Slow pace persists in ICT-related undergrad degrees

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The number of students that graduated with an undergraduate degree in computer and information science at public higher education institutions has averaged at around 2 000 each year from 2013 to 2017.

This is according to the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology, in a written reply to a Parliamentary question from the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) Vuyani Pambo.

Degrees in areas such as computer and information science are vital, not only to advance South Africa’s ICT sector, but to allow the country to compete effectively on the international ICT stage.

Furthermore, if the country is to build a “capable fourth industrial revolution army”, as envisaged by the communications and digital technologies minister, there needs to be top talent that is adequately equipped with emerging technology skills.

The higher education department’s response to the question from the EFF highlights that growth in students graduating with computer and information science degrees is still very slow.

In the reply, the department reveals the number of undergraduate degrees in computer and information science was 2 531 in 2013, 2 670 in 2014, 2 746 in 2015, 2 617 in 2016 and 2 843 in 2017.  

On the other hand, the number of students that graduated with an undergraduate degree in engineering, over the same period, was slightly better, averaging at around 12 000 almost every year.

In 2013, the department recorded 11 441 students graduating with an engineering degree, 12 058 in 2014; 12 470 in 2015; 12 386 and 12 956 in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Stepping up

It is well-documented that SA faces a digital skills gap, with government, private sector and industry commentators calling for an increased focus on skills development to take the country through the next digital revolution.

ICT industry body the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) says SA’s specialised ICT skills gap persists, despite competitive salaries and efforts to build a skills pipeline.

IITPSA’s Adrian Schofield, who collaborates with the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering on its annual ICT Skills Survey to be released later this year, notes SA’s education system and enterprise environment are simply not geared to deliver high-end ICT skills in the numbers the country needs.

However, there have been concerted efforts to address the skills challenge, with key players stepping up to help develop and train the future workforce.

In May, for example, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies confirmed it had begun recruiting students to participate in its elaborate programme, which aims to equip a million young people with data science and related skills by 2030.

In Gauteng, the provincial education department has dedicated special attention to establish learning facilities focused on maths, science and ICT; engineering; commerce and entrepreneurship; sports and performing and creative arts.

This, according to the department, is part of the plan to change Gauteng’s historical reliance on traditional sectors for job creation by changing the history of township education.

The Department of Basic Education announced earlier this year that government is developing curricula for coding and robotics for grades R to 9.

International private sector players such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Samsung, to name a few, have also come to the party, introducing programmes aimed at upskilling South Africans in order to compete in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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