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Academia seduced by the IT industry
Academia seduced by the IT industry
The UK (as other nations) needs a trained workforce. The government has committed itself to providing a workforce trained in IT. However, there are differences of opinion within industry and within education about just what this means.
The relationship between academia and business is often tense - and this is particularly true in IT. The speed at which the industry moves can see pupils and students more up to date than their teachers and lecturers.
Industry seems to have become disillusioned with computing graduates, regarding them as being inappropriately skilled and simply as intelligent people with little knowledge that is of direct value to business.
Some academics have tried defending themselves by suggesting that the job of education is not to provide "the latest" set of software skills regarding this as a recipe for disaster - such specific skills are likely to be out of date almost as soon as the courses are completed.
This defence is now too late. Some of the leading computer companies have taken matters into their own hands. They have produced their own "qualifications" and then persuaded a number of colleges and universities to build these into their degree courses. Some of these educational establishments, especially the more vocationally-oriented universities, have embraced this philosophy eagerly, seeing the offering of "added value industry certification" as offering a market advantage.
They seem to have a point. Students find the system attractive since the "included certification" makes them attractive to employers; yet, the rest of their degree course can imbue the richer and deeper knowledge of IT that academics see as being important for a fuller understanding and for giving an ability to develop further. It also enables the college to show they are up to date, and are in touch with current industry needs.
Of course there are colleges that decry such an approach. They suggest that graduates on such a course emerge with a distorted view of the world, biased towards particular technologies (of particular suppliers). They also suggest that the influence of suppliers should be confined to research, where their sponsorship is very important.
A few large suppliers themselves share this view. IBM, for example, claims that its involvement with higher education involves playing "the long game". IBM does not intend to mix business with education and confines its activities largely to donations and research.
No one will be too surprised to learn that Microsoft has been the most aggressive in terms of injecting its software into as many curricula as possible. Microsoft has a two-track approach. The first is to recruit universities or colleges to deliver specific courses leading to Microsoft-certified qualifications; the second is to persuade them to incorporate material within their existing generic degree courses.
Institutions who follow the first track are termed AATPs (authorised academic training partners) and Microsoft expects to have about 200 of them within a year. The second part of the programme, called GRASP (graduate recruitment academic specialist programme), is only at the trial stage and involves just two UK universities at present.
GRASP is the more controversial of the two programmes since it involves incorporation of Microsoft training modules into existing generic degree courses. Napier University (in Edinburgh) incorporated 60 per cent of the modules of the MCP (Microsoft certified professional) programme into its degree course, including the SQL module for database access. The University explains that the SQL module was related to their general database module: the only difference is that now University material is used to examine the background to databases, while Microsoft material is used to look at the specifics of implementing SQL.
Successful completion of the Napier degree does not automatically qualify students as MCSEs (Microsoft certified systems engineers) because they have not taken all the necessary modules. However, students are encouraged to complete the remaining 40 per cent of the MCP course via self study and then to take the MCSE exams in addition to their normal degree.
GRASP partners are not bound by any exclusive agreement to use just Microsoft material and Napier is considering including material from other vendors in its degree course. Cisco, for example, is a likely candidate in the networking area. Cisco has almost as much courseware used by universities as Microsoft, with Wolverhampton University and the University of Central England among early adopters so that students emerge with the Cisco CCIE (Cisco certified Internetworking engineer) qualification alongside their degree. Cisco claims that the material is popular with colleges and students because the material is relatively generic.
There is probably room - indeed even a need - for both types of degree course, with such vendor-endorsed material featuring in the more vocationally-oriented courses and institutions. As long as these universities design their courses to meet sound educational criteria, and then include such material and sub-qualifications as appropriate, their students probably can get "the best of both worlds".