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Burger flippers with STEM degrees

There continues to be a lot of fuss over the shortage of STEM staff (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). But analysis of the employment data suggests there is no STEM shortage.

One figure than jumps out is the unemployment rate for computing graduates, why is this rate of so consistently much higher than other STEM graduates, 12% vs. under 9% for the rest?

Based on my somewhat limited experience of sitting on industrial panels in university IT departments (the intended purpose of such panels is to provide industry input, but in practice we are there to rubber stamp what the department has already decided to do) and talking with recent graduates, I would explain the situation described above was follows:

The dynamics from the suppliers’ side (i.e., the Universities) is that students want a STEM degree, students are the customer (i.e., they are paying) and so the university had better provide degrees that the customer can pass (e.g., minimise the maths content and make having to learn how to program optional on computing courses). Students get a STEM degree, but those taking the ‘easy’ route are unemployable in STEM jobs.

There is not a shortage of people with STEM degrees, but there is a shortage of people with STEM degrees who can walk the talk.

Today’s burger flippers have STEM degrees that did not require students to do any serious maths or learn to program.

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  1. pavel
    May 31st, 2017 at 23:23 | #1

    Hi Derek,

    in your opinion – what maths should be taught at computer science undergraduate/postgraduate level? Linear algebra? Probability theory? Differential equations? Number theory? Anything else?

    Thanks.

  2. May 31st, 2017 at 23:33 | #2

    @pavel
    What is the reason for teaching the maths? Perhaps particular maths topics are trendy, or have always been taught, or people happen to be available to teach that subject, or it is claimed to be useful in industry. How is information about industry usefulness obtained? With a wide variety of industry math usage, the cost/benefit option is to teach the maths that is most widely used (good luck measuring that).

    Another approach is to throw lots of widely used maths at students and only pass the top X%, i.e., a test of cognitive maths fitness. This approach only works if universities are not being bribed to pass nearly all the students who want to study the subject.

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