Australian IT – Students shun IT courses (Diana Thorp, FEBRUARY 11, 2003)

STUDENT demand to take up IT degrees this year has dropped as much as 30 per cent at some universities, causing alarm that the IT downturn has scared ambitious school leavers away.

In December initial applications to study IT at undergraduate level in 2003 were down, and falling interest led some universities to lower entry scores to some IT courses.

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In Queensland, IT recorded the biggest drop in student demand for any field of education, according to the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre.

“In 2001-02 admissions, 6.5 per cent of the people put IT as their first choice and it dropped to 4.9 per cent. That shift was 24.1 per cent down,” QTAC public relations and information services manager Pat Smith said.

“Some of the cut-off scores became less competitive and some just didn’t go up as much as other areas, where the demand surged.”

Demand increased in health, education, business, architecture and building, possibly reflecting career choices of students who previously may have enrolled in IT.

Australian Computer Society president Richard Hogg said demand to study IT was down 25 to 30 per cent across the board.

“There doesn’t seem to be any surge in double degrees, so it’s not being compensated by that,” he said.

“Students are just not prepared at this stage to look at careers in IT. They’re not even looking at the long term. I think it’s very poor from the industry’s point of view.”

Anecdotal reports indicated postgraduate demand had picked up, and interest from overseas students continued, he said, but IT’s future was in need of positive marketing.

Professor John Rosenberg, dean of Monash University’s IT faculty – the largest in Australia – said demand was down about 20 per cent. “We’ve certainly managed to fill our quota of students, but in the end there was still a downturn,” he said.

The fall led to a drop in entry scores for some programs.

“For some programs it has been one mark, or something very small, for others it has been up to seven or eight,” Professor Rosenberg said.

“The entry scores are still at a level where the students are very good and very capable.

“It has given an opportunity to students who, because of tight quotas, wouldn’t have been able to study IT and are now able to.”

Business systems and multimedia were the most popular courses at Monash. Double degrees continued to be popular, he said.

At this stage, demand to study postgraduate courses appeared not to have dropped, nor had interest from overseas students, Professor Rosenberg said.

“The international students think long-term and they see, long-term, the outlook for IT has to be strong,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the domestic undergraduate students seem to think short-term.”

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