Do computer science graduates get jobs in the end?

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Computer science has the worst employment rate for any broad class of (bachelor) degrees in the UK – and seems to have been in that place for some time.

But what happens a few years after they graduate … well the news is not so great, though the figures do indicate that the vast majority of graduates get jobs … some sort of job anyway … four years or so after they graduate.

The UK’s Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) has just published its longditudinal survey into the destinations and expectations of graduates from 2006/07.

By the winter of 2010/11, of all graduates from full-time courses in that year, just 3.8% were unemployed. But for computer science graduates the figure was a much higher 5.1%. Interestingly, the survey also shows just 3.7% of computer scientists remained (or were back) in full-time further study – compared to an average of 8.2% for all graduates.

It’s not all bad news, 81.5% of computer science graduates were in full time employment four years on from their degree, compared to just 73.2% of all graduates. For maths graduates the figure is 73.1% and for physical science graduates it is  just 66.0% – though a whopping 19.8% of them are in full-time education.

What is not clear is whether the physical scientists are in education because they love their subject and want to do more, or because they have nothing else to do.

The high employment rate of computer scientists may also be because they (we assume)are more likely to be male and so not breaking their career to have children – there is not enough data here to say.


Computer science: the worst degree?

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Last Friday the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) published data on the employment rates of graduates (of bachelor degrees) in the UK and one thing is very clear: computer scientists are less likely to be in jobs than graduates in any other broad discipline.

Just 84.7% of recent graduates from full time computer science degrees were in employment in 2009/10, compared to, say, 86% of graduates from the much-maligned “mass communication and documentation” field – that’s “media studies” to the Daily Mail et al.

In contrast 89.6% of mathematical science, the closest analogue to computer science,  graduates (full timers) were in employment.

So, perhaps this is a function of the recession and the decline in financial services employment? Well, it seems not. The low employment rate for computer science graduates is nothing new: in 2005/06 the rate was higher – 88.6% – but still the lowest of the categories listed by HESA (the ‘media studies’ rate was 91.4% and the maths rate 93.9% for that year).

So, what is the reason? Have we too many computer scientists or programmers? Seems unlikely, though it is the case that graduates from mathematics and the physical sciences are quite likely to also be competing with the computer science jobs that are available.

So are the computer science degrees a poor grounding, or are the students who pick this degree deficient in some other way? I really do not know

Do universities fail science students?

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There is a very interesting article on the THES website today – “So last century” – which says that universities are failing students because they teach them in such a compartmentalised way.

Whether the study is conducted by the CBI in the UK or by commercial for-profit educational providers drumming up business for their remedial post-baccalaureate job-training services, everyone seems to acknowledge that today’s students are good test-takers but lack the workplace essentials necessary for the 21st century. These include people skills (especially in diverse global contexts), communication skills, collaborative skills, analytical skills, networking skills, an ability to synthesise information across a wide range of evidence, and even the most elementary skills, such as how to write a great job application letter and curriculum vitae or represent their character and talent at a job interview. No wonder they face the career centre with such trepidation.

Well, while the article is well written and an interesting read I think it is fundamentally wrong.

My objection is not just the standard, liberal, view that actually universities are not meant to be factories turning out people fit for labour (albeit higher labour) – though it is partly that. Good employers invest in their employees in any case and do not expect them to be delivered for free as the fully formed article.

I certainly do not believe that there was some golden age where graduates were being turned out with all these skills either. One only has to look at the somewhat doolally behaviour – from Newton onwards – of some of the greatest scientists to know that academic excellence and socialisation are always the easiest of bedfellows.

But it is more fundamental – degrees have to be specialised, certainly in science, because they also have to be, at least partially, grounded in research and a preparation for research.

My first degree was in Astrophysics. “Communication skills, collaborative skills…” and all the rest of it have nothing very much to do with cosmology and every minute that would be spent teaching me about them would be a minute wasted in preparing me for being an astrophysist.

The fact I never became an astrophysist is hardly the point – there would not have been much point to an astrophysics degree if it at least did not offer that path.

Science degrees need to be specialised because science is ever-more complex and specialised. Some scientists think this may be a temporary thing – in A Brief History Of Time Stephen Hawking suggests that further scientific advance might simplify our theories – but there is no sign of that at present.

So, if universities are to produce scientists they have to focus on science and not think of themselves as pre-office work trainers.