A forum set up by the Department of Trade & Industry is calling for major changes to beef up the UK’s digital economy and computing skills.
The report, entitled Delivering i2010: Ensuring the Right Conditions for an Innovative, Inclusive and Competitive UK Knowledge Economy, said that the sharp drop in computing graduates over the last several years is a cause for concern and work was needed to make computing courses more attractive.
“While it’s primarily low level jobs that are offshored, there are concerns that higher-end jobs could also go if immediate action is not taken to close the skills gap,” the working group’s authors wrote.
Margaret Hodge, minister of state for industry and the regions, said she planned to discuss the report’s proposals in June with Stephen Timms, chief secretary of the Treasury, and Bill Rammell, minister for lifelong learning, further and higher education.
However, she played down suggestions that the introduction of student loans was having a negative impact on applications for computing-related courses.
“The early evidence suggests it’s encouraging students to take more vertically-based courses, perhaps because they have to think more about the relevance to their careers.”
Microsoft UK managing director Gordon Frazer said the idea of a career in IT “has lost its sex appeal. The dotcom bubble disenchanted a lot of people who thought that the heyday of IT had come and gone".
Rather than “teaching children about the mechanics of the computer which is incredibly dull and boring”, schools needed to discuss real-world applications such as social networking and the development of game consoles, he suggested.
The report also calls for schools to “reset curriculum targets” to focus more on collaborative working while suggesting that the image problem of IT be addressed in part by a public awareness campaign celebrating UK IT achievements.
The working group also suggests that research and development tax credits should be extended, including the incorporation of capital expenditure and greater incentives to attract more large companies to locate in the UK.
The report also suggests that government procurement needs to invest more heavily in indigenous suppliers and that red tape be removed to improve the prospects of local companies gaining access to venture funding.