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Foreigners, geeks and teachers harm UK IT

BCS slings some mud

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IT skills are still in such short supply in the UK that the country's very economic future is threatened, the head of the British Computer Society said today.

The apocalyptic warning came the same day the government quango e-skills produced its latest set of horrifying statistics.

Sounding like a broken record, both organisations released yet another batch of figures that show the blight of IT skills in Britain: the BCS lamented the lack of computing undergraduates, while e-skills bemoaned the lack of high-level IT skills.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt, recently appointed head of the BCS, told the BBC that there was a skills "crisis" that could knock Britain off its proud perch as the superior of all knowledge economies. (Yes, that's right - the US might have Hollywood, the French might have Aerospace, the Japanese might have robotics - but we've still got Doctor Who).

The BCS had done a survey that showed how in the last four years the demand for IT graduates had doubled while graduate intake had dropped by a third. Shadbolt said government stats that said otherwise had been massaged to get a brighter result. He did the usual and blamed teachers and the industry's nerdy image.

The e-Skills quarterly survey press release, published today, said there was a shortage of high-level skills (systems developers and programmers). The survey itself said rather matter of factly that IT skills in general where not in very high demand compared to other professionals, but that yes, highly technical skills where in short supply.

This appeared to be a dire problem for Shadbolt, however. "There is a real danger of a flight of jobs overseas," he warned, as though he had just emerged from 10 years in hibernation. (Perhaps he has in a sense, being professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton).

The Indians and Chinese, he said, had lots of IT graduates, so if we weren't careful all the big computer companies would end up doing all their development over there.

Pull up the drawbridge, while there's still time, perhaps? First off, Britain has already drawn up its drawbridge. Only trouble is, we're only stopping people coming in, not those who want to leave. So we have to make do with the skills we can produce ourselves.

Direct competition of the kind Shadbolt implies with India and China is still possible for a short while at least. According to McKinsey last year, India churns out about 14 million graduates a year - that's twice that of the US.

If you look at the number of suitable engineering graduates with 7 years of good work experience per head of population, the gap is less favourable for the Asian countries - the US has more than four times as many fresh and experienced engineering graduates. But what will the difference be in seven years from now? As for the UK, it wasn't even in McKinsey's reckoning.®

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