Surveying has a future?

Oct 2008 | No Comment

P Misra, John Hannah, Simon Kwok, William Patrick (Paddy) Prendergast

While there are many opportinties for professionals working in the field of computer science and engineering, etc. many consider surveying has low profile and ‘less rewarding’. Some feel that the total number of qualified and licensed surveyors are diminishing. Does surveying profession has a future? Experts speak

In the face of global demand of surveyors, will we find sufficient graduates?

John Hannah

Professor, School of Surveying University
of Otago Dunedin,
New Zealand
In a single emphatic word, yes! However, before elaborating further, it is useful to begin by clarifying what we mean when we speak of a “Surveyor”. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), using its United Kingdom model, includes specialisms such as antiques valuation, quantity surveying, and estate management under its surveying umbrella – all of which are seen as being entirely separate professional activities in most other countries. These are not included here. For the purposes of this discussion, the core competencies expected of a surveyor will be those of the collection and management of spatial (geographical) data, spatial measurement, land boundary demarcation, and land tenure arrangements.

Perhaps the best approach for this discussion lies in identifying some of the major global trends that are likely to unfold in the next decade and to identify where surveyors might influence this activity.

The first clear trend is the need to build, upgrade, and replace urban infrastructure. Demand for freight and passenger transport in most developing and transition countries, for example, is growing 1.5 to 2.0 times faster than GDP – the bulk of this increase being for road transport. All such projects require surveyors with their specialist positioning expertise. In Australasia it is already clear that national goals for economic growth over the next decade are unlikely to be able to be met unless the number of surveyors is at least doubled. Similar issues are able to be identified in most western countries.


The second trend is the demand for higher food production from the shinking global base of arable land. As global temperatures increase, desert regions expand, and population pressures increase, the production pressure on the remaining supplies of arable land will likewise increase. There is clear evidence to suggest that the ability to allocate rights in land to private owners leads to higher levels of economic activity. The ability to allocate rights, however, necessitates some mechanism for defining the extent of those rights (i.e., boundaries) and managing the resulting data – activities that are a core part of the surveyor’s expertise. In addition, some of the more efficient farmimg methods now have at their heart GPS positioning technology – the development and use of which is again the domain of the surveyor.

The third trend is linked to the second in that global population growth, combined with the demand for an ever increasing level of economic activity will drive the demand for commodities.The extraction of minerals and the demand for energy, both of which are needed for economic growth, necessitiate input from surveyors, whether with specialist mining expertise or special hydrographic surveying expertise. Such activities will also demand better management information systems such as can be developed using GIS technology.

Finally, the trend towards urban living appears set to continue. It is expected that most of the population increase during 2000-2030 will be absorbed by the urban areas of the less developed regions. Here the surveyor will find an important role in defining boundaries and in planning and designing sustainable urban environments.

The real question is not, ”Does the surveying profession have a future”, but rather, ”In the face of the global demand for surveyors, where will we find sufficient graduates?.”

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