“While most computer science graduates go on to well-paid, professional jobs, too many find themselves unemployed,” the Labour-backed report, Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World, says. “This is concentrated among black and minority ethnic students, who tend to achieve lower grades at university and are then more likely to be unemployed. This cannot be excused and is an urgent issue that universities must address.”
The report – by the UK Digital Skills Taskforce – cites research by the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing, a professional association for staff of university computing departments, that highlights that fewer than half of BME computer science graduates obtain a first or 2:1 degree, compared with 63 per cent of their white peers.
“In light of the research from the CPHC, universities must take action to address the problems faced by BME students to improve graduate employment rates,” the report concludes.
“Computer science academics should urge their university’s management to take steps which could help extend computer science’s success of widening participation to BME students into corresponding improved academic results at university and better subsequent employment prospects.”
Universities should “experiment” in an attempt to address the problem, it adds, suggesting that additional academic support, tailored careers guidance, and subsidised placements with businesses might help to close the attainment gap.
Elsewhere, the report – commissioned by Labour leader Ed Miliband in December last year, but conducted independently – claims that universities are not doing enough to encourage students to undertake placements in industry, and that they are particularly poor at engaging small and medium-sized companies.
“We need to make it easier for students and businesses to connect,” it says. “While full year sandwich placements might suit some, there are many other types of work placement that we need to encourage.”
It also says that far too few computer science graduates progress on to postgraduate study, and criticises the fact that “access to postgraduate education is determined by ability to pay rather than ability to benefit”. “We need to take steps to support more students to go on to postgraduate-level computer science qualifications and reverse recent drops,” it concludes.
In the report’s foreword, Maggie Philbin, chair of the UK Digital Skills Taskforce and former presenter of Tomorrow’s World, says: “We have to make sure we equip everyone in the UK for the digital revolution – not just a fortunate few.”