19 octombrie 2008

Universities and ICT Industry


The Main findings of the Report are:

University-industry cooperation: Universities and industry do not cooperate at a sufficient level. European universities must effectively complete with universities in the US and around the world. This effectiveness can be achieved through increased cooperation with the ICT industry and through working in partnership with the relevant authorities.

Changing world Universities operate in a changing world. There is a growing trend towards part-time studies, in particular for computer-related studies.

Basic and applied research: Several universities have the tendency to favour theoretical research and leave applied research to industry. This seems to be the current state of the differences between what European universities offer and the ICT industry needs in the work force. One solution could be for the universities to grant easier access to more practical expert personnel. The research activity in universities, both theoretical and applied, is the most important pillar sustaining teaching and bringing educators close to current industrial practice. The European R&D framework programmes have largely succeeded in bringing universities and industry together in funding research that is useful to both. Speeding up the application of the research, characteristic to ICT high innovation rate, is seemingly benefiting the industry and forcing the universities to industry-like timeframes.

Mobility: Mobility, in the sense of movement of people between universities and industry, is worth encouraging. Mobility of people between universities and ICT industry is beneficial and could promote greater innovation if encouraged by a supporting framework.

Entrepreneurship in ICT: Universities are one of the the main source of entrepreneurs. European universities could better contribute to the increase of the SME sector in ICT, firstly by giving their students a scientific and technical background to allow them to innovate, and secondly by preparing them with the managerial skills they need to run a small enterprise. Universities are also the catalysts of entrepreneurship through technology parks established in universities. The development of such entrepreneurial centres around universities merits encouragement from governments and the EU, as they frequently become incubators for many new ICT companies.

Scarcity of ICT Skills: Universities are prudent about the qualitative aspects of ICT skills needed, but they are also pushed by the market to adapt and provide solutions for the increasing scarcity of ICT professionals within the market. The different approaches of universities and industry to the skills required in graduates only increases the gap between what universities offer and what industry needs. Reconciling these divergent tendencies for reducing the gap between the demands of industry and the ICT graduate skills that universities offer is difficult or impossible to achieve. It is probably better that universities offer a market-driven wide variety of types of graduates and that industry takes these graduates and adds appropriate training and development to suit their needs. Universities aim to produce well-qualified scientists and engineers with a strong scientific background. Normally this is what industry would need. However, large ICT companies ask for a solid scientific background as they have resources to further train their staff. Smaller ICT companies prefer specialised ready-to-work’ ICT graduates who provide return without further incurring additional training expenses. It is impossible to reconcile these two opposing requirements to provide ICT graduates who are both flexible and immediately usable. Every university has to decide what kind of professional they want to offer to industry and adapt their curricula to best fit to that requirement within the type of profession chosen. Internships or industrial placements are considered essential, as they can either be integrated into degree courses or completed in addition to the course.

Certifications: The ICT industry has developed a full series of vendor certifications. Universities have a natural tendency, for a variety of reasons, to keep away from vendor oriented industry certifications. A more general certification based less on company-specific competences and more on general professional competence could build a university-industry bridge.

Curricula: Curricula are what differentiate universities and define the level of professionalism of the future graduate. Today’s curricula are seen by many in industry as not being adaptive enough to the new trends in ICT industry. The Bologna process, currently being implemented across Europe may solve this problem. In general, universities claim to have adapted their curricula to the requirements of the Bologna recommendations. In some EU countries, the new Bologna type scheme (3+2+3) does not yet produce the best results in ICT specialisations. The European tendency to move toward three-year bachelor degree programmes, may be appropriate for the humanities, but is problematic for engineering, including computing. The Bologna process could incorporate updated curricula for ICT graduates that take into account the best interests of both European universities and industry. Curricula can then be systematically revisited to ensure the best harmonisation of graduate skills with market demands in Europe.

Continuous education: The ICT industry is particularly appropriate for lifelong learning. Continuous education with short cycles is a necessity in ICT. On the one hand, people who graduated 10-15 years ago received an education based on technologies that are now obsolete. Universities should be encouraged to offer master courses to students or graduates of other disciplines as a conversion course. On the other hand, the lack of skills brings an important number of non-ICT university graduates into the ICT field, mostly in emerging countries. Universities could play a major role in the ICT education of people who have already worked in the industry for years or are undergoing professional re-conversion. In addition, new advances in e-learning technologies allow and favour distance learning, enabling universities to play a more important role in the post-graduate training of ICT professionals.

Basic ICT Skills: Providing training in basic skills for ICT and e-business is not the task of universities, but that of secondary education. The majority of people lacking in digital literacy skills are at an age where going back to secondary school is impossible. Universities can bring a notable contribution to the dissemination of basic ICT skills, if all non-ICT graduates in Europe could gain these basic skills. Secondary schools should refocus their education programmes around these enabling technologies and redesign new partnerships with industry and public services for the dynamic preparation of the right skills in a permanently changing environment. Universities can do much to assist in curricular design, pedagogy and also defining and explaining the core body of knowledge for other branches of education.

e-Business Skills: E-business skills are not generally covered by university curricula because they require a deep context knowledge comes from on-the-job experience and is frequently offered by IT vendors as a consultancy service. This is a category of professionals most appreciated by the market and it is also the most inclined to the certification approach.

Role of Governments: Governments and the European Union can dramatically change university-industry relations by providing focused incentives, mainly derived from their funding schemes. A focus on ICT skills is a high-priority action for national governments and the European Union. New European Member States represent an important reservoir of ICT skills with proven competences and competitiveness. European Union could pay special attention to the ICT development needs of these countries, by implementing special programmes for ICT infrastructural development and ICT basic skills dissemination.