One Too Many Computer Science Programmes?

This article first appeared on Digital News Asia here.

I started writing this article, wondering if there were one too many Computer Science (CS) degree programmes in Malaysia. My gut feel was that there were definitely too many CS programmes in Malaysia but I needed to get my facts straight first.

Looking up the institutions listed in the latest MQA Rating System for Higher Education Institutions in Malaysia for 2011 (SETARA’11) ratings, I found that the vast majority had actual CS degree programmes advertised on their websites while others had CS-related ones (e.g. Computing, Computer Engineering, etc) with the exception of a few specialist universities such as medical and teaching ones.

So, it is safe to say that almost every university and university college in Malaysia has one. This does not surprise me as CS is a relatively cheaper course to run, with less capital expenditure needed for physical infrastructure, unlike some other engineering or science programmes that need expensive lab facilities.

While there is certainly no lack of choice for anyone interested in earning a CS/CS-related degree in Malaysia, I asked myself whether these programmes were meeting market demand. If there were too many CS programmes, one would imagine that there would be a large number of unemployed CS graduates as supply exceeds demand.

Based on the results of the Graduates Tracer Study for 2011 released by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), ICT graduates were no more employable nor unemployable than their peers from other fields. Out of every four ICT graduates, one remained unemployed after graduation while two others were fully employed within a 3-4 month period.

According to the ICT Job Market Outlook report released by the National ICT Association of Malaysia (PIKOM) in 2012, the future for ICT graduates seems exceedingly bright. The average salaries for ICT professionals have been steadily rising and that, overall, only the oil & gas sector pays more on average.

One would think that people should be clamouring for places due to the above average pay and the growing job market. Therefore, it did not make any sense that there were still so many who remained unemployed after graduation. Also, according to the same report, ICT job numbers grew at an average of about 27,000 a year over the 2005-2011 period. Something must be amiss.

However, the report also claimed that the quantity of graduates is declining with just under 75,000 enrolments in 2011. With about 27,000 jobs being created each year, there are only enough vacancies to employ less than half of those graduating. Therefore, it is natural that most of those graduating will not be able to find employment in the industry.

Furthermore, the report suggested that not all these graduates end up working in the computing line as there are surely those who end up joining other industries. However, the fact that a full quarter of ICT graduates had difficulty securing employment was a rather alarming figure to me.

While there may not be enough jobs locally, our graduates could surely gain employment elsewhere. In fact, some of these graduates do eventually leave our country for better opportunities elsewhere and the ones who leave are also inadvertently more fluent in English, as is highlighted by the report.

The said report also highlighted that the quality of graduates is declining, and the MSC Malaysia Talent Supply-Demand Study 2010 – 2013 said that less than 30% of employers believe that their fresh hires are of good quality. While our job market may be growing, our graduates are less capable of meeting the requirements of the job. As a result, they are fast becoming unemployable.

From both the studies and the report, I have to say that we have an acute problem. While it is not difficult to hire people, it is very difficult to hire good people, which is corroborated with the situation on the ground. What the entire industry sorely needs is brains, but what we get are mostly bodies. For some reason, our universities are not graduating the right kind of people.

I have to also point out that it is not the duty of a university to produce job-ready products for the market but to nurture critical thinkers and creative doers. Unfortunately, the same report mentions that our graduates are lacking such traits amongst other things, and recommends that our government review the entire education system.

Therefore, the real problem is that we have one too many bad CS programmes in our country.

Naturally, after confirming that a problem exists, the next question that I’d ask myself is this: whose fault is it anyway? In my next column, I intend to look at where the faults lie – systemic flaws, teachers’ failures, student apathy, and the role of parents and industry in all of this.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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