing professional trainings as well as contributing expertise towards helping the development of Malaysian Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI). This paper reports on various academic and research activities as well as professional training conducted by UTM.

    1.0 Introduction Geographical Information System (GIS) has been long and widely used to support various needs in tackling spatial-related problems. Many issues require technical experts who do not only know how to use the system but more importantly understand the nature of the problems that associate with geospatial data. Thus there is a need for a balance attention in both geographic information science as well as the technology which commonly refers to GISc & T. As such, the academic curriculum for a particular programme intended to produce graduates in this discipline has to be designed to fit these two requirements. This is how Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), through its Department of Geoinformatics, makes the initiative to offer the bachelor degree in geoinformatics since about sixteen years ago. The postgraduate programme follows to provide the opportunity for the potential students from various professional backgrounds to enhance their knowledge in geographic information and skill in using GIS, as well as to perform academic researches. Realizing the need for a quick introductory understanding about GIS, UTM also designs and conducts short courses either in a standard or tailor-made structure for various government agencies and private sectors. All of these programmes are conducted to support the

  • needs towards a better and effective use of geospatial data especially with current government agenda in realizing the national Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) as well as in supporting the idea towards establishing a spatially-enabled government.

    2.0 The Need For GIS Expertise With a significant increase in the awareness about the importance of geospatial data, the need for experts in GIS also follows. These experts may play their roles, as most listed by Zeiler (1999) such as to become:

     a database designer who builds conceptual and logical data models and implements physical database designs

     a data builder (or database developer) who inputs geographic data with several techniques - editing, converting, (existing maps, new primary data, attributes information) and creates GIS-ready datasets

     an application developer who designs a specific application and customizes GIS software to serve a certain need(s) of an industry (e.g. information retrieval, spatial analysis – planar and network, etc.)

     an analyst who provides solution to geographic problems, such as hazards (e.g. modeling - flood risk, soil erosion; ground water contaminations/ vulnerability), transportation (e.g. finding alternative route to existing congested roads, modeling the interaction between landuse and road density), site location (e.g. determining most appropriate site for new bank branch), water resource (e.g. water shortage)

     a database administrator who manages GIS databases and ensures that the GIS operates smoothly; may also act in dealing with matters related to SDI (standard, policy, access)

     a researcher or research assistant who applies the knowledge and skill in GIS to perform researches or to assist researchers of different backgrounds in solving a certain issue(s)

    In the Malaysian context, the real demand for GIS may be seen as started in the early nineties. Although a number of government authorities has already started using (or producing digital data) it earlier than that, the overall growth of this industry is very much dependent on the availability of digital data, software capability (and cost) and the experts that came later. When the Malaysian Centre for Geospatial Data Infrastructure (MaCGDI) was established in 1997 (known as NALIS at that time), more initiatives are geared in coordinating efforts and implementing policies towards a better and structured way of producing, accessing and using (sharing) geospatial data (Mohsin Hj Ahmad and Mariyam Mohamad, 2006). Department of Surveying and Mapping Malaysia (DSMM) also play very important role by converting paper maps into digital so that more digital data are made available to the GIS users. DSMM also make further initiatives by providing more mapping infrastructures in supporting the Malaysian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (MyGDI) initiatives as introduced by the MaCGDI (Abdul Kadir Taib, 2006). The availability of GIS packages with more advanced functions contributes to the demand for more training. Increasing literatures (conferences, journals, text books, etc.) create more awareness amongst users (including researchers at higher institutions), thus generate greater demand for GIS experts.

    3.0 Geoinformatics Programs At UTM Geoinformatics is a science and technology which develops and uses information science infrastructure to address the problems of geography, geosciences and related branches of engineering. The discipline combines geospatial analysis and modeling, development of geospatial databases, information systems design, human-computer interaction and both wired and wireless networking technologies. It also uses geocomputation and geovisualization for analyzing geoinformation. This elaborated definition has become the basis for the curriculum

  • designed for the academic programs run by the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, either at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. It is also a reference for the content of short courses as thus far offered to the professionals that come from various disciplines and backgrounds. It is very important to note that Goodchild (2006) has made very challenging remarks on where the spatial literacy should belong in an academic curriculum.

    3.1 Undergraduate Program UTM has started its undergraduate program in geoinformatics in 1994 by extending its existing bachelor degree in surveying but with revised curriculum and named as Bachelor of Surveying (Geoinformatics). The basic entry level of this 5-year program is Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) while those hold the Malaysian Higher Certificate of Education (STPM) can also apply. A special consideration is also given to the diploma holders whereby they are allowed to enter directly into the second semester of year 2, i.e. by waiving a certain number of courses (subjects) depending on their previous study background. Starting from 1997, UTM has to fulfil the requirement set by the Ministry of Education that all undergraduate programs must be run at the maximum norm period of four years which thus requires the applicants to come from either the Matriculation centres or STPM. New curriculum was then revised and the new program was later renamed and offered as Bachelor of Science (Geoinformatics). Further revision was again made when the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) throught its Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) produced a directive that every undergraduate programme has to fulfil all the guidelines as set by this agency, otherwise it is not going to be given accreditation.

    Table 1: The curriculum of Bachelor of Science (Geoinformatics) as currently offered by UTM

  • This curriculum requires the students to complete as many as 136 credits to enable them to graduate. This includes the core courses (90 Credits), elective courses (18 credits), Industrial Training (8 credits), GIS Training Camps (4 credits) and University courses (16 credits). The requirement for