UK industry a turn-off

October 25, 2002

The reason why so few graduates in computer science and women graduates in science, engineering and technology work in their field of study may be neither poor tuition nor sexism but simply that they would rather do something else ("Industry attacks IT tuition", "We've gone beyond bottom pinching... but this is worse", THES , October 18).

Anecdotal and statistical evidence confirms this for female graduates. There may be a similar explanation for computing. The tuition problem is not that "the fast-moving nature of the (IT) industry" makes it difficult for universities to keep up with technology. Computer science students are trained in modern techniques, such as software engineering, that they find cannot be applied in much of British industry. Many jobs simply require them to use established and old-fashioned software packages. They therefore choose to do something else or go to places such as the US, where industry is more sophisticated.

The fact that such rigorous techniques of software design are not applied in, say, large public IT projects is one reason for their repeated failure, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. The Air Traffic Control and the Inland Revenue systems are well-known examples, and there are many more.

Yorick Wilks
Professor of computer science
University of Sheffield

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