THE FEARED Millennium Bug is luring Scottish computing graduates into its net and away from careers in teaching, according to teacher training institutions.
Firms anxious to avoid the collapse of their computing systems at the turn of the century are recruiting computer whizzkids on two-year contracts in an effort to nip the dangers in the bud.
News of the alternative attractions is likely to unsettle ministers who have launched their own plans for a National Grid for Learning as part of their 21st-century technological revolution in schools. Demand for computing skills will increase.
A spokeswoman for Strathclyde University said the bug appeared to be the main reason why places on its one-year postgraduate course proved less attractive than other courses.
Across Scotland only 78 students applied to become computing teachers, a fall of 20 over the previous year.
Strathclyde had 40 of this year's applicants and took 19. The 2:1 ratio of applicants to acceptances compares with 3:1 for other subjects.
Other institutions report a similar picture with fewer computing students around. Numbers have consistently dropped over the past four years, a feature that prompted the Scottish Office to grant it priority status.
More broadly, institutions report fewer difficulties in filling the 800 secondary teaching places after fears last December and early this spring that many graduates might shun careers in teaching.
Around 2,210 graduates applied for the courses, although that does reflect a continuing decline in the popularity of teaching. Four years ago over 3000 graduates were applying for places. Institutions say there is no fall in the quality of student.
Strathclyde University had 950 applications for its 335 places. Even in priority areas such as English, 133 applied for 68 places, and in mathematics 74 applied for 35 places.
The Northern College reports all its 168 places were filled, despite difficulties in computing, Gaelic and technological education. Only 18 of the 20 places in mathematics were able to be filled. "The quality of candidates is as high as ever," a spokeswoman said.
Scottish Office guidelines dictate that 75 per cent of places are in the eight priority subjects: English, mathematics, computing, physics, modern languages (including Gaelic), religious education, technological education and music.
This is the last year applications were made through the Teacher Education Admissions Clearing House in Edinburgh. Graduates next year will apply directly to training institutions.
The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is also taking over from the Scottish Office responsibility for setting student numbers. Ministers will only identify minimum requirements for newly qualified teachers and broad objectives for supply, rather than fixing intake levels.