The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has commissioned a major review into the way Computer Science is taught at UK universities due to the subject’s growing rates of graduate unemployment.
The review, set to be published next month, aims to ensure the UK’s Computer Science graduates are introduced to the materials and concepts that will help them find employment upon completion of their studies, and equip them with the tools for career progression that will last long into the future.
Last year, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Computer Science and Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, noted that the subject has consistently received the highest rates of graduate unemployment among any UK subject, citing “concerns from industry about the skills, agility and work-readiness” of the country’s Computer Science alumni.
The advocate also named “the proportion of undergraduate computer science students who progress into low-paid or non-graduate level employment” and the “reliance our computer science departments have on international recruitment to fill their labs and postgraduate courses” among his main concerns.
According to recent figures from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Computer Science is taught at 123 UK universities, and the academic year 2013-14 saw 91,565 undergraduate students (in years 1-3) undertake the subject.
The number of Computer Science students graduating each year has swelled from 17,000 in 1994-95 to nearly 27,000 in 2013-14, highlighting growing popularity that has caused concern among UK education professionals, who believe there may not be enough viable employment options available for computer science graduates upon finishing their degree.
The subject’s alumni accounts for 3.5 percent of all UK graduates, while for 2011-12 (the latest available figures), America’s Computer Science cohort represented 2.6 percent of total graduates, with 50,000 students achieving a degree in the subject. This shows that while the UK hopes to address a primarily national issue, popularity for Computer Science at institutions overseas means there’s potential for the issue to develop into a global sector crisis.
“For a long time we wondered why more people didn’t major in computer science,” Alex Aiken, chair of Stanford University’s Computer Science Department, told Times Higher Education. “Everyone in the field believed it was the future and that [it] represented an important way of thinking. Now the world believes us, and we have an overwhelming number of students.”
UK professionals are also concerned about rising rates of inequality in the subject, since recent figures show that 87 percent of Computer Science enrolments within the UK belong to men, meaning that females represent just 13 percent of the subject’s total graduates, earning Computer Science the title of the most gender imbalanced subject taught in contemporary UK higher education.
According to the BCS, the UK’s chartered institute for IT professionals, only 17 percent of the 1.18million IT specialists working in the UK throughout 2014 were women, and just one in 10 of the total population of female IT professionals progress to a leadership role.
“Tomorrow’s graduates will face repeated challenges from both technical and social change as their careers progress,” John Gilbey, teacher of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University, writes for Times Higher Education. “The changes we have seen in the past 20 years may one day seem trivial compared with those of the coming decades.
“But, thankfully, the tools and technical infrastructures that will help them to relish this changing world are improving all the time. If we as educators can also keep upgrading our own skills, then the future looks very bright.”
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