Government responds to NextGen IT skills report

By Sooraj Shah
01 Dec 2011 View Comments
Students working with a computer

Following the presentation of a report compiled by the ICT industry on changing the way IT education is taught, the government has issued a response that will disappoint the industry in that it provides no guarantee of reform.

The original report, named NextGen, followed an independent review of skills by members of the UK's video games and visual effects sector, including Ian Livingstone, managing director of video games publisher Double Negative, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), and the sector skills councils Skillset and e-skills UK.

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NextGen was presented in February 2011 and outlined several recommendations, such as making computer science a core subject within the curriculum, recruiting high-calibre teachers with bursaries, and using video games and video effects in schools to encourage students to take on computer science as a subject.

The report argued that employers need graduates with specialist computing skills and that the government needs to reform IT teaching in schools as the IT courses currently on offer don't teach students programming skills or how to use software applications, but instead focus on basic skills such as how to use a computer.

The government has issued a direct response to the NextGen report. "The government recognises that the current ICT programme is insufficiently rigorous and in need of reform," it said.

Although the report answered all of NextGen's recommendations, it did not provide any promises regarding the IT curriculum.

Ovum analyst Adrian Drury agreed with the NextGen report and said there is still a long way to go in terms of addressing the problem with education.

The government response says that a university – Abertay University – has been tasked with collecting and reviewing data that could support a kite-marking scheme.

Kite-marking is an accreditation of a product or service, in this case a university course that is independently tested to conform to the British standards.

"The government is encouraging universities to work even more closely with employers to co-design, accredit or kite mark courses. It has been shown that kite marking courses, where schemes have benefited from real backing from industry, can lead to much better employability outcomes for graduates," it said.

The scheme would enable specialist higher education courses to differentiate themselves from less industry-relevant courses.

Drury said that companies have attempted to address the IT skills gap themselves as the government has not dealt with the problem.

For example, HP, in collaboration with De Montfort University, launched a new IT degree in October containing modules on networking and cloud computing. In addition, Microsoft, Google and IBM had input into a global cloud computing qualification launched by technology trade association CompTIA, which employees of any business may join.

However, Drury believes that companies providing training courses may not help the IT skills shortage as company training may be too specific for use elsewhere.

"It is a delicate balancing act because the economy needs to develop skills for its workforce that are not company or technology specific. There is a risk that within the concept of a 'corporate university', company-specific skills may be developed," he said.

In September, the government launched an initiative with e-skills which demonstrated that the public and private sectors could work together to address the skills gap.

The initiative, Behind the Screen, is an industry-funded trial of a new computing curriculum that is backed up by new GCSE and A-levels that cover computational principles, systemic thinking, software development and logic. The initiative shows that the government may be prepared to reform but is taking small steps to achieve this.

And, following on from this, the government's response to the NextGen report also highlighted the fact that ICT may no longer be on the curriculum as it is under review by the Department for Education.

Drury says that organisations looking to address the IT skills shortage in house may have to approach the problem differently.

"Some organisations may be able to train their own personnel on external courses and others may not be able to afford this. Therefore, some organisations may need the government's help in addressing the skills gap with new initiatives," he said.

"For example, there are different development paths and educational routes to secure a job in VFX compared with traditional ICT. Organisations within VFX traditionally don't have the same kind of resources as global IT organisations such as Capgemini," he continued.

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