Major reorganisation of Systems Engineering activity approved
Release Date 14 July 2015
- New Department of Computer Science and Department of Bio-Engineering to open
- Standalone School of Systems Engineering to be closed by autumn 2016
- Strongest research and teaching to be retained and integrated within University
A major reorganisation of computer science, neuroscience, electronic engineering, cybernetics, robotics and data science at the University of Reading, which will see the launch of two new science departments, has been approved by the University Council.
The Council backed a series of recommendations to better attract and retain students; generate long-term sustained research income; and deliver a strong result in the national Research Excellence Framework, expected in 2020.
The recommendations followed a15-week assessment and review commissioned in February, to put academic activity now based in the School of Systems Engineering (SSE) on a long-term competitive footing.
The proposals will integrate top-class, high-impact teaching and research now in the School into stronger Schools and Research Divisions.
The School will cease to exist as a standalone part of the University by autumn 2016.
The Review Panel and the University Council reflected on the external economic and research environment - locally, regionally, nationally and internationally - to understand and plan for future requirements for the subject areas currently in SSE.
The proposals now approved include:
- A new Department of Computer Science, based within the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, which will teach undergraduate BSc Computer Science and postgraduate MSc Advanced Computer Science degrees; lead computer science research; and manage and develop the institution's growing portfolio of free open online courses.
- A new Department of Bio-Engineering, sitting within the School of Biological Sciences and feeding into the key research theme of health. This will group together the University's research and teaching expertise in bio- and biomedical engineering, and incorporate the longstanding areas of cybernetics and robotics.
- A new neuroscience research group within the School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences.
- A data science and big data analytics research group within the Business Informatics, Systems and Accounting section of Henley Business School.
- The School of Construction Management & Engineering (CME) strengthening its research in sustainable energy research by integrating activity now within SSE.
The changes will close teaching courses with limited current demand to new entrants from 2016. The University will disinvest in those elements of research not being moved to other areas.
The University will meet its commitments in full to current students and those holding offers to start in 2015, ensuring that they can all complete their courses at the University of Reading.
New degrees will be considered, including undergraduate degrees such as BSc Neuroscience and BSc Bio-Engineering and a new postgraduate MSc Systems Neuroscience.
A Restructuring Committee will now be set up to implement the recommendations - with an implementation timetable expected to be laid out by the end of September 2015.
The Restructuring Committee will ensure the University meets it statutory obligations to provide information and to undertake meaningful consultation with the representatives of the relevant recognised trade unions and the Staff Forum regarding staff who, as a consequence of the proposed changes, are identified as being ‘at risk' of redundancy.
The Restructuring Committee will aim to avoid, where possible, the need for compulsory redundancy by means of redeployment of staff and voluntary severance arrangements.
'The new dedicated, focused Department of Computer Science puts us in a strong position for future growth. We are retaining and consolidating the top-class research, integrating it with other areas of academic strength across the University.' -- Sir David Bell
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor, said:
"We are confident these changes are in the best long-term interests of the whole institution.
"We operate in a globally competitive market - so we need to take the right decisions to expand tuition and research income, build on existing strengths, and take robust action on weaker areas.
"The new dedicated, focused Department of Computer Science puts us in a strong position for future growth. Computer science degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate level remain very popular - both courses will thrive within the new department.
"We are retaining and consolidating the top-class research, integrating it with other areas of academic strength across the University. Computer science, big data analysis, neuroscience systems and robotics have an outstanding reputation at Reading - that will continue.
"I would like to thank all SSE staff for their professionalism over the last few months, and students for their maturity and constructive input. We will give staff and students all the support they need in their day-to-day teaching, learning and research activities during the next few months, and we can assure all current students plus all those starting in September 2015 that they will be able to complete their courses here at Reading.
"We will keep all involved up to speed on the Restructuring Committee's work to implement the University Council's final decision."
School of Systems Engineering Reorganisation - Full Details
The University Council considered the detailed formal review of the School of Systems Engineering which was commissioned in February 2015, following the Research Excellence Framework 2014, published last December.
The review, the findings of which were endorsed by the University Executive Board (UEB) in June, highlighted improvements in the five years since the previous formal review, but concluded that overall:
- SSE had not sufficiently improved the quality of its research in terms of outputs and grant income and was not moving quickly enough to improve its position against the broader sector and comparator institutions.
- The number of students enrolling on SSE programmes is "generally too low to run as viable programmes", aside from the BSc Computer Science (and variants) and MSc Advanced Computer Science - compounded by a structural imbalance with relatively high numbers of quality research-active staff being in low-volume courses like electronic engineering and low numbers of quality research-active staff being in computer science.
- SSE has recurrent financial deficits - for the most recent year for which a year-end outturn is available (2013-14), this amounted to minus £1.94 million.
The key recommendations of the Review Group, which UEB has endorsed and the University Council has now decided to implement, are:
- The existing BSc Computer Science (which accounts for nearly 60% of all SSE undergraduates) and MSc Advanced Computer Science will continue - these will be delivered within a new Department of Computer Science, created within the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.
- The Department of Computer Science will continue to manage and expand the University's portfolio of online courses on the FutureLearn platform; and continue to lead on technical teaching innovation within the University. It will be expected to generate a "rapid financial surplus" once split from the rest of existing SSE.
- The following programmes will be closed for new entrants from 2016: All MEng programmes; BSc Information Technology; BSc Electronic Engineering; BSc Robotics; BSc Cybernetics; BSc Artificial Intelligence; MSc Digital Signal Processing and Communications; MSc Robotics; MRes Systems Engineering; variants of these programmes. The University will honour its commitments to all existing students as well as offer-holders due to start in October 2015, who will complete their courses at the University of Reading. These courses will be ‘taught out' by the Department for Bio-Engineering (below), except IT, which will be ‘taught out' by the new Department of Computer Science.
- A new Department of Bio-Engineering will be created within the School of Biological Sciences - retaining high-quality research and teaching expertise in healthcare engineering, cybernetics and robotics. It will 'teach out' MEng programmes; BSc Electronic Engineering; BSc Robotics; BSc Cybernetics; BSc Artificial Intelligence; MSc Digital Signal Processing and Communications; MSc Robotics; MRes Systems Engineering; and variants of these programmes - ensuring students on all these courses (including those starting in October 2015) can complete their degrees.
- A new neuroscience group will be created within School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences (SPCLS) - harnessing expertise now centred in the Brain Embodiment Laboratory within SSE. This group will develop and deliver the proposed new BSc Neuroscience and MSc Systems Neuroscience.
- Retained expertise from the Control, Energy and Robotics group will transfer to the School of Construction Management & Engineering (CME) to strengthen its research in sustainable energy research - includingsolar or wind energy or energy reduction, such as building retrofit.
- Retained expertise in data science and big data analytics will transfer to the Business Informatics, Systems and Accounting team within Henley Business School. This will jointly deliver the MSc in Advanced Computer Science with the new Department of Computer Science.
- The Intelligent Systems Research Laboratory (ISR) will be closed and its activities incorporated into the distributed activities outlined above.
- The Infrared Multilayer Laboratory (IML) will be tasked with developing a viable business plan which includes the recovery of the full economic costing of its activity; if this is not possible, the recommendations are that the University should consider closing IML or transferring it outside the University.
- The Review Panel noted that the recommendations are likely to lead to a reduction in staff, but that the full formal consultation process that will follow will give a better idea of the impact on staff numbers.
The Review Panel's recommendations noted that these changes would feed into the Estates Strategy and the estates element of the Research Strategy by offering opportunities to "re-zone" health and food academic activity around the University's Pepper Lane entrance and environmental science activity around the Earley Gate area. Further detailed work on scoping and planning would need to be commissioned, and would follow as part of the ongoing Estates Strategy work.
- The Review Panel's recommendations were endorsed by the University Executive Board (UEB) on 1 June 2015.
- The recommendations were reported to the Strategy & Finance Committee on 15 June 2015 for consideration and comment.
- The recommendations were debated at University Senate on 2 July 2015.
- The University Council decided to accept the recommendations on Monday 13 July 2015 and appointed a Restructuring Committee to implement them in line with Statute XXXIII Part II and the University's Review and Restructuring Policy (2010).
- A detailed timeline and procedure for implementing the Council's decision will be set by the Restructuring Committee, in line with the University's obligations under Statute XXXIII Part II and the Review and Restructuring Policy. That timeline will be determined by the Committee, but it is anticipated that SSE would cease to exist as a standalone School, and teaching and research transfers made and new structures put in place, in summer 2016.