[GRASS-user] ArcGIS, GRASS and employability

Colin McClean cjm8 at york.ac.uk
Tue Sep 19 13:01:44 EDT 2006

Hi Roy

Long time no e-mail/speak etc.

Your external is well out-of-order!  Has he/she 15 years applied GIS 
You should be fairly strong in the response to the external, but of 
course as squeeky as I'd be.

I would make the following points:

Point out the innovative nature of the teaching in exposing them to open 
source research tools (point out R as another fantastic example) that 
are freely downloadable to their computers.

ArcGIS is only widely available in UK academic institutions, not the 
wider UK GIS-user community.  This is due to CHEST deals etc.  If the 
masters students are going on to a UK academic institution then 
knowledge of ArcGIS might be useful, however there is nothing to stop 
them installing GRASS (now in a Windows environment) - the two systems 
are now comparably powerful. 

For home or EU students who have access to jobs  in the offices of 
English Nature, Environment Agency etc only core GIS staff (they've 
probably not got ecology backgrounds) have access to expensive ArcGIS, 
it's much more likely that they end up faffing away with MapInfo etc.  
Being able to install a powerful GIS like GRASS on their office desks 
should be a distinct feather in your students' caps as far as 
employability is concerned.

The situation is even more extreme for your overseas students, 
particularly from developing countries, being independent of expensive 
software such as ArcGIS is a major plus for them.  You should be able to 
polish this point up for your external quite convincingly. 

Others have made the comparisons with other software: a good example for 
you to use in your response is stats software.  Should students be 
limited to using SPSS because is sells more than R ?   Undoubtely, the 
external is more likley to recognise this formulation of your argument.

Finally, throw in a bit of compromise and give them an Arc practical 
just to keep the external happy, but more importantly show the students 
how much more logical and user/research-friendly GRASS is.

If you need quotes from a coordinator of a competing masters programme - 
just get in touch.  I will hopefully be following your example and using 
GRASS in teaching sooner rather than later.

Cheers for now

>Last spring I converted a short course I give to some of our MSc students,
>from ArcGIS 9 to GRASS 6.0.  Whilst the students had had no prior exposure
>to GIS (or indeed Linux), it was obvious that they progressed through their
>work much more rapidly and learnt more in terms of the fundamental
>concepts, and I was pleased with the overall results.
>However, the External Examiner's report for the MSc has criticised the
>change to GRASS, stating that "it isn't known outside Newcastle" and that
>it is harming the students' employment prospects on graduation.  The
>examiner is clearly wanting me to go back to using something like ArcGIS or
>MapInfo in the GIS module.
>It would be useful if anyone could provide me with a few facts/figures on
>the use of GRASS outside of academia, especially in any large commercial
>companies etc.
>Many thanks
>Roy Sanderson
>Institute for Research on Environment and Sustainability
>Devonshire Building
>University of Newcastle
>Newcastle upon Tyne
>NE1 7RU
>United Kingdom
>Tel: +44 191 246 4835
>Fax: +44 191 246 4999
>r.a.sanderson at newcastle.ac.uk <http://grass.itc.it/mailman/listinfo/grassuser>

Dr Colin McClean
Environment Department
University of York
York YO10 5DD
Tel: +44-(0)1904-432995
Fax: +44-(0)1904-432998

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