!magine a bright future

October 13, 2006

David Jobbins examines the threats, challenges and opportunities ahead for IT and computing studies in the UK

Not so long ago, computer studies was the course of choice for Britain's school-leavers, tempted by the prospects of a career that coincided with the obsession of the moment. But the bursting of the dot-com bubble changed all that, and universities are now struggling to recruit.

The irony is, as Keith Mander points out on page 4, that IT-literate graduates - in particular those with advanced skills - have never been in greater demand. The challenge for universities - and specifically for computer studies departments - is to attract the students who will fill those jobs. If they fail, the threat to Britain's solid position in the international IT market will be intensified as other countries begin to develop the next generation of software applications.

Relegation to the also-rans would be a disaster for the economy - and for those young people whose future could lie in lucrative careers in the industry. By weakening the link with the cutting edge of the IT world, it would also affect the ability of UK universities to develop the research tools of the future, creating a ripple effect that would spill into other sectors of the economy.

So Professor Mander is right to call on the university sector to redouble its efforts to enthuse would-be computer studies students and restore the discipline to the centre ground of academic activity.

The efforts of a number of enlightened academics to build enthusiasm is highlighted in this special supplement to The Times Higher . But competing within a dwindling pool is patently not the answer - somehow that pool has to be made larger.

That there are enthusiastic undergraduates studying information technology is demonstrated by Microsoft's Imagine Cup competition. Since it started four years ago, more than 100,000 students worldwide have entered the competition. All have thought hard about ways in which technological innovation can make the world a better place. The theme this year was health, and in 2007 it will be education. Competitors - and especially the winners - are role models for school students wondering if computer studies and information and communication technology is the right choice for them.

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