Does not compute

September 5, 2013

You recently reported Higher Education Statistics Agency figures on graduate unemployment by subject, with medicine and dentistry having the lowest rate and computer science the highest (“Try turning it off and on again: computer science students face the highest rates of graduate unemployment”, News, 22 August). However, this isn’t a fair comparison.

In 2012, the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing published a report looking at graduate unemployment among computer scientists in some detail. It showed that there are more computer science courses and students in the post-1992 universities, with the issue of high graduate unemployment in the discipline confined largely to such institutions.

A much higher proportion (64 per cent) of computer science students study at post-1992s compared with the student population in general (50 per cent), and 72 per cent of unemployed computer science graduates studied at the new universities. If we consider only graduates in the discipline from Russell Group and 1994 Group institutions (where we also find the largest number of students in medicine and dentistry), the unemployment rate is below 10 per cent, which is comparable to the national graduate unemployment rate.

The causes of higher unemployment among some computer science graduate groups necessitate further consideration. There are many possible factors, including the ethnicity of students and employer demands.

Computer science courses at post-1992s have been very successful at attracting a higher proportion of black and minority ethnic students than other subjects, but this group also tends to have higher levels of unemployment. Further, some employers are willing to hire only software developers with track records in the workplace, which means that some graduates must acquire experience before they become employable.

This is a more nuanced subject than the bald Hesa data indicate. Unsophisticated comparisons between subjects can be damaging, especially when software is such a crucial part of our society’s infrastructure and the need for talented and highly skilled software professionals has never been greater.

Muffy Calder, University of Glasgow and the UK Computing Research Committee
Morris Sloman, Imperial College London, UKCRC
Andy Hopper, president, Institution of Engineering and Technology
Martyn Thomas, chair, IET IT policy panel

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