Students think IT is boring

It's too hard and it's too geeky - these are but two of the many reasons that have been bandied about as to why the number of students studying computer science has fallen over the past few years, and a recent report suggests a new one: the work looks boring.

Career development organisation CRAC interviewed over a thousand students in IT-related fields, alongside over 700 students in less techie areas.

The ongoing lack of students is troublesome for businesses, as some 140,000 new IT roles are created every year, and there are simply not enough grads to keep up. In 2007, the university clearing service said that there were 13,000 UK applicants for such subjects, a 50 per cent decrease from 2001.

A previous report showed that the number of students taking such subjects has fallen by 22 per cent from 2004 to 2007.

"Quite clearly, the supply is not going to meet demand," said CRAC development director Robin Mellors-Bourne.

The number one reason that students would avoid taking up a job in the IT sector is that it looks dull, the study found. "They didn't think it was too hard... they wanted to do something more interesting," Mellors-Bourne said at the launch of the report in London this morning.

He later added: "Is it me, or is it ironic that so many are going into accounting or professional services?"

Indeed, the British Computer Society's (BCS) Gillian Lovegrove suggested some students get turned off studying IT at A-Levels and before, as such classes are too remedial for today's tech-savvy students. "Such classes are boring for kids who already know how to use it," she said.

Her BCS counterpart Mike Kendall said: "ICT [classes in school] is preparation for a balanced life, not for a career in IT."

Mellors-Bourne added that the "geek factor" was not such a big deal to most non-computing students, but it was to those taking the courses: "Computer students are more concerned with being seen as geeky down the road."

Mellors-Bourne added that there was an upside, that people taking such courses are truly interested in the subject: "They're really doing it because they like computers."

As well, the majority (90 per cent) of students taking computer degrees did actually hope to get a job in the sector, even at the end of their course, which Mellors-Bourne said was different to areas like engineering, where students are often turned off the subject as the course progresses.

Despite seeming boring, the IT industry is seen as strong, the survey found. Over three-quarters of IT students and those taking other subjects see it as a sector with a bright future, with many opportunities.

The gender divide in the workforce is still reflected in the students taking computer degrees, but Mellors-Bourne said that many women surveyed believed their gender would help them stand out and would be an advantage to them when looking for work.

Attendees of the session pointed out that although 60 per cent of the overall university and higher education body is actually female and they tend toward higher grades, there is still more men in the workforce than women suggesting high grades and high student numbers don't necessarily translate to more women in the workforce. "A much higher level of men are getting jobs out of university despite women getting better grades," Mellors-Bourne said.

Mellors-Bourne and others at the session said encouraging people to study computing would require a campaign to show that working in IT is not boring which should be helped by the increased use of tech by younger people. "We must not just excite students about technology, but show there are good careers there too," he said.

They also called for better promotion of the subject as a career choice, as just three per cent of the non-computing students surveyed said it was well-promoted by industry or by schools.

But when it comes down to it, the government, industry and academia need to work together to get more students into computing subjects. "If you want more people in jobs, you need more people in higher education," Mellors-Bourne said.