Deakin University lays out proposed School of IT restructure

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Deakin University lays out proposed School of IT restructure

Cuts would come from cyber security, data science and distributed systems.

Deakin University is proposing to cut academic staff in areas such as data science, cyber security and distributed systems and bring in more teaching resources focused on “emerging” technologies.

The proposed changes are part of a university-wide restructure, called Deakin Reimagined, that will result in a reduction of 180 to 220 positions across the institution.

Specific change proposals are currently the subject of staff consultation; a change proposal for the School of Information Technology, sighted by iTnews, shows reductions in several study domains, partially offset by a shift in the focus of IT-related study towards “emerging technologies” - including quantum computing, internet of things (IoT) and blockchain.

Under the proposal, two vacant positions in the school will not be replaced, and an additional 18 academic staff face cuts.

They include professors and senior lecturers in “computer and data science, artificial intelligence & machine learning”; four lecturers in “information and emerging technology”; professors and senior lecturers in “cyber security” and “distributed systems”; and lecturers in “software engineering” and “mathematics and optimisation”.

Crucially, the cuts would impact several “Level E” professors in these fields. 

Under Deakin University’s academic levels, E is the highest tier and denotes someone that has national and/or international recognition “as an eminent authority in his or her discipline”.

Five “Level E” professors would be cut under the plan, offset by the hire of one “Level E” professor in “software engineering/telecommunications”.

The intention of the restructure is in part to shift the focus of the School of Information Technology from these domains to more emerging ones.

It unveiled plans to hire 13 new academics, mostly at lower academic levels, in areas such as robotics, blockchain, quantum computing, machine learning, IoT, and cyber security.

However, the change proposal also notes that the restructure would result in a “reduction of cost” and meet a “shift in expectations around teaching delivery, technical expertise, and innovation”.

A Deakin University spokesperson largely quoted from the consultation document when asked for additional comment.

“The School of Information Technology is proposed to transition from creative technology and networking offerings where student demand is falling, to increasing demand for short courses and building a new focus on our emerging technology offering, which includes the IoT blockchain and quantum computing,” the spokesperson said.

“While no decision has been made on the change proposals, current modelling estimates a net reduction of five positions in the School of Information Technology.”

That net reduction figure does not appear to include currently vacant roles that would now not be replaced.

If the areas up for reduction are indeed facing lower enrolments, it may point to a wider problem for Australia’s technology sector, where many of these domains are commonly said to be suffering from skills shortages.

Universities across Australia are suffering from the ill-effects of Covid-19 and, in particular, a large drop in international student enrolments.

Deakin University’s vice-chancellor Iain Martin told a ‘town hall’ meeting last week that challenges are expected to continue into 2022 and 2023, necessitating the current proposals.

iTnews also confirmed that the university’s own IT organisation, which goes by the name eSolutions, is also impacted by the university-wide change proposal.

However, the proposed changes at eSolutions were unable to be quantified before publication.

Consultations with staff on the proposed changes end September 14.

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