I have learned again that surveyors the world over have issues in common. We are all interested in standards, education and ethics, and we all seem to have a problem with public recognition. How we define professional standing is as important in Estonia as it is in the United States. But there are differences in the approach taken by many of our European cousins to these issues, and the emphasis they place on issues is apt to be somewhat different than ours. In many European countries, surveying is largely a civil service occupation; in some of the Central and Eastern European countries, surveying is just beginning to emerge as a private practice occupation while those countries develop democratic forms of government and open market economies.
Surveying is considered part of land administration in many parts of the world. Land administration is defined as “the process of determining, recording and disseminating information about tenure, value and use of land when implementing land management policies.” In the United States, we don’t often think of ourselves as land administration experts. But in fact, surveyors in the United States perform most of the functions included in that definition with the exception of valuation. A few of our members, especially those in public employment, are involved in land management policies. We in this country could justifiably claim a role in the broader field of land administration, but surveying here continues to struggle over the best way to define itself—to the detriment of its image and public recognition.
Professional definition and education are issues that have long been settled in the Scandinavian countries. Their university-level surveying programs are well-established and appear to have little of the marketing problems experienced by some of our institutions in the United States. I was invited to a banquet of the Surveying Students Association in Espoo, Finland, which was enthusiastically attended by about 80 students of nearly equal gender distribution—clearly some of the best and brightest of Finnish youth. They were all eager to enter the profession prepared to solve the world’s problems of land tenure, land use, resource management, globalization, sustainable development and whatever else comes along in their area of expertise.
Land transfer is much less a judicial process and more nearly a purely administrative function in Norway, Finland and Sweden. The Scandinavians have developed cadastral systems that would be the envy of any American surveyor who has experience with our antiquated land titles recordation systems. Those Scandinavian cadastral systems are largely run by—and serviced by—surveyors.
Estonia, one of the Baltic countries that labored under the Soviet system until 10 years ago, is experiencing the growth of a private practice enterprise in surveying. I visited the offices of Juri Partna, Chairman of the Board (and sole proprietor) of Geomark, a thriving surveying business in Tallinn. Juri’s office is well-equipped with the latest in computer hardware and software technology, and his field crew is equipped with the latest total station equipment. Juri, who is not more than 40 years old, quickly saw the opportunity for a surveyor in private practice in a land just beginning to return to a market economy, in which pre-1950 land parcel definitions must be re-established, and in which there would be a new demand for housing and land development services. Juri is able to balance a growing business, a young family and a new home in a national economy that is still trying to find its legs. With all that, he was still able to find time to shepherd me around Tallinn for three days.
Estonia is also developing a modern cadastral system. In their new market-based economy, a fair and efficient land market system is essential to their recovery and development. In a meeting with the Minister of the Economy in Tallinn, Estonia, I discovered a real interest in surveying, surveying education and professional development. A concern there is the ability of the Estonian surveyors to compete with surveyors of other European countries as the European Union and a common European currency open the doors to cross-border travel and enterprise.
I was able to describe our system, in which 50 different states have 50 different systems of surveying and licensure requirements, supported by too few educational institutions with the result that some surveyors are at a disadvantage in terms of the transportability of surveying services in (and outside) the United States. I urged the minister to support the development of a strong surveying educational system for Estonia and a system for qualifying their professionals. I was also able to promise the minister the results of the FIG Task Force on Mutual Recognition of Qualifications. Two of the terms of reference are to “Develop guidelines for assurance of competence for entering the surveying profession, e.g., educational requirements and requirements for professional practice” and to “Develop a concept and framework for implementation of threshold standards of global professional competence _in surveying.”
In many sectors of the American economy, liberalization in trade and globalization are unpopular concepts (witness the riots in Seattle a few months ago during the World Trade Organization meeting). But like it or not, globalization is a present fact of life and a future influence on all the world’s commerce. For the European surveying community, “global professional competence” is a vital issue. There are land surveyors in the United States whose main interest is in boundary surveying, in which knowledge and expertise are localized. For them, globalization may not present a clear and present danger, and global professional competence may seem like a non-issue. But the younger generation of surveyors emerging from our university systems will see themselves in the larger context of land administration. Being able to demonstrate global professional competence will be just as important for them as it is for the surveyors of Europe.