What's wrong with computer scientists?

JobCentre.jpgBy Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

Over the last few years, HESA's study of graduate careers has awarded computer science with the unwelcome honour of the lowest employment rate of all graduates. Last year, about 14% of computer scientists were unemployed six months after graduation. So what's wrong with computer scientists?

We will soon be attending a strategy meeting on the future of UK computer science degrees, and we want to represent your thoughts on this problem. If you have any ideas or arguments, please comment below, email us or tweet with the hashtag #wwwcs.

Industry has reported unfulfilled demand for computer science positions, which seems odd with a surfeit of computer scientists available. It's not yet clear whether the positions are being offered to graduates from other disciplines or being left vacant. There have also been complaints from industry that graduates lack the skills needed for the workplace, but these are general statements that do not single out computer science in particular.

Two interesting explanations for the low employability of computer scientists are raised in a response to the HESA study from the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC).

Computer scientists are far more likely than other graduates to study at post-92 universities (64.4% of computer scientists study at post-92, whereas only 13% study in the Russell Group). In other words, the CPHC argues that the lower employability of computer scientists is actually a symptom of industry choosing graduates from more established universities. Another important factor is that computer science has been very successful in attracting black and minority ethnic (BME) students: around 56% more BME students study computer science than the average for all courses (see table 6 of the CPHC report). Due to this factor, the CPHC argues that the lower employability of computer scientists is in part due to an equally troubling problem: the lower than average employment rates of BME students. (This point is convincingly argued in a recent Guardian article.)

The problem of computer science employability has reached the very top of the academic hierarchy. David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, will chair a workshop next week on the future of computer science graduates. It's being attended by Vice Chancellors, CEOs of leading ICT recruiters, and the Software Sustainability Institute. If you think the employability debate is missing a fundamental point, just let us know (by commenting below, emailing us or tweeting with the hashtag #wwwcs) and we will raise the issue at the workshop.

Further information

A summary of the 2011/2012 career study and the data related to employability is available on the HESA website. It should be noted that computer science, as far as the study is concerned, means the amalgamation of courses on computer science, information systems, software engineering, artificial intelligence and the rather ambiguously titled others in computing science.