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In UK, Computer Science Graduates the Least Employable 349

Posted by timothy
from the double-major-next-time dept.
Rogerborg writes "The BBC reports that in the UK, computer science graduates are now the least employable of students leaving with a degree, 17% of them being unable to find a job within six months of graduation. Unsurprisingly, medics, educators and lawyers do better, but even much mocked communications and creative arts graduates are finding work more easily."
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In UK, Computer Science Graduates the Least Employable

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  • Not surprised (Score:3, Informative)

    by ledow (319597) on Friday July 02, 2010 @06:04AM (#32770520) Homepage

    I am, technically, a partial CS-grad from a UK university - but I deliberately choose to do Mathematics as the "major" (not a term we use in the UK, but it explains it well enough) because the CS was so dire.

    Look at some of my previous comments on the subject: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1679538&cid=32509558 [slashdot.org] and http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1679538&cid=32508448 [slashdot.org]

    CS degrees in the UK are pretty worthless. I understand the difference between a theoretical subject and a practical one but CS degrees (which should be theoretical and therefore nothing to do with actual computer work) are basically achieved by implementing A*, or a KMP-search, or Quicksort, or Minimax or some other rubbish. Usually in Java. Usually as a "team effort" for at least part of it (one year of an MSc at my old uni is entirely a team-based project). Usually by way of trial and error and having no real concept of what you're doing. I can teach a 15-year-old the same things and although they would struggle immensely with predicate logic and such things, that's because it wouldn't take them 3-4 exclusive years to learn those things.

    If you're lucky, the uni students can program in BASIC or Java or Python before they join the course. Some haven't even *touched* a computer before. God help you trying to get them to learn a language they aren't already familiar with. The Compilers and Interpreters course that was part of my degree lost 90% of its students in the first three weeks because it was all theoretical, based on logic, grammar, etc. And that was 10 years ago and, from everything I've seen and heard from PhD students and the like, the situation has worsened in almost all British degrees. A third-year biology student asking a post-grad where the neck is (I shit you not - not a communication failure, they spoke English, understood the word but didn't know where the neck "began and ended"). A CS grad asking what a loop invariant is. MSc's implementing Minimax on the game of draughts (checkers) in Java for a third-year project.

    The course content is a waste of time. The only thing a degree measures is whether you can sit in a room for three-four years and learn what is told to you. That does *not* coincide with knowing your subject or being able to do anything practical with it. This is why the degrees, the MCSE's, the A+, the CCNA, mean NOTHING. I only work for places that have already realised this, and specifically hire on *ability*. That doesn't mean I can only do the practical stuff, I know the theory and can apply it and can bore people to death if they get me onto graph theory or coding theory without even trying. Try explaining what spanning-tree algorithms do and why they can be used to avoid network loops... most CS grads can't once they have left their graph theory courses. But CS-grads not only come out with no useful work skills, they come out with zero understanding of the underlying theory either.

  • A bit surprising (Score:4, Informative)

    by Skuto (171945) on Friday July 02, 2010 @06:31AM (#32770642) Homepage

    I'm looking at the same stats here for Belgium, one of the UK's closest neighbors, and the picture looks quite different. No idea if this is because we're small, or if this is similar to the rest of mainland Europe.

    Informatics: one of the highest amounts of outstanding jobs, although 30% less than last year. Similar to engineers, though the demand for those didn't drop.
    Only beaten by: metal construction workers and technicians (x1.5), and...cleaning ladies! (x3)

    Unemployment after 1 year is between 5.1% and 13.3%.

    Art, fashion, language, archeology, interior design, and history around the highest ones (>15%), so this seems contrary to the original post.

    Medicine (even nurses), Science (Maths, Chemists, Engineers) have basically 0% unemployment.

  • Module Choices (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gibsnag (885901) on Friday July 02, 2010 @06:52AM (#32770768)

    I finished a UK Comp Sci degree a few weeks ago. The quality of the degree depends significantly on what modules the student picks. If they decide to take all the easy modules with little extra programming or theoretical knowledge then they will come out with a useless degree and become part of that 15%. Fortunately at my uni (Nottingham) some of the more theoretical (as in actual Comp Sci) modules were mandatory.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday July 02, 2010 @07:08AM (#32770852) Journal

    Open source is a good way to start. I've got quite a bit of work from companies that have seen hippyware stuff that I wrote and wanted someone to do something similar. They may be able to hire someone who is a better programmer in the general case, but not someone who has the same domain-specific experience.

    The other thing to remember is that work that pays poorly can often lead to work that pays well. In the past, I've done some free work for companies that looked like good longer term prospects. They then have something beyond the typical not-very-trustworthy CV of most contractors to assess my competence and when I give them a quote for something else, they're more likely to accept it.

    The writing I got via my (quite limited) participation in the XMPP standards process as an undergrad. This got me in touch with an editor, who got me some work-for-hire stuff on a Linux book (which I knew a reasonable amount about due to my participation in the university computer society). The publisher liked the work I did on this project, and so invited me to write a book by myself. That one got good reviews, which led to my next one, and to my writing a regular column for their web portal. While I was a student, I wrote a lot of articles for a local tech news startup. The startup went bust, and I never got paid for any of the work, but it gave me something to point to when I wanted other writing work.

    If you expect the first contact you have with a company to lead to a high paying contract, you're going to be disappointed. If you're willing to start with small things, often for little or no money, and work up to things that pay better, then you can do quite well.

    Not everyone could do this, but a lot of people can. There's a huge amount that the government and universities could do to make this easier, but sadly don't. They still compile statistics as if the only two options are 'working for a corporation' or 'claiming the dole,' so a lot of people never explore alternative options.

  • No secret (Score:3, Informative)

    by Robotron23 (832528) on Friday July 02, 2010 @07:13AM (#32770888) Homepage

    It's no secret that the job market in the UK is abysmal at the moment; In the end either through shame, or sheer financial stress, or pride, people will take whatever is on offer - relevant or not. Being unemployed here makes you utterly ashamed; the bureaucratic rigmarole and being looked on as a dole-sponger hardly helps morale when one mails off those resumes. Sucks since you get an absolute pittance to live on and pay it back in taxation in no time: Unemployment is to rise to well over 10% within a few years, in line with massive cuts to public services or private firms who profit from government investment. One simply cannot afford to pick and choose, and even those skeptical in the massive marketing propaganda so common to university campuses across Britain are often surprised by just how grindingly hard it is out there.

    I think it's less of a question whether CS grads find a job than it is whether they find a job relevant to their degree. I never studied CS, but from the guys I know who did I gathered it's one of the more vocational, concentrated degrees. Thus, the few jobs that there are out there in the British market have absolutely no relevance to 98%+ of what they've learned. Bit of a downer when you consider how doing the course requires a lot more passion than 'Media Studies' or 'American Studies' or countless other subjects which, whilst nice as a hobby, rarely translate to a job relevant. CS grads (justifiably) expect something to do with computers for the years of graft they put in. Outsourcing and other issues aside; having to do much more actual work and much less partying than Mr. Arts/Humanities, these geeks count on a true career.

    A lot of people do a subject they 'like' in university here, and its the same across the West. Unfortunately what is liked sometimes translates to low employability and relevance in the job market - the smorgasbord of subjects (hundreds beyond the 'traditional' body of sci/eng/math topics) offered in our universities is testament to how people see education as more of an end than a means, or simply want what they think will be a better/easier time in higher education. But very, very few people go into CS for fun like this; most undergrads are at least somewhat aware of the big bad math skills required to get past the first year of the course; and for this reason most non-geeks avoid it like the bubonic.

    It's the same story for other hard subjects like physics; plenty of grads, no jobs for said grads. A shame because talent gets neglected, as do research proposals which might hold promise - UK science funding is finicky as hell. The issues as to why under-25s have such a hard time getting work are much discussed in the broadsheets of this country; beyond all this endless talk by comfortable journalists in their offices one thing is certain: Along with the disabled the young be the ones feeling most the next 5 years of unrelenting neoliberalism embodied by our Conservative/Liberal Democrat government.

  • by loufoque (1400831) on Friday July 02, 2010 @07:13AM (#32770890)

    I got hired even *before* my MSc was finished, without any problem, in a UK-based company that is supposedly very picky about who it takes.
    There are even people who have just a BSc or an MEng and they're on the same payroll as people with MSc.

    The problem is probably that in the field, the degrees are pretty much worthless, and what matters is your actual skill.

  • by robthebloke (1308483) on Friday July 02, 2010 @09:36AM (#32772282)
    I used to work as a lecturer about 5 years ago or so. As for the first point, that was true to an extent at that time because labour had re-classified all courses by dropping them a funding bracket (losing approx £1000 to £3000 per student - co-incidentally the same amount as the top up fees they were trying to push through at the time!). You had to jump through about 10 levels of bureaucracy before you could fail someone, simply because jobs were on the line if the funding for that student was cut.

    Having spoken to some of my old colleagues recently, it would appear that the situation has now reversed. Staff cuts, combined with an increased intake of students (most profitable courses have doubled intake over the last 5 years), are now forcing lecturers to trim the numbers early as an attempt to maintain course quality (by ensuring that their workload does not spiral out of control).
  • by NekSnappa (803141) on Friday July 02, 2010 @09:41AM (#32772344)
    If they're the type of person who believes a job is beneath them I don't want them on my team. Especially if they are fresh out of school.

    If you're fresh out of school and are offered a job in your field that is entry level, it is not beneath you. For the most part entry level people get entry level jobs. Then if you have any chops you can move up more quickly than others who are less qualified.
  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:00AM (#32773486) Homepage

    So how the hell is a recent graduate supposed to get a job if everyone requires experience?

    Sounds like a recursion problem to me. If you're CS, you should be able to solve it, no?

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