Industry warned as A-level computing numbers slump

IT departments face long-term skills shortages following a 47% drop in the number of students taking A-level computer science.

IT departments face long-term skills shortages following a 47% drop in the number of students taking A-level computer science, according to a report by the Council for Industry and Higher Education.

IT departments could also be affected by declining interest in other mathematical subjects at A-level, said the report, which was commissioned by LogicaCMG. It found that the number of students taking maths exams had fallen by 15% since 2002 and the number taking physics dropped by 14%.

Businesses in the UK will face a shortage of qualified employees within the next few years unless government funding is found for the development of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects, the report said.

One factor in the decline is a divergence between traditional computer science courses and the skills required by employers.

"Offshoring, for example, leads companies to place a greater premium on graduates with skills such as project management and systems integration. A future built on knowledge-intensive organisations requires more graduates and postgraduates to have a capability to innovate, be enterprising, and to have networking and communication skills. Such an approach has to start in schools," said Richard Brown, chief executive of the Council for Industry and Higher Education.

"The problem is that some students see the IT and science curriculum as dull. We need to inspire them with the roles they can take on after school and university and demonstrate what they will be able to achieve with a background in these important subjects."

He said the report showed that technical subjects were still seen in a stereotypical way, with girls making up just 15% of the total study­ing engineering and technology subjects.

"We need to do more to change the attitude of a generation. Those with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees underpin our knowledge-intensive and world-leading financial services as well as pharmaceutical and manufacturing sectors. So a degree in these subjects opens all sorts of opportunities," said Brown.

Applications for degrees in computer science have fallen by 5,577 since 2002, the report found.

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