University of Reading announces restructure for systems engineering

Institution may close one of its engineering schools after a 'disappointing result' in the research excellence framework

June 4, 2015

Research and teaching in the University of Reading's School of Systems Engineering will undergo a major reorganisation if the recommendations of a review are adopted by the institution's governing council.

A number of courses would close to new entrants from 2016, and research areas that do not fit with the institution’s long-term strategy would be lost.

The university's executive board has endorsed the recommendations of a review it commissioned in February that found that the “school had elements of world-class research but had a disappointing overall [REF] result, meaning it had not made significant improvements against the sector”.

In a statement issued to staff on 2 June, the board says the changes would give “long-term financial security” to the areas that remain, generate an overall surplus in the medium term and maximise Reading’s performance in the next REF.

They add that the proposal protects as many “current and future jobs as possible” and gives “staff and students effective leadership”.

Under the plans, the systems engineering school would cease to exist from summer 2016. Research and teaching in computer science, neuroscience, robotics and data science would be reorganised.

Reading’s council is expected to make a decision on the proposal in mid-July. If it goes ahead with the plans, a restructuring committee will flag up the research staff who have a strategic fit elsewhere in the university. Teaching and support staff who fit this criteria would also be kept.

The school's two biggest courses, a BSc in computer science and an MSc in advanced computer science, would be retained. Potential new courses created by the restructure include undergraduate degrees in neuroscience and bioengineering, and a master’s in systems neuroscience.

The 15-week review of the school’s long-term prospects was led by Reading’s pro vice-chancellor for academic planning and resource, Robert Van de Noort. The review panel looked at research and teaching quality, impact, financial projections and strategy, and it met with students and staff and read 85 written submissions.

It concluded that the school was “not moving quickly enough” to improve its position against other universities in terms of research outputs and grant income, according to the statement.

The panel also found that in general too few students enrolled on the school’s programmes, and this was “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".

The school also had a deficit of £1.94 million for the 2013-14 year.

Sir David Bell, Reading's vice-chancellor, said: “We believe these recommendations are in the best long-term interests of the whole institution. We have not made these recommendations at all lightly, but our proposals strike the right balance between building on existing strengths and taking robust action on weaker areas.”

He added: “It would be seriously remiss if we were not to assess and test our strengths and weaknesses constantly so we can expand student numbers; generate more research income; build on growing strengths; and meet our long-term ambitions.”

 holly.else@tesglobal.com

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Reader's comments (1)

With a national shortage of all sorts of technology graduates is this really the way forward? A petition has been set up to help save the School of Systems Engineering at Reading at http://savesse.org

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