Proposal for
CSE Postgraduate Coursework Programs
2005 and Beyond

John Shepherd


The Postgraduate Coursework programs in CSE were last revised around 1997. Over recent years, several factors have indicated that changes might be useful in these programs:

UNSW once held a pre-eminent position as the IT Postgraduate Coursework provider in Sydney. This is no longer the case, and the continuing viability of the programs are largely a result of UNSW's reputation in the Asia/Pacific region, rather than the inherent attractiveness of the programs.

This proposal aims to revitalise the CSE Postgraduate Coursework offerings by These changes look minimal, and indeed they will not significantly change the character of the programs. They will, however, improve their marketability, and, within the parameters of what the School will tolerate, this is realistically all that can be done.

Existing Programs

CSE currently offers five postgraduate coursework programs, four retraining programs and one genuine advanced Masters program.

The general admission requirements for all programs:

Master of Computer Science, Graduate Diploma of Computer Science

Aimed at graduates from technical undergraduate degrees (must have some maths).
Masters: 16 courses, 2 years full-time. Aims to cover all of the core content from the undergraduate Computer Science program. Progresses from foundational courses to core computing to advanced topics in the later semesters.
Graduate Diploma: 12 courses, 1.5 years full-time. Aims to cover all of the core content from the undergraduate computer science program, but with less scope for advanced electives.

12 courses, 1.5 years full-time,

Master of Information Science, Graduate Diploma of Information Science

Aimed at graduates from technical undergraduate degrees (must have some maths).
Masters: 12 courses, 1.5 years full-time. Aims to go into depth in one topic area. Progress rapidly (too rapidly) from foundational material to intermediate to advanced. Comes in three majors: Internetworking (most popular), Databases (quite popular), General (not particularly popular).
Graduate Diploma: 8 courses, 1 year full-time. Aims to go into some depth in one topic area. Less scope for reaching advanced studies in the area, given the limited time-frame and the need to cover foundational material.

Master of Engineering Science

Aimed at graduates from CS/IT degrees with a broad computing background.
(Excludes graduates from some CE degrees, which are primarily electrical engineering with considerable system-level computing, but virtually no core computer science, such as data structures and algorithms).
Masters: 8 courses, 1 year full-time. Aims to give students a chance to study advanced material to extend their knowledge from undergraduate studies. Also has some scope to pick up areas of study which were omitted from their undergraduate program (e.g. not available at their institution).

Project Option

All of the Masters programs have the option (available only to high-performing students) to replace most (all) of the final semester courses with a staff-supervised project, similar in scope to a 4th-year thesis.

Course Groups

In order to structure the above degrees, the postgraduate courses offered by CSE are grouped into three major classes:

Group A (Foundational courses):
(required knowledge for every CSE graduate) COMP9021 Principles of Programming,
COMP9020 Foundations of Computer Science,
COMP9022 Digital Systems Structures,
COMP9024 Data Structures and Algorithms
Group B/C (Core courses):
(every CSE graduate should be familiar with the majority of these areas)
COMP4001: Object-Oriented Software/Development
COMP9008: Software Engineering
COMP9031: Internet Programming
COMP9041: Software Construction: Techniques and Tools
COMP9101: Design and Analysis of Algorithms
COMP9102: Programming Languages and Compilers
COMP9151: Foundations of Concurrency
COMP9161: Concepts of Programming Languages
COMP9201: Operating Systems
COMP9211: Computer Architecture
COMP9221: Microprocessors and Embedded Systems
COMP9311: Introduction to Database Systems
COMP9331: Computer Networks and Applications
COMP9414: Artificial Intelligence
COMP9415: Computer Graphics
COMP9511: Human-Computer Interaction
Group D (Advanced Courses):
(every CSE graduate should be familiar with at least one of these)
COMP4121: Advanced and Parallel Algorithms
COMP4131: Programming Language Semantics
COMP4132: Advanced Functional Programming
COMP4133: Advanced Compiler Construction
COMP4141: Theory of Computation
COMP4151: Algorithmic Verification
COMP4211: Advanced Architectures and Algorithms
COMP4215: VLSI Systems Architecture and Design
COMP4411: Experimental Robotics
COMP4412: Introduction to Modal Logic
COMP4415: Logical Foundations of Artificial Intelligence
COMP4416: Intelligent Agents
COMP4511: User Interface Design and Construction
COMP9018: Advanced Graphics
COMP9103: Algorithms and Computational Complexity
COMP9116: Software System Development Using the B-Method and B-Toolkit
COMP9117: Architectures Of Software Systems
COMP9231: Integrated Digital Systems
COMP9242: Advanced Operating Systems
COMP9243: Distributed Systems
COMP9244: Comparison of Contemporary Processor Architectures ...
COMP9314: Next Generation Database Systems
COMP9315: Database Systems Implementation
COMP9316: eCommerce Systems Implementation
COMP9317: Data Warehousing and Data Mining
COMP9332: Network Routing and Switching
COMP9333: Advanced Computer Networks
COMP9334: Capacity Planning of Computer Systems and Networks
COMP9417: Machine Learning
COMP9441: Cryptography and Security
COMP9444: Neural Networks
COMP9517: Computer Vision
COMP9518: Pattern Recognition and Vision
COMP9790: Principles of GNSS Positioning
COMP9791: Modern Navigation & Positioning Technologies
Some of these classifications are contentious (e.g. is COMP9041 Group B/C or Group A? is COMP9790 ``advanced'' enough to be counted as Group D?). The courses in Group B/C were originally in two separate groups, with Group B being required core knowledge, and Group C being optional core knowledge. This distinction appears somewhat arbitrary/political, and certainly debatable.

These groups have been used in the new proposals, but there is certainly scope for reviewing them. One possibility is to use a notion of ``level'' which is related to the background knowledge required to study a particular course (e.g. level-1 courses have no pre-requisites, level-2 courses have at least one level-1 course as a pre-requisite, level-3 courses have at least one level-2 course as a pre-requisite, etc.)


A number of problems exist with the current programs (some of which are addressed by this proposal, and others of which appear intractable):

Information Science

It has become clear that the Information Science programs have too tight a schedule to reasonably expect students to absorb all the material and progress from foundational to core to advanced in the available time. This is unfortunate, since the majors offered in these programs (Internetworking and Databases) make them particularly attractive.

Availability of Courses

Master of Engineering Science students, in particular, are often dismayed at enrolment time by the lack of choice available to them in any given semester. They see the School Web site, and decide on a range of courses to study, only to discover on arrival that some of the chosen courses are not available this semester, or even next semester (after which they will have completed their degree). This has led at least one student to take the School to task over its lack of offerings.

Other factors that impact heavily on student choices are timetabling and course enrolment quotas. We lose a number of EFTSU's of postgraduate coursework to Information Systems each year simply because their courses are more ``available'' by virtue of them running multiple streams in every course they offer. Even if the timetable works, many students are disappointed to find that courses they want to enrol in are full. This is particularly galling for newly enrolling students, who have not had the luxury of being able to compete for places in these courses with already enrolled students. Given recent discussions, it is clear that neither of these issues is going to be addressed any time soon.

Another course availability issue is related to the fact that we enrol roughly equal numbers of students in each semester, but not all courses are offered every semester. This means that students who enrol ``in the wrong session'' are disadvantaged by not having some courses available ``at the right time'' (i.e. when they have completed the pre-requisites). To fix this would require all core courses to be offered twice per year, unlikely in the current climate.

Flexibility of Programs

Large numbers of core courses and long pre-requisite chains, combined with course availability, make it difficult for some students to complete the program specified in the Handbook. This has resulted in a significant number of students requiring ``variations of program'' in order to graduate in the minimum time. This clearly makes a mockery of the specified program as a full-time degree. (The Grad Dip Info Sci (Internetworking) was particularly problematic, given that it was almost entirely composed of core courses and had a three-course pre-requisite chain; this made it effectively impossible to complete full-time in two semesters).

Type of Courses

Some (many?) of our students have expressed a desire to see more industry-relevant material in our courses. Others have requested more management-related material (which would be more along the lines of what other Schools in the Engineering Faculty offer). Some will no doubt argue that management-focused courses might be better handled by Information Systems; they already offer such courses and they are taken by many of our students. As is the case for course availability, there is no chance of changing the School's current focus so this problem is also not addressed by this proposal.

Reliance on Courses from Outside CSE

Some programs include core courses from other schools in UNSW (notably Information Systems). Reliance on the good-will of other schools to increase quotas in their courses to accommodate our students is not a good idea.

The availability factors noted above sometimes force students to look outside CSE in order to find electives to complete their programs, especially if they need just one more course to complete their program and wish to take it over Summer. There has been a trend in recent years towards taking courses at Sydney University and UTS (via the cross-institutional enrolment scheme) in order to complete programs.

External factors have also impacted the viability of the CSE postgraduate programs:


Until two years ago, UNSW and UTS had the only postgraduate coursework IT programs (of any note) in the Sydney basin. Sydney University has introduced postgraduate coursework programs which have become quite popular. Anecdotal evidence from students suggests that the attraction is primarily the cheaper fees that they charge for their courses. Macquarie University is set to introduce IT postgraduate coursework programs from 2005, which will spread the market even thinner (and Macquarie has a very good international marketing arm).


Many students in our postgraduate programs, whether we like it or not, have as their primary interest migration to Australia. Until two years ago, completing a Australian postgraduate qualification, especially in IT, guaranteed enough points to obtain Permanent Residence. The immigration law has recently changed to (a) downgrade the worth of IT qualifications (except in narrow areas such as computer security), and (b) require students to have completed at least one year undergraduate study in Australia in addition to a two-year postgraduate degree. This will significantly reduce the attractiveness of postgraduate study in Australia for many potential applicants. (Some will view these changes as a positive, since it may reduce the number of students in our programs whose interest is not primarily with their IT study.)

New Programs

Keeping the above issues in mind, this proposal attempts to improve the attractiveness of our Postgraduate Coursework offerings, without requiring any significant expenditure of effort by the School (except on the part of staff members who are willing to develop new majors in their particular area of interest).

A key objective behind these designs was flexibility. The aim is to give students as much choice as possible, while at the same time maintaining some (minimal level of) core requirements. This will hopefully help to overcome the availability issues noted above.

Master of Information Technology (MIT)

This program replaces the current Master of Engineering Science, and is aimed at CS/IT graduates with a broad computing background (i.e. must have completed the equivalent of at least six of the Group B/C courses).


Entry requirements: Program requirements: Students should be encouraged to complete their program as 8 Group D courses within CSE, or as 6 Group D courses and a project.

Majors in at least the following plans are currently being proposed: In addition, there is a generic MIT degree with no specified major. Students can change plan at any stage during their program.

Plans must satisfy the following criteria:

Master of Computing and Information Technology (MCIT)

This re-training program replaces the current Master of Computer Science, and is aimed at graduates from non-CS/IT undergraduate degrees.


Entry requirements: Program requirements: Plans:
The same plans are available as for the MIT.

Advanced Standing:
Students would be eligible for advanced standing only for Group A courses, and this would be based solely on successful completion of the Group A exemption exams. A student with a reasonable computing background (e.g. an Electrical Engineering graduate from UNSW) would thus be able to complete the MCIT degree via 72 UoC (or 12 courses). Exemptions would also be available for other courses. Such exemptions could be used to reduce the Group B/C requirement, thus allowing students to take more Group D courses.

Example Plans

These examples are representative only. Each plan ought to come with its own rationale (which we haven't shown here).

eCommerce Systems

Core Requirement: all courses from the following: Recommended Electives: (No requirement to take any of these)

Database Systems

Core Requirement: at least 3 courses from the following: Recommended Electives: (No requirement to take any of these)

Graduate Diplomas and Graduate Certificates

It would desirable to also provide Graduate Diplomas and Graduate Certificates for each of the above Masters degrees and in each of the plans under those degrees.

UNSW's current policy on articulation makes this problematic, but a possible structure would be:

It is difficult to see how plan-specific Grad Dips and Grad Certs would work. Perhaps these degrees should only be awarded as ``generic''.

About this document ...

This document was generated using the LaTeX2HTML translator Version 2K.1beta (1.48)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, Nikos Drakos, Computer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds.
Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, Ross Moore, Mathematics Department, Macquarie University, Sydney.

The command line arguments were:
latex2html -split 0 overview.tex

The translation was initiated by John Shepherd on 2004-05-21

John Shepherd 2004-05-21