UWS rejects government's IT sledging

UWS rejects government's IT sledging

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) has angrily rejected claims by the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary and Member for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly, that it has botched its IT infrastructure planning and roll out.

UWS' IT systems became the centre of a bitter dispute a fortnight ago after Kelly wrote to all UWS board members expressing "grave concern" about mismanagement, ostensibly prompted by complaints from students about IT and software malfunctioning - with the letter leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

Among the complaints was that an alleged enrolment and timetabling software failure had caused hundreds of students to miss classes and vital online assessments, even losing student records.

While not wanting to enter the political brawl about university funding, UWS' director of IT services Mick Houlahan is adamant that infrastructure and IT services are properly administered and running on track.

"We got a list of 21 complaints from Jackie's office. Some of them were very non-specific: 'IT at this uni sucks', that sort of thing. It's very hard to get to the bottom of that, it could be anything", Houlahan said.

Emphasising that UWS' dispersed geography – some campuses are up to 30 kms away - poses plenty of its own challenges, Houlahan contests his IT budget of $14 million recurrent funding complemented by around another $4 million in development funding is being well spent.

"Our infrastructure is very complex, it runs across six campuses, there are some 300 switches and more than 100 servers. We have just completely restructured our telecomms systems, and there are savings in that. We've also commissioned a fibre link to link all of the campuses from the Parramatta campus…until now we were using microwave [across campuses] for both voice and data, which peaks out at about 34Mbps.

"Over the last two years we have refitted all our classrooms for audio, visual and data. It's hard to say that IT sucks when we have done all of that. The fibre links alone are worth $3 million," Houlahan contests, adding the Deakin University-developed, Calista student administration system is performing to task.

UWS media manager Mikael Kjaerbye was similarly sceptical about the voracity of some complaints made to Kelly's office, saying specific allegations were put to relevant managers - and if students were complaining to Kelly, they certainly didn't appear to be complaining to the university.

"That student records had been lost, that's just not true. That Calista is suffering frequent downtime…Calista came into operation in October last year and we have brought it down for one day since then. I don't think that qualifies as frequent, and that the enrolments don't match with timetabling, it's just not true [either]," Kjaerbye said.

Regarding allegations that nursing students missed vital online assessments, Kjaerbye said: "It would be "pretty unusual for the nurses to suffer in silence if it really is true".

Asked why students appeared to be complaining to Kelly rather than the university, Kelly's chief of staff Boyd Falconer said the complainants had asked details not be made public "through fear of retribution".

"There is a campaign that UWS management is running with, e-mails to all users and that type of thing, that are very political in nature. We don't see it as their role to take on a political campaign, that's disappointing and we would like to see them behave in some other way", Falconer said.

If Falconer's claims are true it can only mean one thing: UWS' e-mail is definitely working.

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