Focus on UK skills lag after foreign students win prize


Focus on UK skills lag after foreign students win prize

Will Hadfield

UK computer science undergraduates have failed to qualify for the final phase of a competition that offered high-flying jobs at BT, venture capital money and access to technological expertise.

Over the two years that the competition has run, students from the UK have failed to win a spot on the BT-sponsored placement to find the software development talent of tomorrow.

The UK team was beaten by students from Brazil, China, Croatia, Germany, Italy and Norway, who were all flown to the UK to develop their ideas into commercially viable software applications.

The six countries were picked from the 42 finalists of Microsoft's annual software development competition, the Imagine Cup. Microsoft uses the competition to find the brightest software talent to work on its products.

Steve Konya, BT Exact's project director for concept to market, said, "Clearly, we are keen to see the UK succeed. The UK is producing some excellent developers. BT Exact recruits from across the UK."

Although BT has attempted to recruit several members of last year's Brazilian team, the telecoms supplier was stopped from doing so because it could not get visas for the students.

Ollie Ross, head of research at blue-chip user group the Corporate IT Forum, said, "We live in a globalised world and, like it or not, technical skills are increasingly outsourced, either because they have become a commodity or because they are not a commodity - they are specialist.

"What matters to blue-chip companies is the innovative application of technical skill and that expert talent is deployed successfully for the benefit of the business."

UK employers and representatives of the IT profession will be meeting in the next few months to find ways of encouraging more people to study computer science at university so that the country can avoid a crippling skills shortage within four years.

British Computer Society president Nigel Shadbolt wants large employers in the IT sector and the wider economy to join forces with professional bodies to avoid a shortfall in computer science graduates.

The numbers of computer science graduates entering the jobs market has fallen steadily since 2001, with fewer than 13,000 students looking for IT jobs in the UK in 2005.

According to the Council for Professors and Heads of Computing, in 2005, 12,804 people out of 31,450 who had started a computer science course found IT roles with UK-based employers.

BCS warns of future skills shortage

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