BCS has joined forces with Sun Microsystems to try and complement academic study with IT skills that can be directly applied in the workplace via qualifications that are recognised by industry.

To do so, they are offering BCS student members the chance to study certain Java and Solaris online courses for free.

BCS and Sun Microsystems have completed an agreement that will allow all BCS student members free access to Sun's learning management system: Sun Academic Initiative (SAI) Learning Connection.

The BCS scheme opens up SAI, which provides online foundation certification courses, to many more students and universities. To date, it has been running for two years at 21 universities, which have promoted the scheme through campus ambassadors to students to study under their own steam.

Sun Customer Learning Manager Kevin Streater says: 'At the moment, corporates often run Java induction courses for graduates. Universities generally teach Java in their courses, but that doesn't necessarily make graduates industry-ready. With this initiative we’re trying to build a bridge from one to another.'

Incorporated into courses

At the moment, students who sign up for the courses learn at their own pace and in their own time. One university is however starting to look at incorporating Java certification actually into its degree courses, replacing a second year module with one of the Sun courses.

'The Java foundation certification (Sun Certified Java Programmer) takes 28 hours to study online, so fits well with one year of academic study. For the Solaris Administrator certification the courses take 44 hours,' says Streater. 'It's more than students just doing the foundation programme while at university - they can then carry on with higher levels throughout their career in industry.'

Courses on the SAI Learning Connection cover a wide range of topics including the fundamentals of Java programming and the open-source Solaris operating system. 130 of Sun's 500 courses are available in the SAI, at associate and intermediate level. The high value advanced courses are not included.

The aim, according to Streater, is that students at least have the foundation when entering industry and can build upon it.

'This initiative gives BCS student members a competitive edge as they enter the workforce,' says John Orton, BCS Director of Membership. 'Learning about Java directly from Sun - the company that invented the technology - will benefit them greatly and complement the skills gained from their degree, giving students increased opportunities for job placement and career advancement.'

Great opportunities

Michael Clarke, an MEng Software Engineering Final Year Student at Aberystwyth University and the UK Campus Ambassador Coordinator for Sun Microsystems, agrees: 'SAI is a great opportunity to get certified in a range of courses and to improve your CV - especially given the current economic climate. Not only are there fantastic courses on subjects such as Solaris Administration and Java programming, but also on a variety of other topics such as how to improve your presentation skills.'

Around 150 students had enrolled on the courses through universities before the BCS scheme was announced. Java programming has been the most popular option. Around 10 per cent of the students have gone on to take the certification, but Streater said that with the BCS launch, Sun would be promoting certification more.

BCS student members will receive heavily discounted rates for select certification tests. They will also have access to free e-Practice certification exams to prepare for Sun certification. These web-based practice exams will include sample test questions, the correct answers with explanations and suggestions for future study.