Employers and the IT profession need to find ways of encouraging more people to take up computer science at university if the country is to avoid a crippling skills shortage within four years, the British Computer Society has warned.
BCS president Nigel Shadbolt wants large employers in both the IT sector and the wider economy to join forces with professional bodies to avoid a shortfall in computer science graduates.
Shadbolt, who is also professor of artificial intelligence at Southampton University, said, "The effort will need to include all the stakeholders: the Department for Education and Skills, the schools sector, the relevant governmental agencies, the professional bodies and employers."
The BCS will meet with all the relevant organisations in the new year to draw up a plan, he added.
Employers and IT professionals have to accept that the universities are producing insufficient numbers of graduates to meet demand, Shadbolt said. They also need to confront the reasons why the number of people starting computer science degrees is still falling.
"I do not want them to decide that we cannot match what is going on in other countries because the danger is that the market for IT professionals in places such as India is growing so fast that they are having difficulty filling their own vacancies," Shadbolt said.
The call for action comes one month after academics found that fewer than 13,000 new computer science graduates join the IT labour market each year.
According to the Council for Professors and Heads of Computing, in 2005, some 12,804 people out of 31,450 who had started a computer science course found IT roles with UK-based employers.
The number of graduates that will be available to employers in future years is likely to be even lower because the number of first-year computer science undergraduates has fallen since 2001. The number of first-year undergraduates in 2004/2005 was 25,640.
Shadbolt said universities need to take on at least twice as many undergraduates as employers require.
Roughly half of undergraduates fail to find IT work with UK employers because they fail the course, find work overseas, or they are overseas students who return home after their course finishes.