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Studying at the School of Surveying

The National School of Surveying at the University of Otago provides the only degrees in Surveying that are recognised as the prerequisite academic education for recognition as a professional land surveyor in New Zealand.

The 4-year Bachelor of Surveying meets this requirement.  However in addition, the BSc degrees in Surveying Measurement (SURM) and in Land Planning and Development (LPDP), as well as the BAppSc in GIS can satisfy this requirement when supplemented with one further year of study (usually a Diploma for Graduates). The Bachelor of Surveying degree is also recognised by the Cadastral Surveyors Licensing Board of New Zealand (with the appropriate elective courses), which has reciprocal licensing arrangements with all of the Australian jurisdictions.

The School also supports post graduate study by offering the Post Graduate Diploma in Science, Post Graduate Diploma in Applied Science and the degrees of Master of Science, Master in Applied Science, Master of Surveying and Doctor of Philosophy in any of the disciplines offered in the undergraduate programme.

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Why study surveying?

The surveying profession has been active in New Zealand since the earliest day of European settlement and has contributed significantly to the development of the country. Its core business of cadastral surveying, the defining of land title boundaries, underpins the security of land ownership necessary for the development of the economy through the creation of collateral for securing finance.

The University of Otago Surveying programme offers the only academic qualification leading to professional recognition as a professional land surveyor in New Zealand. To complete that recognition a period of post graduation training is required, and is examined by the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors.

The courses offer a broad range of disciplines within the context of surveying that equips graduates for a professional career in New Zealand and also overseas. Many graduates are able to find employment in other parts of the world while undergoing their “OE”, and return to New Zealand with significant work experience. Particular skills in demand include engineering surveying, hydrographic surveying, construction surveying and mine surveying.

Land surveying is a technological profession. The School of Surveying aims to provide graduates who are educated in the principles of a wide range of land surveying disciplines that will equip them with the necessary attributes to adapt to the rapidly advancing technical environment so that they can enjoy a career in the particular specialities of their choice over a lifetime as a surveyor. However, like any qualification there is no guarantee of employment, but the opportunities are significant.

Find out more about the careers pursued by some of the surveying alumni students.

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Topics covered by Surveying papers

Land surveying in New Zealand embraces a range of disciplines or sub-disciplines that make the New Zealand surveyor sought after both in New Zealand and in most other parts of the world. These disciplines are largely focused on “position” or “location” and the management and interpretation of measurements gathered using a wide range of rapidly developing technologies, some of which are land based, others water based, and those which are airborne.

Paper topics include:

  • Cadastral Surveying
  • Land development engineering
  • Urban design
  • Land Tenure
  • Statutory planning
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Geodesy and Astronomy
  • Hydrographic surveying
  • Engineering surveying
  • Remote sensing and Photogrammetry
  • Project management

Find out more about the papers taught at the School of Surveying.

Advice for first year Surveying students

The following is an assortment of information that will be of interest to students undertaking the BSurv degree for the first time.
For first time students – you MUST enroll for the ‘Surveying First Year (BSc)’ degree programme NOT the Bachelor of Surveying (BSurv First Year).
You must choose seven papers (minimum) in your first year – SURV101, 102, ENGL228 and MATH160 plus three papers of your choice.
Whether to select three or four papers in semester 1 is ultimately the student’s choice but useful considerations are:
• If you take four papers in semester 1 and fail one – there is still the option of passing four papers in semester 2, hence, meeting the requirement to pass seven papers in the year.
• You may need time to settle into, and adjust to University life, both in terms of academic and personal adjustments. A lighter first semester might accommodate this.
• Your personal attitude, self discipline and commitment to study i.e., why are you here? Looking at these questions may help you decide on how to balance your first year work load.
At the end of the first year (15 November of each year) you will apply for formal admission into the BSurv degree which is a competitive process – only 60 students are admitted to the 'gate keeper' restricted paper - SURV298 Introductory Field Course. 
Over recent years, entry into the BSurv degree has been very competitive. Typically, the average grade (for the four compulsory papers only) required to gain entry has been at a B level.
Students are advised to select their outside elective papers in an area that they are particularly interested in. This provides a clear pathway to an alternative degree ‘major’. If a student chooses two papers in the same optional subject area (e.g., music, geography, maths etc), they will then be able to enroll in 200 level papers in the 2nd year of study. This is vital if a student is not accepted into the BSurv or not wishing to continue with another surveying degree – they can move seamlessly into their alternative degree.
The overall ranking of applicants is based on the average grades achieved across all four compulsory 100 - level papers (SURV101, 102, ENGL228, and MATH160). It should be noted that if a student has not passed mathematics with calculus/ algebra in year 13 of High School
– it is highly recommended that they undertake the preparatory paper, MATH151 General Mathematics to enable a smoother transition into the University level MATH160 paper.
All being equal, preference will be given to students who pass all seven papers at the first attempt and who are applying for the BSurv for the first time.


Sixty (60) days or more of documented surveying work experience, supported by a written report and submitted to the School prior to applying for formal admission to the BSurv, will be assessed and may be awarded a bonus of up to 5%. This bonus is extremely valuable within the formal BSurv Admission process.
     o     The report shall describe the company size and domains of expertise, the work undertaken and the value the student obtained from it. Such a report will be graded with a mark, up to 5%. This will allow the School to evaluate the relevance of the surveying experience, while also taking into account the academic ability of the student as displayed by the report writing.

In the event that a student cannot decide on optional papers, there are a few papers that might be considered, which support surveying related degrees. You must choose papers that do not create a timetable clash with other papers as first year students are not permitted timetable clashes.
Semester 1
     GEOG101, PHSI131, MAOR102, MANT102, EAOS111, ENVI111,
     COMP101*, 150*, STAT110, BSNS101 104 105 106
Semester 2
     GEOG102, GEOL112, ECON112, MANT102, PHIL105,
     MATH170, COMP101* 160*, BSNS101 104 105 106
* These courses are also required for BAppSc (GIS).

Additional Considerations
One of the primary restrictions into the BSurv degree is the SURV298 Introductory Field Course. To gain an exemption from the SURV298 field course and hence not be subject to the competitive arena - the following rules apply:

  • Students who have completed the two year National Diploma in Surveying through Unitec/Infratrain/polytechnics, or have an international Surveying degree, and have at least two years of specific surveying work experience (and passed the normal first year programme), must submit a portfolio of work experience for assessment, in order that an exemption for SURV298 be given. Prospective students in this category must contact the School of Surveying for further information.

Students identifying with Maori or Pacific Island ethnicity should make contact with  the Maori Centre and Pacific Island Centre for further advice/guidance and tutorial assistance. You can also discuss any issues or concerns with the School of Surveying Kaiawhina – Dr Mick Strack (Room 114 on the first floor or email

Surveying qualifications map

Have a look at the map below to see where your qualifications might take you.

Surveying Qualifications chart 2017

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