Undergraduate IT demand falls and shifts to 'softer' areas

Demand for undergraduate degrees in IT continued to drop this year, with preferences shifting away from traditional computer science, engineering and programming subjects to newer offerings such as game development and degrees that combine arts or business subjects.

University Admissions Centre (UAC) figures show that the number of students electing to study IT related degrees across NSW universities fell this year. The lowest fall was 4 percent, while the biggest drop was 36.7 percent. The centre did not wish to name the universities. .

Only Southern Cross University experienced an increase, with a 2.8 percent rise in enrolments.

University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Faculty of Information Technology Associate Dean, David Wilson said even though IT enrolments took a slight dip this year, UTS has had consistent demand for the four years previous.

The school's newest offering is a combined IT and business degree introduced for the 2004 intake, which has become increasingly popular and is now attracting numbers of students equal to the technology degree.

"We are certainly seeing the interest in the 'pure' IT, BScIT, falling while interest in the combined business and IT, BBusBComp, is rising," he said.

A University of Wollongong spokesperson said that while its intake fell 6 percent this year, the figure is much lower than the average fall across NSW.

In response to what it deemed to be market demand, the university has this year introduced a Multimedia and Game Development specialization to the Bachelor of Computer Science degree.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has also introduced a new, combined degree (Bachelor of Computer Science/Digital Media) this year in a bid to capture the increasingly divergent interests of potential IT students.

Its Bachelor of Computer Science degree remains its most popular though, with 256 preliminary enrolments this year.

In Victoria, RMIT also reported a slight drop this year, but said that overall its enrolment figures have been fairly consistent. Head of computer Sciences RMIT, Heiko Schroder, said the school lowered its entrance cut-off scores slightly this year, but would not specify exact figures.

Schroder remains optimistic that these trends will start to improve.

"Our recruitment agencies tell us that it is already very hard to fill IT jobs. And the market is expected to expand drastically in the near future, faster than anything else -- matched only by growth in health-related jobs," he said.

Schroder said his school is reviewing and updating the structure of all undergraduate degrees to provide more flexibility to students and greater employment opportunities.

"For instance, one model will include the incorporation of a major stream in a business specialization as part of the computer science degree. The new program structure will also allow students to specialize in other disciplines such as biotechnology, engineering, psychology, or telecommunications to give the student more depth and breadth in their program when applying IT&T to industries," he said.

"The school also meets four times a year with industry leaders such as Agilent, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft A/NZ, Dimension Data and Infosys to keep in touch with industry requirements and needs," he said.

In a trend similar to those happening at other universities, Schroder said the Games Graphics Programming degree, which was introduced two years ago, is proving to be very popular and student entry has doubled since the program's inception.

RMIT's least popular degree this year is the Software Engineering Degree, which includes an industry internship year. However, it does have the highest entry cut-off score.

"This is unfortunate as students who graduate from this degree are generally the most sought after by industry. Last year, we had more software engineering industry internship places than students available to undertake work," Schroder said.

Bucking the downwards trend experienced by most universities, Deakin University's School of Engineering and Information Technology has reported a consistent level of student demand. In 2004 it had 1067 undergraduate students which grew to 1157 in 2005 and dropped by only one this year.

Head of Engineering and Information Technology, Wanlei Zhou said Deakin's close ties with the industry made it a popular choice.

The school is a Cisco-certified academy and the Cisco CCNA program is embedded into the content of some of its courses, so graduating students can sit for the Cisco examination without needing to study any additional courses.

"About 95 percent of students pass it," Zhou said.

"We also have a lot of guest lecturers from the industry - such as ANZ and Telstra - during the third year, which I think appeals to students," he said.

Another reason Zhou believes his school is popular is that it is "on the forefront of offering new courses and degrees".

The school offers a Bachelors Degree with four different streams: multimedia technology, computer science, games design and development and IT security.

"The security degree introduced this year is the only IT security stream currently available in Victoria and the Games Design and Development degree (which includes four Arts units) was the first of its kind when it was launched last year," he said.

Both these streams of study have proven to be very popular, with the Security course attracting nearly 35 students, even though it only had a quota of 25.

Meanwhile students are turning away from the traditional Computer Science stream which used to attract half of the school's students and now attracts only a quarter.

Deakin University has also this year introduced a combined Bachelors Degree in IT and Information Systems.

"This could be another trend - where we are seeing an interest in combining business and technology skills," Zhou said.

Curtin University and Queensland University of Technology were also contacted but did not respond by deadline.

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