Tech giant fears crash in next generation of experts

19th April 2013 at 01:00
Google says not enough students are taking computing

The technology giant Google has voiced concern over how few students are taking computing, science and maths at A level.

Its senior engineers have lamented the lack of quality graduates coming out of UK universities and said primary and secondary schools are responsible for the skills shortage.

Last summer's A-level results show the numbers studying computing fell for the ninth year in a row, with 3,800 candidates choosing the subject. The figure accounted for just 0.4 per cent of A levels taken in 2012.

While Google said that overall it was "extremely pleased" with the recent decision by the Department for Education to introduce computer science at GCSE, it said more needed to be done.

Peter Barron, director of external relations at Google, said the firm believed the take-up of computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects was essential to Britain's future.

"We need to employ computer engineers and seek to employ the brightest and the best, so we are concerned and worried (about) where those great engineers are going to come from."

Mr Barron's comments came after Google hosted an open day in February for a new free school, the STEM Sixth Form Academy (STEM6), due to open in London in September.

Google has backed education secretary Michael Gove's plans to scrap the ICT curriculum and add computer science to the English Baccalaureate.

Speaking in 2011, the company's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, gave a withering assessment of the country's approach to computing and STEM subjects. He said the UK was "throwing away your great computer heritage" by not teaching programming at school, although it has now been included in plans for the revised national curriculum.

The ICT curriculum was scrapped from September 2012, with Mr Gove calling on the industry to contribute to a new computer science curriculum, due to be taught from 2014.

According to John O'Shea, principal designate of STEM6, which will cater for 16-19s, the fall in students taking the subjects after GCSE has never been because of a lack of demand from young people.

"A lot of young people want to study the subjects but they either don't choose the right pathways or they are unable to take the subjects because their college or sixth form doesn't provide them," he said.

He added that budget cuts in the post-16 sector meant that fewer FE colleges and sixth forms were willing to offer more expensive courses such as engineering.

"There has also been a shortage of staff available to teach the subjects. Graduates who do study those subjects are more likely to earn better wages (elsewhere) and so attracting them into teaching has often been more difficult," Mr O'Shea said.

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