Labour Conference: Universities should expand teaching of IT

Universities will need to incorporate IT and computing skills into a wide range of degrees as demand for graduates of with IT skills grows, a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference heard yesterday.

Universities will need to incorporate IT and computing skills into a wide range of degrees as demand for graduates of with IT skills grows, a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference heard yesterday.

The changing nature of many professions means most will need some level of IT literacy and education, so IT will no longer be simply a standalone degree.

Derek Longhurst, director of Foundation Degree Forward, a government-funded body which aims to engage employers in education, said, "The idea of sectors being discrete and separable will be under severe pressure. There will be a lot of interchange, because of the way technology permeates so much of what we do on a day-to-day basis.

"At the moment, each subject is very defined and has set boundaries. The change will be a social and cultural issue as a well as a technological one, in terms of how educational systems adjust to it."

Will Hutton, chief executive of research consultancy The Work Foundation, said new technologies are likely to change the way people work and challenge current business models. He said, "New technologies coming through are going to substantially change the boundaries between sectors."

The government's focus on employer-led demand for skills, a policy inspired by Lord Leitch's report on skills, does not inspire individuals to learn, said Andrew Sich from qualifications body City and Guilds.

The policy has been in place since the publication of the Leitch report in 2006 and has led to the creation of sector skills councils, such as E-Skills UK, whose job is to represent employers' interests and liaise with universities and schools.

Sich said, "The demand-led approach always had its problems. It was heavily weighted in favour of employers. There may need to be some sort of recallibration."

Longhurst said, "It is not just about stimulating employer demand but working to stimulate aspiration in the workforce."

Skill minister David Lammy said no big investment in skills could be expected in the near future because of the economic downturn. But he said, "There are some sectors, like IT, where you might expect growth. We have got to have a system that is flexible."

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