University IT skills are not matching the equipment

August 25, 2000

UK universities need to develop strategies for urgent reskilling of staff, according to the final report from the Joint Information Systems Committee-funded Staff Computer&IT Skills project (Scaits).

Although the Dearing Report placed great emphasis on the use of IT in almost every sphere of activity, the report notes that while his emphasis may be appropriate, there is a potential problem.

It says: "Unless an institution takes deliberate steps to grow its own IT capable workforce, it will be difficult to deploy technology to anything like its full potential and to maximise the return on its C&IT investment. A C&IT skills development strategy that positions the institution and sets targets is therefore essential to the overall planning process."

Paddy Anstey, senior staff development officer at the University of East Anglia and Scaits project leader, said: "I was delighted to find that despite the many institutional differences, the issues identified in Scaits' workshops frequently struck a chord among those from all kinds of higher education institutions."

The report describes in detail the issues facing institutions when planning an institutional IT skills development strategy. It also identifies associated actions that will help embed IT skills within the fabric of an institution. Issues described include:

* A strategic framework for IT skills

* IT skills for all - or only some - staff?

* IT infrastructure and desktop provision

* Appropriate IT skills for staff

* IT training and development

* Help and support when using IT

* IT qualifications and professional development

* IT skills, recruitment and promotion.

The report invites its readers to produce their own route map to embedding IT skills, by completing a strategic planning web.

A particular danger lies in the fact that "generally, recruitment literature for academic posts in HEIs makes little or no reference to basic IT skills, presumably because applicants are assumed to have those skills". At present, the possession of IT skills cannot be taken for granted.

Mr Anstey said: "I am interested in the use of job definitions and person specifications, as employed by many large organisations outside the sector. At present these don't fit the general university culture, but if we were to adapt the principles to our needs then recruitment, training and development could be managed in a more structured way."

Copies of the Scaits report, C&IT skills: Developing staff C&IT capability in Higher Education, are available at www.uea.ac.uk/csed/scaits

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