Computer industry “in crisis” – we need a PR makeover: British Computer Society


This story has been the most popular and most emailed at the BBC News site since around 8am this morning.

The key point is that, whichever way you look at it, the numbers of students studying computer science in the UK is in decline. From a peak in 2002/03, numbers of full time undergrads and first year computer science students have been falling year on year. Indeed, UCAS applications for the subject have been falling as well – the applications for 05/06 are down on the previous period, so there is no chance of a reverse of the trend anytime soon.

And according to Professor Nigel Shadbolt, president of the British Computer Society, this means the industry faces a skills crisis.

Unless steps are taken now there will not be enough
qualified graduates to meet the demands of UK industry he warns.

"If we’re not careful, the UK is going to lose its pre-eminent position as a knowledge-based economy,"

So how have we ended up in this sorry state?

According to Professor Shadbolt, there are two key issues.  First, its partly due to poor
teaching – and he calls for a thorough review of the way in which computer science is
taught in schools. And he may have a point. Anecdotal evidence does suggest that what students are taught doesn’t map on to what industry needs.

However, his second reason caught my eye. Apparently, the industry has an image problem, with computer scientists often portrayed on TV and in films as "geeky", says the Prof.

Ah ha! PR to the rescue. It’s all the fault of the media for continuing to portray a stereotyped image of IT types.

But can you really blame perceived "geekiness" as a key reason for people not wanting to study computer science? And I thought geek was cool? Silicon Valley doesn’t have a problem with it.

So although it may be seen as a need for an image remake, methinks the real reasons are different, deeper rooted and more complex – and thus its going to take much more than a PR campaign to reverse the decline….

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