Tuesday, 25 January 2011 17:34

University IT enrolments in a slump


Enrolments in IT degree courses at Australian universities have fallen by 61% in a decade, according to Charles Sturt University.

What's behind the 61% plummet in university IT courses? It's not as if entry requirements are a barrier, as the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) required for IT courses has generally dropped dramatically, suggesting there is a shortage of potential students, not places.

One explanation offered by Martin Hale, adjunct senior lecturer at Charles Sturt University, is the post dotcom era perception that IT is a 'boom and bust' industry so parents and school career advisors do not see it as an option to be recommended to their charges.

This writer would add that while Generation Y is happy using technology, relatively few of its members seem to show interest in programming or other technical aspects despite - or perhaps because of - being the first 'digital natives'.

Mr Hale also suggests that the universities' struggle to produce 'work ready' IT graduates means not all of their output can find employment, making the courses less attractive. The shortfall is increasingly being made up hiring workers from overseas.

The latest figures available from Graduate Careers Australia show that of the IT graduates available for full-time work, 80.0% were actually working full time four months after graduation, most commonly in a job related to their studies. This is slightly better than the 79.2% reported for all graduates. The IT graduate median salary was also slightly higher than that for all graduates: $50,000 vs $49,000.

How did graduates in other disciplines fare? Please read on.

That was better than humanities graduates fared: 67.3% in full-time employment and a median salary of $45,000. Dentists, on the other hand, managed 93.8% employment and a median salary of $74,000.

Could it be that the propensity of Australian employers to hire overseas IT talent is itself discouraging students from seeking a career in the field? The trend to offshoring in recent years may also have helped reduced secondary students' interest in the sector.

Mr Hale noted the Australian Computer Society's effort to help tertiary students make the transition to work through 'work integrated learning scholarships' during their final year of study.

He also pointed out that the drop in enrolments has had a dramatic effect on IT within universities, with widespread redundancies among teaching staff, the downgrading of some faculties to schools within the engineering or business faculty, and a reduction in the range of qualifications offered.

Another factor could the widespread drop in the number of overseas students enrolling at Australian universities. For example, the University of Technology Sydney is expecting 2011 overseas student numbers to be 10 to 40% down on 2010, while Monash University was expecting a fall of 7 to 10% due to its "well developed pipelines" of students, including those already studying at Monash College.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.





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