We need to stop putting students off Computer Science

Alice Bentinck
Feb 19, 2016 · 3 min read

For the second year in a row, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has announced that computer science graduates are the most likely to be unemployed upon graduating.

Study International thinks that increased interest in computer science degrees is a cause for concern, that “there may not be enough viable employment options available for computer science graduates upon finishing their degree.”

But announcements like this are confusing and unhelpful. Confusing, because I work in an industry that is stifled by the lack of computer science talent and unhelpful because it continues to perpetuate the negative image around computer science that the UK has long struggled with.

At Entrepreneur First, we support 200 people a year to build their own tech startups; 90 percent of which have a computer science or engineering background. If you were to believe the recent announcements, this could seem like we are picking up the graduates that no-one else wanted. This couldn’t be further from the truth, where we fight hard to get this talent and often individuals join EF while turning down offers from Google, Microsoft, Palantir and other tech giants.

If you look at our portfolio of 50 tech startups, their common concern is how can they hire technical talent when it’s so competitive.

Ankur Modi CEO of Status Today said: “Hiring exceptional technical talent is one of our main priorities. Over next 12 months, we will have 4 new roles to fill within data science and front-end design where I know we’ll be competing not just with corporates like Google and Microsoft, but with universities like Oxford and other European startups”.

Unlike in the US where technical ability is highly valued, with Silicon Valley companies paying $100,000 sign on bonuses for technical graduates, in the UK we haven’t acknowledged the value of technical talent. Our entrepreneurial icons are non-technical, like Richard Branson and Alan Sugar, rather than computer scientists such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page.

We need to come to terms with the value of computer scientists quickly. In the near future, all business will be tech businesses and will need to hire or have access to technical individuals. The UK is already making small strides towards this.

Professor Muffy Calder from the University of Glasgow said: “The situation is much more complicated, and subtle, than the bold headlines suggest. In 2012 the CPHC (Council of Professors and Heads of Computing) published a report looking at Computing Science graduate unemployment in some detail.

“The findings indicate there are more courses and larger student populations in the Post-92 universities; the issue of high computer science graduate unemployment is largely confined to Post-92 universities. If we consider only computer science graduates from Russell Group and 1994 Group universities, where the majority of students study medicine and dentistry, then we find the unemployment rate for Computer Science graduates is below 10%, which is comparable with the national graduate unemployment rate.

“A naïve comparison between subjects can be damaging, especially at a time when software is such a crucial part of the infrastructure of our society and the need for talented and highly skilled software professionals has never been greater.”

There has been a growing trend for those studying computer science to turn away from more established careers in banking. With only 10 percent of Imperial computer science graduates choosing this path today compared to 60 percent just five years ago.

Those with technical backgrounds are seeking more directly technical roles. However, students are easily dissuaded from pursuing a particular degree if they believe they will have no employment prospects. With the hikes in tuition fees, employment prospects upon graduating are becoming more and more important.

If the tech sector is already experiencing a shortage in technical talent, now is the time to be investing in supporting the best and brightest to pursue computer science degrees and take up technical careers. Make computer science the most attractive option, not an afterthought.


EF supports Europe’s top technical talent to build their own startups. Apply now www.joinef.com/apply

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