UK universities came under fire last week, in a report on the state of IT skills. Users are demanding more graduates with programming knowledge, and accusing universities of not supplying them. The NOP report shows that the education sector sees programming as the area of most demand. In the survey of 1,250 UK users and suppliers of IT, commissioned by Microsoft, 35% of respondents said that skills in network operating systems are in shortest supply, followed by desktop applications (31%) and databases (19%). Respondents largely felt that it was the job of education to solve the skills shortage: 78% saw full-time education as having an important role to play. Respondents said they want to see more specialist courses rather than general computing courses from universities and colleges. They also want IT modules introduced into the core curriculum for all students. The report concluded that educational institutions are not producing what it terms "technicians". However, industry is at odds with universities and colleges on this score, many of which do not feel this is the purpose of further education. Bashar Nuseibeh, head of the software development laboratory at Imperial College, told PC Week: "If you want to teach students to be good software engineers in 20 to 30 years' time, you can't teach them a language or an operating system that may not exist by then." Nuseibeh added that undergraduates, irrespective of their previous programming background, are mostly retrained in their first year. They learn complex programming languages like Turing and Miranda, which they are unlikely to have previously experienced elsewhere. "The biggest problem in IT is the pace of change," he commented. "It is difficult for academia to keep up." Rather than teach students a specific modern computing language such as Java, Nuseibeh said they are taught the fundamentals of distributed computing and object oriented programming, which they can then apply to Java programming. "It's not the language that's important," he said. "It's the ability to think and solve problems."
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