Only a fifth of computer science graduates work in the information and communications technology industry despite the skills shortage in the field, according to newly published research.
A study for e-skills UK, a body representing employers and the government, criticises universities for outdated curricula and for producing graduates who need extra training to get up to speed.
In 1998, ,648 people started degrees in computer science, computer systems engineering, software engineering and artificial intelligence. Three years later just 4,962 of them entered the ICT professional workforce, according to E-skills Regional Gap - UK.
The IT industry is criticised for its male domination, long-hours culture and job insecurity.
Andrew Henry-Price, research director at e-skills UK, said: "Put simply, 50,000 students do IT at GCSE; 15,000 at A level; 30,000 take computer science as straight degrees and 5,000 go into IT as an occupation. It's a huge loss."
The number of new graduates employed in ICT has hovered around 12,500 for the past four years. Most are concentrated in London and the Southeast.
Terry Watts, chief operating officer for e-skills UK, said that technological know-how was bottom on a ten-point list of attributes ICT employers looked for in graduate recruits. They placed importance on skills such as discipline, business acumen, teamwork and writing, which were as likely to be found in graduates from other disciplines.
Mr Watts said that part of the problem was the fast-moving nature of the ICT industry, which made it difficult for universities to keep up to date with technology and infrastructure.
"But also as IT becomes more of a tool, the lines between the ICT professional and project supervisors is more blurred. For example, someone who has been a building project manager could easily make a good IT project manager."
E-skills UK, working with the Department of Trade and Industry and regional development agencies, has looked at supply and demand for ICT professionals nationally and regionally.
It surveyed 157,000 UK establishments with more than five employees, analysed training provision and consulted regional stakeholders.
It has launched four initiatives to bring employers and educationists closer. These include building a higher education IT web portal; involvement in the graduate apprenticeship scheme to which 20 universities have signed up; setting up new technology institutes, and organising an employers' curriculum forum, involving training managers and companies such as IBM, Norwich Union and BT.
E-skills Regional Gap - UK available for purchase online at www.e-skills.com/publications