Placements offer extra advantages over MOOCs in building computer science employability

Placements offer extra advantages over MOOCs in building computer science employability

"Placement students act as a form of knowledge exchange between business and higher education institutions."


Image Credit

In a recent article in the THE, David Willetts highlighted the frustration felt by employers about the skills gap in computer science graduates entering the labour market.

This apparent skills gap is supported by the statistics: despite being in short supply and earning high hourly wages (UKCES 2012), computer scientists have the highest unemployment levels of any discipline 6 months after graduation: 12% in the 2011-12 HESA DLHE. The UKCES Skills Assessment for ICT 2012 specifically stated “The low level of recruitment of young people indicates an under-utilised recruitment pool but also reflects employer preferences for recruiting highly skilled and experienced workers”.

"Placement students don't just learn passively, they help to improve the bottom line as enthusiastic employees with a fresh perspective."

In his interview with the THE, Willetts argued that “MOOCs (massive open online course) could bypass [university computer science courses] if they don’t deliver what employers are looking for.” However, placements offer another option. Rather than bypassing the skills gap with a MOOC, we have found that placements have the potential to address the gap while establishing links between universities and businesses that produces a wider range of benefits.

Feedback from students on and returning from placements can inform and drive curriculum changes based on their time in industry. This process can provide great value to HEIs in improving academic programmes and keeping them, and therefore graduates, up-to-date on the latest developments in a fast moving sector.

Equally, we have seen that students are able to add real value to a business during their placement. Placement students don't just learn passively, they help to improve the bottom line as enthusiastic employees with a fresh perspective.

Placement students act therefore as a form of knowledge exchange between business and higher education institutions. We have seen in our research that once the seed of the university-business relationship is planted it can blossom in other ways. Hosting a placement student gets a business in touch with the university where they can benefit from further collaboration such as incoming-generating partnerships. 

"Placement students act as a form of knowledge exchange between business and higher education institutions."

Of course, a key benefit for all from a successful placement is the possibility of permanent employment. Evidence shows that businesses are increasingly using placements as a way of testing out future recruits, with the percentage of graduates recruited directly from employers' work experience programmes up to record high this yearand a third of businesses reporting to Pearson that they use placements to identify graduate talent.

Even for those students who don't go on to work for the company they were placed with, a quality placement boosts their employability. The initial findings of our research define a 'quality' placement as one that adds value to a student's degree; a student must be given an opportunity to learn skills that are not taught at university, both technical skills and 'soft skills' such as team working, time management and how to work with clients. All these will help in the search for future employment.

None of these added benefits can be achieved through a MOOC.

At NCUB we are currently undertaking a research project into placements for computing students. Our research, funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), aims to fill in the gap in evidence on the scale of placements that are currently being offered and undertaken in universities across the UK. The report, due to be published later this summer, will also be showcasing examples of best-practice in placements for computing students. By understanding the landscape and sharing best-practice in computing placements we aim to inform and influence policies to improve the range and quality of computer science placements.

Olivia Jones is Talent, Enterprise and Development Project Manager at NCUB. Contact her if you have any questions about the research.

What do you think? Tweet us @NCUBtweets or comment below

Other posts that may interest you:

BLOG: How do you know if you’re offered a high quality work placement?
BLOG: Why the Royal Society of Chemistry is funding undergrad placements in SMEs
BLOG: Placements, internships & sandwich years

Expand for more