The National School of Surveying was initially an outgrowth of the Otago School of Mines in 1963 under the leadership of Associate Professor John Mackie, who retired as Professor in 1978 and is now an Emeritus Professor of the University of Otago. At its inception, the School was known as the Department of Survey. This name remained unchanged for 38 years until 2001 when it was rebranded by the University as the National School of Surveying, with the Head of Department appointed as Dean.
In its early years the Department of Surveying admitted 30 students annually to an intermediate year of study followed by two further professional years. Graduates attained a Diploma of Land Surveying (DipSurv). A BSc option was introduced in 1968 with additional papers required in pure and applied mathematics.
The demands of the surveying papers on students, the heavy contact hours required of staff, and the shift by most Australian universities to four-year surveying courses, lead in 1975 to the approval of a new four-year Bachelor of Surveying (BSurv) degree. The first intake of students to the BSurv commenced in 1976. Subsequently, in 1978 the entrance criteria were expanded to allow holders of New Zealand Certificates in Land Surveying, Drafting, and Engineering to be admitted directly to the professional years of the degree.
In the early 1980s, in response to a request from the central Government Department of Lands and Survey, a three-year BSc degree majoring in Measurement Science was added to the BSurv degree. In an attempt to meet the burgeoning demand for planners in New Zealand, a three-year BSc degree in Land Planning and Development was also introduced, and in the late 1980s, a further three-year Bachelor degree was introduced in Land and Spatial Information Studies (BSc (LSIS)).
This degree was retired in 2009 and the Bachelor of Applied Science in Geographic Information Systems (BAppSci (GISS)), was bought under direct control of the School of Surveying. These degree courses remain viable and the BAppSci (GISS) has especially increased in student enrolments since its relocation to the School.
In 1988 enrolments in the BSurv degree were increased from 30 to 40. In September 1993 the Department moved to the School’s current location at 310 Castle Street. In 1994, as a result of a 1991 Survey Industry Review, the previously fully prescribed BSurv degree was replaced by a new degree in which the academic program for final year students consisted of a core surveying component supplemented with a specified number of surveying electives. With minor amendments, this degree structure has remained in place to the present.
During the last two decades, student numbers have continued to build in the BSurv degree, with restricted enrollments increasing from 60 in 2005 and to 65 in 2008, where they have remained to the present.