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Remote sensing and GIS education in the UAE

M M Yagoub
Director, Master Program of Remote Sensing and GIS,
Geography Programme,
College of Humanities and Social Sciences,
United Arab Emirates University, Al-ain, UAE
[email protected]

Implementation of geo-science is witnessed in various departments in the UAE. This paper focuses on the geo-science education in the UAE and provides overview about implementation of geo-science in some departments. It also highlights global cooperation between UAE and international bodies and identifies problems related to geo-science, as well as catalysts that may play an important role in its development

The main reasons for the rapid diffusion of remote sensing and GIS (geo-science) across the world is the need for knowledge about spatial data, use of English as a global language, and the Internet. Knowledge is the key and the first step for proper understanding of the ins and outs of the geo-science disciplines. Although there are differences in local needs of universities around the world, geo-science courses are, to some extent, becoming global (Kemp and Frank 1996). This can be deduced from the use of over 100 universities around the world of the GIS core curriculum developed by the University of California Santa Barbara in 1990 (Longley et al. 2001).

Additionally, international universities specializing in geo-science such as UNIGIS have succeeded in penetrating political, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. With the development in the Internet and distance learning (zero distance), more and more institutes have started to offer degrees in geo-science, for example, the ESRI virtual campus, Pennsylvania State University, and City University.

The Internet has also played a major role in the flow of up-to-date information; for example, in the past students in developing countries depend on out-dated sources to get information about geo-science. Nowadays, current information can be accessed from leading organizations within minutes.

Penetration of remote sensing and GIS to the UAE market
An important factor affecting on penetration of remote sensing and GIS in the UAE is the economy. UAE is an oil export country with revenues hit US$ 73.35 billion in 2000. The revenues from oil make UAE in a better condition than other developing nations for lying infrastructure for remote sensing and GIS (hardware, software, data, salary, etc.). Privatization of some governmental departments in the UAE affects also on the penetration of geo-science. The objectives of privatization are performance, efficiency, and quick return. Management authorities in these departments recognized the potential for the use of geo-science to achieve the objectives of privatization.

Openness of the government and private companies in the UAE to the use of English as a medium of instruction and communication in their transactions had also played a greater role in the wide spread use of remote sensing and GIS.

Introduction of remote sensing and GIS in the UAE is the part of a global geo-science revolution (Achache and Aschbacher 2003) as well as a result of a regional impact by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

For example, implementation of GIS in Qatar and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The revolution in geo-science created a demand for GIS professionals worldwide (ESRI 2000) and in the UAE. A survey conducted by the author for investigating the geo-science set up at the governmental departments in the UAE had shown that the demand for geo-science professionals is between 1 to 15 persons per department. This demand has forced many universities in the UAE to restructure their programs and strategies so as to meet the demand.

Aerial view of UAE University
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