Friday, 18 May 2012

Chubb's warning rings true May 18

Chubb's warning rings true as computer staff face the axe

STAFF in computer science at the University of NSW have protested at planned cuts of up to 10 jobs, or 20 per cent, attributed to the "shifting student demand" that Chief Scientist Ian Chubb warns may threaten the nation's future.
National Tertiary Education Union officials estimate a few hundred staff occupied the Globe Lawn at the Kensington campus in Sydney yesterday, as engineering faculty dean Graham Davies and others decide who will go from the computer science and engineering school.
Professor Davies said the decision to cut jobs was not taken lightly. "I endorse Professor Chubb's comments as reported in The Australian today that more needs to be done to attract students to certain disciplines," he said. "This is particularly true of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Increased funding for these areas would help maintain research and teaching and attract students."
28 Day Free Trial
NTEU president at the university Sarah Gregson said the cuts were "vandalism".
"Industry experts are reporting an increase in demand for computer science graduates, and enrolments at UNSW are on the rise," Ms Gregson said. "It seems crazy to cut staff when those in the know are predicting increased employment opportunities."
Professor Davies conceded in an email to staff that after a plateau of enrolments from 2007 on, "there appears to be some increase in 2012", but said undergraduate enrolments were about a third of the total 10 years ago. Many computing schools had experienced such a downturn.
At UNSW it was not clear whether the current lift would be maintained. "And nevertheless, (it) would need to be sustained for several more years before the computer science and engineering school's finances would grow sufficiently," he said.
In 2001, the UNSW school's deficit was about $532,000 and it would be more than $1.4 million this year if nothing was done.
Staff were alerted six weeks ago that cuts were coming and asked to take voluntary redundancy. Enrolments in computer science boomed in the late 1990s, but at UNSW they peaked in 2002 after which graduates saturated the job market, which suffered from the 2001 dotcom crash.
A UNSW spokeswoman said it was normal to adjust programs and staffing, but "the demand-driven system increases pressure to respond in a short timeframe".
Professor Chubb, who spoke at a research conference in Adelaide yesterday, has called for an end to the "popularity contest" under which course choices by teenagers dictate which areas of university teaching and research are staffed and funded.

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