Department of Computing

self Evaluation document for the qaa institutional audit






































Educational Aims of the Provision


Learning Outcomes


Curricula and assessment



3.1 Curricula.


3.2 Assessment.


3.3 Industrial input and relevance.


3.4 Evaluation of curricula and assessment.


Quality of Learning Opportunities



4.1 Teaching and learning.


4.2 Student admission and progression.


4.3 Learning resources.


Maintenance and Enhancement of Standards and Quality



5.1 Systems used to ensure standards and quality.


Annex A



BEng Computing programme specifications.


MEng Computing programme specifications.


Annex B



Progression rules and course details.


Guide to Referencing



(C) = Refers to QAA Subject Benchmark Statements in Computing.


(E) = Refers to QAA Subject Benchmark Statements in Engineering.


(F) = Refers to QAA Framework for Higher Education Qualifications


(I) = Refers to College’s QAA Self Evaluation Document.


(M) = Refers to QAA Subject Benchmark Statements for MEng degrees


Please see page 13 for specific reference details


1. educational aims of the provision

The overall mission of the Department is to deliver world-class scholarship, education and research in Computing, with particular regard to its application in industry, healthcare, and commerce. (I1)


In line with the College’s mission statement, the Department’s strategic aims are:


  1. To remain amongst the leading institutions in the world for research, teaching and education in Computing.
  2. To develop our range of academic activities to meet the changing needs of society, industry and healthcare.
  3. To continue to attract the most able students worldwide and to educate them in a way that fosters excellence, originality and breadth of vision.
  4. To continue to attract high calibre staff who are leaders in their fields and to provide opportunities and facilities for lifelong development in research and teaching.
  5. To engage in interdisciplinary research with colleagues across the College and in other institutions worldwide to promote the application of our research.
  6. To communicate widely the significance, intellectual challenge and excitement of our work.


Points 2 and 3 are of particular relevance to our teaching. The detailed aims of our undergraduate BEng and MEng programmes in Computing can be found in the accompanying Programme Specifications.


Our two programmes are intensive and extremely challenging and demand a great deal from the students in terms of their work ethic.  However, the rewards are substantial: graduating students have acquired an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the core topics in Computing and exposure to, and experience of, the latest developments in the subject.  They have also acquired impressive practical, problem-solving and transferable skills, which makes them highly attractive to employers.  Our graduates are among the most sought-after by industry and command the highest average graduate starting salaries in the U.K. The Department's reputation for excellence in these respects helps to ensure that we attract extremely able and highly motivated students (aim 3).

2. learning outcomes

There are two undergraduate programmes in Computing, leading to BEng and MEng degrees, lasting 3 and 4 years respectively. Learning outcomes for each degree course are detailed in the Programme Specifications and make reference to the Computing and Engineering benchmarks where relevant. These arrangements, coupled with varied teaching and learning methods, student support and good learning resources are appropriate in assisting students to achieve the learning outcomes.


Compatibility with external reference points.


The BEng programme is consistent with the criteria for level H (Honours) in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) documentation.  The curriculum and learning outcomes are consistent with the cognate areas identified in the Computing and Engineering benchmarks. The additional emphasis on research makes the MEng programme consistent with the criteria for level M in the FHEQ documentation. It meets the Computing and Engineering benchmarks in a similar manner as for the BEng, as detailed above and outcomes are consistent with the aims of the programmes. (F2)(M3).


3. Curricula and Assessment

The detailed descriptions of the degree programmes can be found in the Programme Specifications and the progression rules for both BEng and MEng programmes in the accompanying Honours Schemes for BEng and MEng.


3.1 Curricula


All students study a large number of core subjects and additional optional subjects in the second, third and fourth years. Many of these address the practical applications of Computing in areas such as finance, industry and healthcare. Our courses are reviewed regularly to keep pace with the rapid changes in the subject in order to achieve aim 2.


There is a strong emphasis on problem solving, reflecting the emphasis of the course in professional level studies in software engineering and advanced applications of the computing sciences and technologies. Particular emphasis is also placed on the mathematics of Computing, including techniques for specifying computer languages and systems, and for analysing correctness and complexity. There is also an applied mathematics component, which provides the foundations for many practical applications of Computing. (E1).


All students undertake a group project in the third year, which provides them with experience of working as part of a team. In their final year, students undertake an individual project, which exercises their ability, as an individual, to design and implement a substantial piece of software and/or to develop or apply some underlying theory in a novel and interesting way. They are required to research the background to the project and to develop an appropriate solution or approach, justifying the various decisions made in order to realize the project’s objectives. The project culminates in the delivery of a project report and oral presentation. (E1).


Both degree programmes strike a balance between theoretical, practical and ethical issues in Computing, with a supporting programme of Management and Humanities options that collectively helps to promote breadth of vision (aim 3).


MEng students undertake a six-month industrial placement in the second half of the third year. In the fourth year they select from a large range of advanced optional courses, which emphasise many research aspects of Computing. These typically reflect the research interests of academic staff (E1). MEng students experience greater breadth and depth than BEng students by virtue of the additional year of taught course. (M1).


The MEng students are additionally required to complete a background research and outsourcing report as part of their individual project. The MEng project is expected to demonstrate originality and is assessed in part on this (E1) (M1).


A small number of students (to date up to three per year) have opted for the MEng Computing (European Programme of Study), which requires the final year of study to be spent at one of the selected partner institutions, with whom contacts are strong and where curricula are compatible. During this year Students keep in email contact and are visited during their period abroad.


3.2 Assessment


The assessment of student performance is through a combination of written examinations, assessed coursework (individual and small groups), laboratory work, group project documentation and presentation, individual project report(s) and presentation and, for MEng, an industrial placement report and presentation. (M2).


Marks from examinations and the practical assessment are separate hurdles. Failure to pass examinations cannot be offset by coursework marks. (E2).


First year tutorials.


In the first year there are weekly assessed exercises in programming and discrete maths in the Autumn and Spring terms, and (approximately) bi-weekly assessed exercises in mathematical methods (applied mathematics).  These are marked and returned to students within one week so that they have ongoing feedback on their performance.  Most programming exercises undergo automatic testing. The tutorial system is the key to ensuring that students achieve a high standard in both programming and mathematics in the first year.


Programming tests.


Some years ago there was concern that a small number of students were meeting the pass criteria but had an inadequate practical programming ability, which became apparent in later years, particularly with the individual projects. In the 2002/ 2003 academic year, this was addressed by the introduction of first year on-line programming tests, which must be passed in aggregate.


Although it is hard to measure, we believe that the requirement to pass these tests has served to motivate some of the weaker students to take programming more seriously and to work harder to improve their programming skills. This may explain why the failure rate is smaller than might be expected.




Group projects are assessed in batches of three or four with the supervisors acting as moderators for each project within the batch. Students are assessed in part on their ability to work together effectively as a team.


Individual projects are assessed by a team of, typically, four or five assessors, which includes the supervisor and the second marker. Each team ensures that the marks for those students are consistent within the team. The marks for the various teams are then moderated collectively by a separate committee to ensure they are consistent across the entire cohorts (BEng and MEng).  We have been complimented repeatedly on these procedures by the external examiners who read many of the final-year project reports (see Section 5.1).


MEng students also submit a project background research and outsourcing report, which is assessed by the first and second marker as part of the interim project review.


Industrial placement.


For MEng students the industrial placement is assessed on the basis of a site visit made (usually) by the student's personal tutor, feedback from the student's industrial supervisor, and a written report and oral presentation in the first week of the fourth year. 


3.3 Industrial input and relevance.


We have an informal but productive approach through our industrial visiting researchers, industrial research collaborations and those companies who employ our MEng students on their six-month Industrial placement. Feedback from these industrial contacts helps to inform us as to whether our curriculum is up to date and relevant to their needs.


3.4 Evaluation of curricula and assessment.


We rely on both internal and external evaluation in order to ensure our curriculum and assessment methods are appropriate for each programme. (C1).


Within the Department the Academic Committee ensures that all course content and assessment methods are appropriate to the degree programme and the target year group (Years 1 to 4). At College level these are additionally scrutinised and approved by Engineering Studies Committee. Additionally, periodic reviews of individual degree programmes are undertaken by the College who appoint external assessors to carry out the review (see Section 5).


Both BEng and MEng programmes are accredited by the BCS and the IEE. Course content and assessment methods were evaluated as part of the accreditation review in 2004, although we are still awaiting the IEE report.


The employability of our graduates (see below) is another aspect that attests to the excellence of student achievement of the learning outcomes of our programmes.

4. Quality of learning opportunities

4.1 Teaching and learning.


The effectiveness of our learning and teaching strategies can be evaluated in three main ways:


Student academic performance

Employment prospects of graduating students

External evidence of regard


Student performance.


Marked examination scripts, project reports and other coursework submissions are presented to the external examiners for independent checking as to the quality and standard of the students' work.  The external examiners have consistently praised the quality of our undergraduate programmes and the standards achieved by our graduating students.


The number of students achieving each degree classification in recent years is detailed below.




Year of Graduation:





            (a)        First class Honours





            (b)        Upper second class Honours (2i)





            (c)        Lower second class Honours (2ii)





            (d)        Third class Honours





            (e)        A Pass degree





            (f)         Fail/ Required to Withdraw













Year of Graduation:





            (a)        First class Honours





            (b)        Upper second class Honours (2i)





            (c)        Lower second class Honours (2ii)





            (d)        Third class Honours





            (e)        Fail/ Required to Withdraw











Employability of our graduating students.


Our graduating students are among the most sought-after by industry. To date we have always been able to place our MEng Computing students in Industrial placements. Most students are offered permanent jobs by the company where they undergo their placement.


The table below summarises the available data on graduate destinations for BEng and MEng students combined.


Year of Graduation (most recent year first):






Utilities & Transport



Technical Consultancy / R&D



IT & Telecommunications



Banking & Financial



Other Business Activities






Health & Social Work







External evidence of regard.


External review: the various external review reports mentioned elsewhere consistently praise the high academic standards that our students achieve and are complimentary of our strategies for achieving these standards.  Independent reports are also occasionally produced which often contribute similar remarks. A recent example is the Times Higher Education article (


Distinguished projects: One of the yardsticks of success on our undergraduate programmes is the quality of the final year individual projects. In 1999 we introduced a distinguished project classification whereby projects of a sufficiently high standard are published on the Department's web pages. A guide to the quality of these projects is the very large number of downloads that have been recorded from this site, which is in excess of 100,000 since October 2003.


4.2 Student admission and progression support.


Entry requirements.


The incoming students all have high grades at A-level or equivalent, most having AAA. They all have an A in Mathematics but vary in their amount of programming experience, from none to those who have spent a gap year in the software industry. About half the intake have no programming experience.

Small group tutorial support.


Students are put into tutorial groups of six. In the first year, the group has three tutorials per week, to support (1) programming, (2) logic and discrete maths and (3) mathematical methods.  The students' prior programming experience is taken into account when allocating the groups: students with similar backgrounds are placed together and their experience and ongoing performance is taken into account when conducting weekly tutorials. The staff taking (1) and (2) are each the personal tutor of three students in the group, and this weekly tutorial and marking and return of work helps the tutor to get to know the student. Students keep the same personal tutor throughout the course.


In the first year attendance at the small group tutorials is recorded and is visible to the student and the Senior Tutor. After the first year, students and tutors are asked to meet twice each term, and reminders are sent. Students may also discuss any concerns with their personal tutor; in some cases the tutor will refer the student to the Senior Tutor, who can help the students access the support network within the college if necessary. Please see relevant Programme Specification for more details.

Practice tests in programming.


To prepare students for the Haskell and Java programming tests in Year 1 there are a series of practice tests (typically two in each course). The average performance in the final tests is consistently better than in the various practice tests. Additional remedial classes (and indeed additional advanced tutorials) are offered to those students considered to need it. There are no practice tests in Prolog as the time scale is relatively much shorter and since, by this stage, students have acquired considerable basic programming skills.




Students whose overall result for the year is not sufficient to progress to the next year are advised individually. About 5% of the first year (including some who fail completely and
others who decline an opportunity to take resit examinations) start other courses elsewhere; the few who fail in other years usually retake the examinations the following year

Coursework tracking.


The Department uses an in-house system called CATE (Continuous Assessment Tracking Engine) for the electronic administration of coursework via the web. Work for tutorials and other coursework, in all years, is submitted by the students electronically, or in hard copy. For the latter CATE provides students with a bar-coded submission sheet which is scanned on submission and registered electronically. It is also used by tutors to log first year small-group tutorial attendance. All logs (and marks) are visible to relevant staff and students.


Individual project tracking.


An on-line project administration system provides all students with access to up-to-date information on all aspects of their individual project. Each student has their own personal administration page so that selected information can be targeted to students on an individual basis.

The student is required to maintain regular contact with his/her supervisor throughout the project. All students are required to have their project reviewed by his/her second marker in the Spring term. The objective of the review is to identify any problems in time for remedial action to be taken and to provide an opportunity for independent input to the project from the second marker.


In a small number of cases the review throws up serious problems, which are then referred to the Senior Tutor. Supervisors are also emailed between the exams and the end of the project where they are asked to identify any students they are concerned about.

Special needs provision.

Provision for students with disabilities is arranged by the Disabilities Officer in consultation with the College Disabilities Officer under the SENDA guidelines. This includes teaching and examination arrangements. Students are encouraged to access the Disabled Student Allowance where appropriate, or otherwise are supported by the Department.


Students that are likely to require additional support through disability are identified during the admissions process and receive special consideration by the Senior Tutor.  Where an interview is possible the Senior Tutor conducts the interview in part to acquire an accurate picture of the applicant's likely needs. The Senior Tutor arranges appropriate support before they arrive, for these students, and for any others who respond to an invitation made with the August admissions letter to declare special needs.

4.3 Learning resources.


Lecture theatres.


The Department is pursuing a rolling programme of refurbishment, which should encompass all teaching and learning rooms within the next few years. Over half have been refurbished within the last five years. Space within the Department is at a premium and our ability to deliver all our courses requires careful timetabling and coordination.




The Department's teaching laboratories were refurbished in the summer of 2004. They have over 250 workstations available for students to use at any one time (less than two undergraduates per workstation). We renew over one-third of the workstations and upgrade another one third every year. Those students who prefer to use their own laptops also have access to high-speed wireless networking with dedicated special areas set aside for such use. (C2) The Department boasts some of the best university computing facilities in the UK.




Students have access to the main College library and the department’s technical library. All libraries have an associated electronic catalogue that is accessible from the world-wide web. (I2).




The breakdown of support staff is as follows:


Secretarial Support Staff: =8

Technical Support Staff: = 4

Computing Support Group Staff: = 8

Administrative Support Staff: = 9

Teaching Associate Support Staff: = 9


Research Associates: = 70


PhD Students (eligible to provide teaching support) = 120


Academic Staff = 50.5


Teaching Associates mostly assist with the preparation and supervision of tutorials and laboratory exercises, coursework and laboratory work marking, project supervision and assessment, some lecturing and exam invigilation.  There are 393 undergraduate Computing students in total; the ratio of academics to undergraduate Computing students is approximately 1:8. The ratio of academics to support staff is 1.3:1.


Staff development.


The Department recognises the importance of training and development for all staff and actively encourages staff to attend relevant personal development courses run by the College. Researchers who teach for example have to undergo departmental training and induction. Probationary lecturers are expected to have completed five mandatory courses, or the Imperial College Certificate of Advanced Study in Learning and Teaching (CASLAT) by the end of their probationary period. Half of the Teaching Associates in the Department have also undertaken the CASLAT certificate. Everyone who provides teaching support undergoes our departmental teaching induction. The Department carries out peer review of teaching regularly. It also runs a full appraisal scheme in line with College directives. New Staff are appointed a mentor. All academic staff are expected to maintain an active research programme. (I3).


To assist new academic members of the Department various internal web pages are maintained with information on teaching duties, departmental structure, workshops etc. (see  Other web pages are maintained with information on a wide range of teaching-related topics (see


All these arrangements provide effective support and opportunities for student progression and achievement.

5. maintenance and enhancement of standards and quality

5.1 Systems used to ensure standards and quality.


Operations and Academic Committees.


The top level committee in the Department is the Operations Committee. The Director of Studies is a member and issues related to teaching are on every agenda. This committee primarily performs a strategic role and there is a two-way flow of ideas to and from the Operations Committee and the Departmental Academic Committee.


Curriculum development and review is mainly the responsibility of  the Department’s Academic Committee (AC) which is chaired by the Director of Studies. This committee meets monthly and deals with both the strategic and the regular day to day decisions about teaching. All teaching staff are members as is the Departmental Student Representative. Normally attendance includes the Course and Year Coordinators, Senior Tutor, Teaching Administrator, Director of Studies, Quality Officer the Student Representative and anyone who has a specific interest in an agenda item.


Proposed changes to the course provision are initiated by individual members of staff and considered by the Academic Committee. Periodically, groups of courses under a common theme are reviewed simultaneously. This is done to ensure that the various themes are up to date and that there is no overlap between the courses that make up that theme.  As an example, there was a review of all the Artificial Intelligence courses last year, which resulted in changes in syllabus. Indications are that the review has been successful as evidenced by the increased uptake of the AI courses.


All changes affecting the Scheme for Award of Honours, or to the Degree Programme Specification, must be approved by the Engineering Studies Committee.


Feedback from students.


We have a cooperative relationship with our students. Each year group elects two student representatives who are in regular contact with their Year Coordinator. The student body as a whole elects a Departmental Student Representative. Regular dialog between students and their representatives ensures a flow of information throughout the Department. Day-to-day problems reported to a Year Coordinator are usually resolved by the coordinator or if necessary brought to Academic Committee.


The elected student representatives meet with academics at the Staff-Student Committee once every term to discuss issues relating to their study and environment. Items raised by the committee are discussed by the Academic Committee if appropriate.


Students are encouraged to discuss problems that affect them individually with their Personal Tutors. The Senior Tutor and Director of Studies are available to see students to discuss any item of concern, and where appropriate refer students to other support services within the college.


Students fill out the college online student questionnaire (SOLE). Take-up used to be quite low and therefore was not as valuable as it might be. However our participation rates recently have increased significantly making the results more useful. These results are available from our intranet. (I4).


Members of staff take pride in their teaching and are normally responsive to criticisms from SOLE. The Head of Department and Director of Studies identify any problem cases and hold constructive discussions with the member of staff concerned. This is normally effective, but in the unusual event that it is not, a new lecturer will usually be assigned to the course.


Feedback from institutional review.


The last Imperial College review of undergraduate teaching in the Department was carried out by the Undergraduate Studies Committee in 2002 using four independent external assessors - three academics and one from industry. The reviewers were complimentary of our degrees. They did recommend that we should implement provision for a Student Common Room. However, the very intense demand on space in the Department has meant that we have not yet been able to do this. (I5).


Feedback from peer review of teaching.


After a member of staff has observed another’s lecture they meet and discuss the lecture. The Academic with responsibility for Quality goes through the forms and raises any problems with the Director of Studies.

Feedback from accreditation.


The BCS and IEE accreditation exercises (see also Section 3.4) often raise issues that feed back into our procedures.  In the most recent exercise, issues concerning third- and fourth-year course pre-requisites and the distinction between BEng and MEng project assessment criteria, were both raised and have since been addressed.


Feedback from external examiners.


External examiners annually check all examination papers to ensure that they are at an appropriate level. Prior to the final examiners meeting all examination question papers and scripts, project reports, coursework submissions and project assessment criteria are presented to the external examiners to ensure that our assessment methods are of the appropriate standard.


Reports from External Examiners commenting on the range of subjects covered and the standard achieved thus help to inform the Department of quality and standards achieved. Any suggestions for change are discussed at a subsequent Academic Committee meeting.


We believe these are a wide and effective range of mechanisms for assuring and enhancing quality.







(C) = Refers to QAA Subject Benchmark Statements in Computing.



4.4 (page 13) Assessment issues.


4.5 (pages 13 - 14) Learning, environments and resources.


5 (pages 14 – 15) Benchmark standards




(E) = Refers to QAA Subject Benchmark Statements in Engineering



3.1 (pages 7 – 10) Criteria for content of degree programmes.


Annex A (page 29 – 30) List of assessment methods






(F) = Refers to QAA Framework for Higher Education Qualifications



(Pages 1 – 2) Executive Summary – Honours Level (page 10) descriptor for a qualification at Honours (H) level: Bachelors degree with Honours.


(Page 2) Executive Summary – Masters Level (page 10) descriptor for a qualification at Masters (M) level: Masters degree.


(I) Refers to College’s QAA Self Evaluation Document



1 (page 3) The college’s mission, size and the nature and extent of collaborative provision.


17 (pages 51 – 54) The College’s approach to learning Support Resources


14 (pages 40 – 49) Assurance of quality of teaching staff through appointment, appraisal and reward.


12 (pages 34 – 36) Feedback from students, graduates and employers


6 (pages 26 – 28) Internal approval, monitoring and review process


(M) = Refers to QAA Annex to Academic Standards – Engineering

(Annex B4 – MEng Degrees)



Introduction (pages 1 – 2)


Assessment (page 3)


Attributes associated with MEng (pages 4 – 6)