Fewer Europeans ready for computer revolution

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This article is part of our special report Cloud Computing.

Young Europeans are getting fewer degrees in computer science, according to statistics released a week after a policy expert warned the European Commission that regulators are not keeping up with the pace of technological change.

New Eurostat figures show that 3.4% of students across the 27 EU countries graduated in computer science in 2009, compared with 4.0% in 2005, with a mixed picture across individual countries.

The highest increases were registered in Malta (1.9% of all graduates in 2005 to 5.6% in 2009) and Hungary (2.0% to 3.4%), with the largest decreases in Portugal (5.1% to 1.7%) and the United Kingdom (5.9% to 4.0%).

In 2009, the highest shares of computing graduates were found in Malta and Austria (both 5.6% of all graduates), Spain (5.1%), Cyprus (4.7%) and Estonia (4.4%).

Computer use varies widely

The statistics also showed a huge differential between computer use by people aged 16-74 across member states.

In 2011, figures show, only half of all Romanians had ever used a computer, with Bulgaria and Greece also performing poorly on 55% and 59% respectively.

In Sweden almost everyone (96%) had used a computer, and similar near-saturation use was recorded in Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (all 94%).

The decrease in computer graduates came in the middle of the Commission’s e-skills week, which seeks to beef up awareness of the need for computer skills across the continent.

It also came a week after Dan Reed, a policy expert with Microsoft Research, warned the EU executive that the pace of computing technological change was so rapid that regulators were being left behind.

Computers about to start thinking and doing things

Attending a debate examining how Europe was dealing with the technological revolution, Reed said: “The rate of technological change is outstripping the ability of social structures to adapt.”

Reed said that the rate of significant change in technology used to run on a six-year cycle, but he said “six years ahead is now a science fiction story”.

He said that the world was on the cusp of a major revolution as computing moved from being a passive part of human life to becoming an active assistant.

“We are on the edge of intelligent and anticipatory computing,” he told delegates at a debate organised by Friends of Europe.

Regulators needed to carefully define their public policy goals and apply clear horizontal rules across the sector on issues such as data protection, rather than specific laws, Reed said.

Replying to Reed, the chief scientific advisor to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Anne Glover, said more needed to be done to bring science graduates into the policymaking sphere and that scientists needed to talk more to policymakers. “That way we will have sharper, nimbler policy,” she said.

"Young people need to appreciate the professional aspects of the new digital world," said Antonio Tajani, the European commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, launching "e-skills week".

"This is more important than ever in the current economic context. And it is crucial to increase creativity which will favour entrepreneurship and new start-ups," Tajani added.

“Computing skills are no longer just relevant for the ICT sector; computing skills are becoming critical for more and more jobs today. Industry analysts predict that 90% of jobs in Europe will require ICT skills, across all sectors, by 2015. This includes occupations as disparate as a doctor, delivery driver, banker, and graphic designer,” said John Vassallo, vice president of EU affairs for Microsoft.

“Many young people today are struggling because they don’t have the right experience, skills or knowledge they need to find a job. Microsoft recognises this gap and is working through a number of programs to help upskill Europe’s young people so they are equipped with the necessary skills and training to be successful in the workplace,” Vassallo added.

The European e-skills week 2012 is a European campaign focused on raising the interest of young people in information and communication technologies as well as showing people how to get jobs and e-skills in the digital age.

The e-skills week opened in Brussels on 19 March closes on 30 March in Copenhagen.

  • 30 March: European e-skills week closes in Copenhagen

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