Dame Wendy Hall attacks computer science employability 'myth'

Southampton academic says statistics hiding reality for graduates

November 6, 2014

The “myth” that computer science graduates have poorer employment prospects than those who studied other subjects is damaging the discipline, a House of Lords committee has heard.

Dame Wendy Hall, director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, criticised the way in which the Higher Education Statistics Agency defines computer science, saying “all sorts of different things” were ”lumped” together under the term.

The Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education survey, published by Hesa, consistently ranks computer science as the subject area in which the highest percentage of students are unemployed after six months – generating what Dame Wendy described as “really negative press”.

“Our evidence for our students [who studied computer science] is they are absolutely snapped up,” she told the Lord’s Digital Skills Committee.

The definition of “computer science” used by Hesa also includes students who study information systems, software engineering, artificial intelligence, health informatics and computer games.

Committee member Lord Macdonald of Tradeston asked whether academia could be judged to be encouraging a lot of courses that did not provide value for money, given that graduates were not finding work, and if it was “time to be radical” and “clear out” the computer science courses that were underperforming.

“I think we have to unpick the statistics,” Dame Wendy said – reasoning that if employability for computer science graduates at Southampton was “ninety something per cent”, but the discipline was still ranking bottom of the Hesa analysis, then there must be courses at some universities where “only 20 per cent [of graduates] are employable”.

Baroness Joanna Shields, who has worked for Google and Facebook and currently chairs Tech City UK and advises Prime Minister David Cameron on digital matters, was giving evidence to the committee alongside Dame Wendy.

She said the media had “perpetuated the myth” that computer science graduates were unemployable, which was damaging the competitiveness of such courses.

chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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