The state of IT education
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Computer science departments have struggled to attract undergraduates in recent years, but the tide is turning as qualifications in ICT-related fields become increasingly sought after in the job market.
Computerworld surveyed New Zealand’s top universities to find out what courses are on offer.
University of Auckland
Over the last few years, there has been a shift in what students are interested in, with topics like human computer interaction growing strongly in popularity and database systems becoming very well established, says professor Robert Amor at the Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland.
“In our degree we focus the students on a limited core of courses in their first and second years, which means that all students completing our degree have a guaranteed skill-set,” he says. “We are confident they have core computer science skills, which are then specialised by their selection of courses in their final year of study. We also endeavour to offer a range of development activities over their courses, so almost all students will have had experience working in groups, writing reports, etc, alongside the discipline-based learning that takes place in their courses.”
There are also many extra-curricular opportunities at the university in which computer science students have become enthusiastic participants, for example the Spark entrepreneurship programme, he says.
The university provides advice to students about the combination of courses that would lead “most naturally towards a particular career”, says Amor.
“With hundreds of graduates every year we see students moving into almost all types of jobs available in the industry,” Amor says. “What is most pleasing to us is the number of major New Zealand companies who are looking to take on our graduates. We are getting placements in almost all the top companies in New Zealand and have a number of students who are getting into great jobs at the big companies overseas, for example Microsoft and Google.”
The university has employed a number of “top” researchers and lecturers over the last year, says Amor, “looking at areas that we foresee an increased demand within New Zealand and that we think will require specialist skills”.
To help grow the capabilities of the local workforce the university is introducing a range of masters programmes, he says. The first of these is a MProfStuds(Data Science) which targets graduates who have been in the industry for a number of years and want to enhance their skills in the data science area.
“This Masters of Professional Studies gives skills to handle the explosion in the quantity of data available, from databases to the web, tweet streams, online transaction records, sensors, government repositories, etc. [The] programme blends postgraduate courses in computer science, statistics, information systems and entrepreneurship to provide a particular strength for this growing area,” he says.
Over the next few years, the university plans to offer further MProfStuds in targeted areas, with a visual computing programme coming in 2014.
“With the new researchers and lecturers we are also adding extra courses, or growing the coverage in existing courses, in their areas of expertise,” says Amor.
This includes security and data communications; computer networks and internet measurement; data science; data mining, machine learning, and information retrieval; and artificial intelligence and cognitive science.
“We are seeing strong growth in student numbers both at the entry level for our BSc degrees and also in our postgraduate programmes, following the dip that was experienced in computer science entrants in all the developed countries around 2004-2008,” says Amor.
In 2012, there has been a 12 percent growth in students entering the first compulsory course for the computer science degree, compared to last year. Enrolment numbers into postgraduate degrees are up 10 percent compared to 2011.
Massey University has also seen a significant increase in interest in ICT courses, says Chris Scogings, associate professor of computer science and programme director for the Bachelor of Information Sciences course at the Institute of Information & Mathematical Sciences, Massey University.
“This is particularly noticeable at the Albany campus where student numbers in first-year computer science have increased by 30 percent from 2011 to 2012,” he says.
Massey offers an introductory course in C programming, which is becoming ever more popular, says Scogings.
“A good knowledge of C leads naturally onto C++, C# and Java, and these languages make up a large percentage of the language skills required by employers,” he says.
To be successful in the job market after graduation, the best option is to complete a specialist degree that includes courses across the spectrum, he says.
“Massey offers the Bachelor of Information Sciences in which students can choose to major in computer science, information technology or software engineering. The computer science major focuses on applied programming in C++ and Java along with the well known topics of artificial intelligence, networks, internet programming and operating systems,” he says. “The information technology major offers courses in the areas of systems analysis and management, software design, mobile systems, databases and human-computer interaction.”
Students can choose to major in either of these areas or they can complete a double major in both of them.
The information sciences course also allows students to incorporate a minor in the degree.
“We have had students completing a minor in anything ranging from finance to Japanese,” he says.
The third major is software engineering, which draws on topics from both computer science and information technology in order to give students a full overview of the skills and processes required in developing and maintaining large software applications, continues Scogings. The software engineering major includes more courses than other majors – for example it requires a team project that runs for the whole of the third year.
Graduates holding a Bachelor of Information Sciences are well prepared to enter the workforce, he says. This degree is “totally focused” on preparing graduates to enter a number of career paths, primarily in the areas of software development, software engineering and systems analysis but most graduates are capable of taking on a considerably wider career range, he says.
Among the new offerings this year is a graphics-focused course.
“We are constantly redeveloping the Bachelor of Information Sciences degree to ensure that graduates have an edge when entering the job market,” says Scogings.
At the department of computer science and software engineering at Canterbury University, courses include software engineering projects that simulate the kind of environment students will encounter in industry, says Tim Bell, professor and deputy head of department.
Posted by Trademe at 9:48:57 on August 23, 2012
Another report, based on a similar discussion with Heads of ICT/IT/Computing Schools in the Polytechnic/ITP sector, could/should be published.
Posted by @Gazza_R at 13:22:51 on August 22, 2012
Posted by Sarah Putt at 13:48:08 on August 22, 2012