OUSL pioneering Software Engineering in Sri Lanka

The Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) is the pioneer in offering a bachelor's degree programme for Software Engineering specialisation in a National University in Sri Lanka. The Bachelor of Software Engineering (BSE) degree programme was launched in June 2009 and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering offers this programme. At present the OUSL is calling applications for its 3rd intake for the academic year 2011/2012. This is an opportunity to earn a well recognised software engineering degree in Sri Lankan soil. This year applications will be closed on March 14.

The OUSL timely understood the necessity of such a degree in the area of computing several years ago. In those days the need for quality software engineers was arising in the software industry in Sri Lanka. However, at that time, only a few foreign universities were offering software engineering degrees. As a national university, OUSL came forward to fulfil this requirement with the collaboration of Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM).

Software engineering: a discipline in computing
Today software engineering has become one of the major disciplines in computing. This is emphasized in the report Computing Curricula 2005 published by the Joint Task Force comprising world leading computer societies: Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Association for Information Systems (AIS), and The Computer Society (IEEE-CS). In the early days, software engineering was just a discipline within Computer Science. As it had to be addressed as a new discipline, in the year 2004, the IEEE Computer Society and ACM published curriculum guidelines for undergraduate degree programmes in software engineering.

Software engineering is the discipline where you can learn to design, develop and maintain software systems that are reliable and efficient while satisfying the requirements of the customer. It is not just programming or learning theory in computer science. It is learning neither to use software nor apply software solutions in an organisation. Software engineering degree programme helps you to learn to build complex and large safety critical software systems applying good engineering practises. Software engineers, in fact, usually solve problems for customers in different domains outside software engineering - engineering, natural science, social science, business etc.

Bachelor of Software Engineering
The BSE degree programme has been carefully designed along the said guidelines and considering the demand and expectations of the IT sector in Sri Lanka. For the development of the curriculum and the course contents of the programme, professionals from reputed software companies and academics qualified in the software engineering field participated and put their untiring efforts. The curriculum of the BSE degree has core areas such as Software Engineering, Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering, Projects, Non Technical, Training and Application domain.

Software engineering core area covers main subjects of specialization. It encompasses the essential material that every student must learn to obtain a software engineering degree. Students study subjects related to Software Modelling, Analysis, and Design, Software Verification and Validation, Software Evolution, Software Process, Software Quality Assurance, and Software Management. This core area provides in-depth knowledge in the subject areas mentioned above. It is a fundamental requirement for a software engineer in the industry today. Moreover no other computing discipline may cover these knowledge areas up to this extent. As some of these areas are more practical oriented and need inputs from software developments of real world problems, the experts in the software industry conduct classes for the relevant subjects. In addition to these, frequent seminars are also held to give more exposure to students in this regard. These seminars are conducted by the professionals mainly from the software industry. Ultimately students have an opportunity to interact extensively with the professionals in the industry.

Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering areas place more emphasis on the theoretical and scientific foundations of developing software products. The subjects of this area are common to other computing disciplines as well. By doing these subjects students acquire the knowledge required for following software engineering core subjects.

Nowadays communication skills have turned into an indispensable requirement at the workplace. In the software industry it is one of the most essential requisites. Therefore, to this end, a special subject is included in the non technical area of the curriculum along with other non technical subjects.
Software engineering is more practical oriented than just learning theories. During the learning process students have to demonstrate their software development skills as well as applying theory to practice by doing individual projects in different subjects. In the final year of their studies students apply their knowledge and skills gained throughout their studies to solve practical problems in the final project. Here, the students work as a team simulating actual teamwork in the industry.

The main objective of such arrangement of the final year project is to give hands-on experience in teamwork, which is so important in the industry today.

Online classes: learn at any time at any place
All the courses offered in the BSE degree programme are delivered through distance mode. As the leading distance education institute in Sri Lanka, OUSL provides all necessary course material and study guides free of charge. Practical sessions will be held in well equipped state-of-the-art laboratories located in the Colombo Regional Centre (CRC), Nawala. However students can sit continuous assessment tests and final examinations at the other five regional centres - Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kandy, and Matara. Moreover all the courses are available online. In addition to laboratory facilities available in the department the students can freely access the online classes from anywhere, including all OUSL centres, home, place of work, etc. Further, students have the library facilities at the CRC. They can access up-to-date textbooks and other printed material related to the subjects as well as the material outside the subject matter. All these facilities are available to all registered students free of charge.

Industrial placements and application domain
Training is one of the significant components of the BSE degree. Students will be working in the industry after the first year of studies. The SLASSCOM facilitates the provision of industrial placements according to the MoU signed between OUSL and them. The unique feature of the BSE degree among other software engineering degrees around the world is that students can study while working in the industry. Though the academic requirement is about one academic year of training, students can continue further in the workplace if required. On the other hand higher level courses require to have some sort of practice while learning and students will be benefitted by knowing how the theory may apply at real scenarios. Furthermore they can easily contact the professionals in that field as they work closely together.

According to the curriculum guidelines published by IEEE Computer Society and ACM the significant difference from other degrees is to have the application domain knowledge area built in to the undergraduate curriculum. This is imperative that the software engineering graduates should have breadth of knowledge at least in one application domain. Having specialisation in one or more application areas they can definitely design a particular system with ease. However curriculum designers face the challenge at this point as application domain can be anything and it belongs to a wide spectrum of subject areas. So in a single department or faculty and even within a university, it might not be possible to offer necessary subjects to this end. The OUSL also had the same problem, but has resolved it in an innovative manner by including the necessary domain knowledge into the entry qualification of the BSE degree. Because of that applicants need to have post secondary qualifications or equivalent academic or professional qualifications to enter the programme. It is adequate to have one year academic study in any domain after completing GCE (A/L) or any other equivalent qualification.

Four year degree in three years
As one year academic work or equivalent qualification is required at the entrance to the BSE degree programme, students can complete the degree within 3 years. This will pave the way to earn a four year specialised degree in 3 years. Unfortunately students who have only completed the GCE (A/L) are unable to directly enter the programme at this time. However, due to many requests, OUSL is looking forward to introducing different avenues for this purpose in the near future. More details and the qualifications evaluated can be found from the BSE website

In the previous intakes students have entered the programme having a wide variety of qualifications in various application areas. These areas belong to IT, Computer Science, various fields of Science and Engineering, Accountancy, Management, Banking, Finance and so on. Accordingly BSE degree opened the opportunity to diverse student clientele to gain a well recognised degree as well as to enter the highly demanded IT sector.

The OUSL invites those who are willing to work as software engineers in the software industry or in institutions where development and maintenance of software are undertaken, to apply for the 3rd intake on or before March 14. It is a cost effective programme compared to other similar degrees. At the same time, you will be able to earn a world standard degree from a well recognised university.

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