The British Computer Society has highlighted an alarming downturn in computer science graduate projections which could imperil long-term success for the nation's expanding IT economy.
The BCS believes that the UK is fast falling behind its global competitors in generating the interest and enthusiasm needed to persuade young people to study computer science or pursue a career in IT. In fact, the problems may start with the way children are introduced to IT and computing in schools.
BCS chief executive David Clarke said, "Our academic membership, including nearly all the heads of computer science at UK universities, is predicting that the growing demand for skilled IT professionals will be frustrated by a 25% shortfall of computer science graduates by 2009.
"The future success of the British IT economy, particularly in the nanotechnology and biotechnology sectors, will rely on the availability of computer science graduates. The UK is not delivering these, creating the threat of a major skills gap opening in our thriving IT industry within five years, which will impact severely on our economy."
BCS president Nigel Shadbolt, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Southampton, said, "Data collected suggests that the year-on-year reductions affecting the number of students studying computing within higher education will continue until at least 2009.
"This will have an impact on the numbers of qualified graduates entering the employment market over the coming years. It will also have an impact on the UK economy which will be felt by companies large and small.
"Large companies may be able to redirect their creative work overseas. Small companies, traditionally hiring locally, may find that they are unable to recruit the staff necessary to develop their businesses at a cost they can afford.
"Similarly, public services will be hit more heavily than private companies. Postgraduate numbers are now showing a similar decline. Nothing can now halt the decline in the number of computing graduates through to 2009."
Shadbolt believes that one way for the UK to address its long-term IT skills needs is by getting students interested in IT at an early age. "We need to introduce children at school to the excitement of computing and information technology in the age of the web. Action is required now to reverse the decline from 2010 onwards," he said.
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