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Tech degrees being shunned by uni students: Report

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

The number of university students in technology degrees is in long-term decline, according to a new report, with concerns that the shortage will impact web-based start-ups.

 

The Australian Computer Society has released its Australian ICT Statistical Compendium for 2011, which includes analysis of statistical data about ICT economic and social trends.

 

The report reveals university ICT annual enrolments are down in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, WA and Tasmania, while national enrolments are less than half the number of a decade ago.

 

According to the report, less than 3% of Australian students in undergraduate degrees are in ICT.

 

Amir Nissen, founder of entrepreneurship group Student Entrepreneurs at Melbourne University, says the next generation of start-ups is – by and large – focused on the internet.

 

“There isn’t as much web application start-ups as you’d expect to see due to declining numbers of students in computer science and software engineering degrees,” Nissen told StartupSmart.

 

According to Nissen, there are several reasons for the long-term decline.

 

“If you meet someone at a party and you say ‘I work for Google’, that’s impressive. If you say ‘I’m a programmer’, that’s kind of lame, even though it’s the same job,” Nissen says.

 

“Secondly, there are not that many people who are good coders around, and even fewer of those people are in [higher] education.”

 

Nissen believes there needs to be more awareness around technology degrees because “coding is the language of computers – it’s the literacy of the future”.

 

“What I’m seeing a bit is a few more commerce and business-type students are starting to come to grips with the fact they’ll have to learn something about coding,” he says.

 

“Start-up projects are a good incentive to keep learning… It’s about having something you want to build and using that as motivation to learn.”

 

The ACS estimates Australia’s digital economy was worth $100 billion in 2011. According to chief executive Alan Patterson, this highlights the need for a coordinated policy focus on ICT.

 

The society, which represents industry professionals, wants a national policy to rectify a lack of interest in information and communication technology careers.

 

International students and temporary skilled migrants have helped filled the gaps, but 14,000 jobs are still likely to go unfilled this year, rising to 21,000 next year.

“Although ICT demand is increasing…the number of domestic students choosing ICT as a career is insufficient to meet demand for skills,” Patterson said in a statement.

 

According to the ACS, promoting ICT as a rewarding career needs to be a top priority to ensure Australia’s developing digital economy is fully funded, sustained and competitive.

 

“Given the importance of the digital economy… we hope addressing falls in ICT enrolments will be a key focus of 2012 government agendas,” Patterson said.

 

“The compendium also revealed a drop in skilled ICT migration, suggesting Australia’s ICT employment requirements cannot be met easily.”

 

“To accommodate predicted demand, additional emphasis on local uptake of ICT is required.”