Will academic education ever satisfy the skills needs for IT?

'This house believes that academic education will never satisfy the skills needs of the IT profession' was the title of last week’s Oxford Union style debate jointly hosted by the BCS Chartered Institute for IT (via Learning Development Specialist Group) and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, at the Armourer’s Hall in the City of London. 

BCS Debate At Armorers HallIn this historical and fully weaponised environment, (with apparently enough arms and armour to record an episode of The Game of Thrones), the scene was set for a pitched battle between two teams, for and against the house position, with limited audience participation and a final vote to decide the winners. Some key observations from the debate include:

  • Academic education provides a foundation for the skills needed to work in IT, and much like a building’s foundation, 'you can’t live in it but you can build great structures upon it'.
  • Academic education only teaches the core skills (e.g. how to think) for working in IT, but education also happens throughout life, and not just during periods of formal education.
  • Academic education is insufficient for working in IT because it is purposely designed to cater for more cerebral, rather than hands-on, skills training.
  • Apprenticeships may be necessary but universities and other educational institutions are not best suited for apprenticeships. The IT industry should play its part too.
  • In no other profession would you trust a fresh graduate with key responsibilities. Academic education provides the live ware, but it’s the employer’s job to configure them.
  • Both sides seemed almost in violent agreement that academic education in itself wasn’t sufficient for the IT profession, however the opposition felt this was more a design feature rather than outright flaw.

Overall, I got the impression that attendees may have expected something a tad more passionate than the well-argued but mostly polite points and counterpoints from both sides.

Furthermore, some interesting slants were omitted in the debate, e.g. digital entrepreneurship as a viable option for freshly minted graduates. According to one attendee, academic education could do more to encourage and equip students to create, or seek to work, in new start-ups after graduation.

This could pay off in many ways e.g. by providing graduates with: practical on-the-job training; immediate employment; business relevant skills and unfettered creativity (which are not always available within a rigid corporate environment), besides - fresh graduates likely have ‘nothing to lose’ and everything to gain by doing this at this stage in their careers. Even more to the point, corporates will also benefit by recruiting seasoned and experienced entrepreneurs with more practical and immediately deployable skills.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular event; the topic / debate, the excellent venue and networking opportunities all made for a brilliant evening, and I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in, and sometimes contribute to, events such as these that help move the industry forward. Next week, we’ve scheduled an event featuring Andy Mulholland (Capgemini’s ex-Global CTO), who will speak about the emerging digital enterprise. Do register and try to attend if at all possible - it promises to be another excellent event, courtesy of the BCS North London and BCS Elite groups.

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About the author
Jude Umeh is a member of the UK's Sector Consulting Group in Capgemini's global Telecom Media and Entertainment (TME) community. His areas of expertise include: music, media and digital rights management; and he contributes to thought leadership development and delivery of solutions and services to the stakeholders in these fields. Jude is the author of The World Beyond Digital Rights Management.

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