Standalone IT degrees still required
But despite the trend away from studying an IT degree on its own, Lowe said IT courses were still needed in order for local innovation to thrive.
“There’s a strong need for students whose core disciplinary understanding is in IT, those who drive IT initiatives rather than understand their use within a different context,” he said.
“Those who do a business degree and add IT to it can apply it into the business domain, but they aren’t necessarily going to drive the next generation of technology. That’s the core role of those who do the IT degree.”
The lingering societal perception of IT as geeky hasn’t helped tertiary IT course take-up rates either, according to both Lowe and Melbourne University's Zobel.
“We go into IT workplaces and they are interactive, there’s a lot of creativity and mutual social activity, but the perception of the IT workplace is it is an isolating, dark and unfriendly robotic place. I go to schools and that perception gets pushed back at me, and it’s completely false,” Zobel said.
But there is a slow cultural shift occuring.
“Nerds can be heroes, that wasn’t true ten years ago," Zobel said. “The digital technologies curriculum the ACARA [the national curriculum authority] is rolling out also helps.”
An increasing IT literacy amongst high school students, who are graduating as digital natives, is also slowly altering that perception.
These digital natives “view technology less as something that is interesting in its own right and more of a tool supporting other things they are interested in,” Lowe said.
Peter Bateson, NSW IT director at global recruitment firm Robert Walters, said the improved standing of IT in recent years - thanks in part to the large-scale take-up of consumer technology such as smartphones and tablets - should theoretically have resulted in more students signing up for IT-related university courses.
“It’s hard to believe there isn’t the uptake in university courses, because IT has been on an upward trend now for 15 years, in the sense that is has become more and more prevalent in terms of standing within organisations,” Bateson said.
“It’s no longer the backroom function it used to be It is customer facing. It’s basically affecting how businesses make decisions, and that’s why it’s surprising that there hasn’t been an uptake because of its standing within business.”
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