Why has the Shadbolt Review been Delayed?

Publication of the much-anticipated review of computer science degree accreditation and graduate employability by Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, has been delayed.  Why?  Is this political?  Does it not say what it should?

Terms of reference for the Shadbolt Review of Computer Science Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability were published in February 2015.  The background to this was some contested data showing that Computer Science graduates had the highest levels of unemployment across all academic subjects in Higher Education.  Since then CS departments in UK universities have awaited the outcomes with some trepidation, possibly expecting something of a mauling.

Despite a fair amount of work in pointing out that the figures might not really mean what they appeared to (a lot of biasing influences, for example), this concern was hardly helped by the Chair of the Government’s Science and Technology Select Committee, Nicola Blackwood, at a PICTFOR (Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum) during a speech at an evening reception at the House of Lords in December, saying – to all intents and purposes – that CS graduate unemployment was high because CS lecturers in UK universities didn’t know how to teach CS.  Concern in the HE CS community quickly evolved into outright fear.  Rumours about possible content of the Shadbolt review were rife.

However, there’s now a growing suspicion among CS academics that this was uninformed (both Blackwood’s comments and the rumours) and that the review, originally expected in April this year, doesn’t actually say this: that it might not give the universities the kicking the government would like to see them get.  The question has to be asked: is this why there’s been a reluctance to publish?

During his keynote address to the CPHC (Council of Professors and Heads of Computing) annual conference in Manchester on April 25th, Professor Shadbolt did five things of particular note.  He:

  1. apologised for the continued delay in the report’s publication,
  2. revealed that a big feature of the differences across universities in CS graduate employment success was whether or not they had a work-placement element,
  3. confirmed that there were too few women on undergraduate CS programmes,
  4. noted that employers didn’t really understand what (eg BCS) accreditation was or what it meant, and
  5. gave delegates a sneak preview of the first of the review’s ten recommendations.  This was, in its entirety, “Recommendation 1 – Improving the data:  Data on the supply of and demand for Computer Sciences graduates should be timely/up to date, accessible and comprehensive. The Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC), Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), and Tech Partnership should devise a programme of work to improve the quality, richness and granularity, availability and accessibility of data. This should start by working with HESA to inform their Data Futures review and with Government on the future publication of linked educational and employment record datasets. This will help HE providers, employers, students, graduates and policy makers to better understand the graduate employment landscape and how this meets both the requirements of industry and an increasingly technology-driven economy now and in the future.”

Number 5 is a recognition of what CS departments, the CPHC and others have been saying all along:  The data isn’t much good as it stands.  Overall, none of this looked or sounded much like the predicted demonisation of an academic subject.  If the remaining nine recommendations follow this model, and the nature of the presentation itself, it will be a considerable relief to university CS departments.  The tone of the presentation throughout was understanding and supportive.  The impression is that the final report – when it’s eventually allowed to appear – will call for greater collaboration and mutual support.  There may not be the singling out of HE Computing or traditional blaming of academia some anticipated.

And this possibly isn’t what the government wanted to hear!

About Vic Grout

Professor of Computing Futures at Wrexham Glyndwr University, Wales, UK. View all posts by Vic Grout

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