A “kitemarking” system should be introduced to help identify good data analytics degrees, universities say.
Responding to concerns that a skills shortage will prevent British companies from capitalising on the potential of big data, Universities UK says that, although such a shortage is widely reported, the skill set that entry-level data analysts need is not clearly articulated.
In a report published on 13 July, the organisation adds that there is widespread variation in the scope of data analytics training provided as part of science and social science degrees.
Employers should “clearly set out” their expectations of graduates’ data analytics skills, the report says.
A kitemarking scheme, which would be developed by skills organisation the Tech Partnership and the Royal Statistical Society, would help to identify courses which meet such requirements for the benefit of prospective applicants and employers, it adds. This could cover vocational courses as well as degrees.
The report says that there are a number of challenges facing academic departments that wish to expand their data analytics provision, including a shortage of academic staff with expertise in this area, and uncertainty about the level of knowledge that lecturers can expect students to have.
UUK recommends that, in addition to setting up new courses, universities should find ways to embed analytical, computing and visualisation skills into a wider range of programmes.
It suggest that research councils should consider extending Q-step centres, which seek to address a shortage of quantitatively skilled social science graduates, to other disciplines.
Other recommendations include the launch of a “graduate skills accelerator programme” to smooth the transition of graduates from data courses into work, top-slicing of research councils’ budgets to support interdisciplinary research involving data analytics, and the formation of a sector-wide task force to identify good practice.
Universities should consider running competitions for teams of students from different disciplines to tackle data challenges, while the government should provide funding for more centres for doctoral training in data analytics, the report adds.
Sir Ian Diamond, chair of UUK’s data skills steering group and principal of the University of Aberdeen, said that a sufficient supply of skilled graduates would become “critical” to the labour force as use of data increases.
“To meet the current and future needs of the UK economy, we must do more to embed data skills as an essential component of many degrees,” Sir Ian said. “To do so, we need to look across the sector at data skills provision, opportunities and challenges.”
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