A Second Opinion on the Current State of Affairs in Computer Science Education-An Australian Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many Universities have reported considerable decline in the enrolment of Computer Science (CS) majors around the Anglo-Saxon world and, many Australian Universities are also no exception to this down-turn (see Figures 1-3 adapted from Higher Education Research Institute, n.d.). Briefly, the following observations can be made: i) student uptake of Computer Science has declined (Figure 1) by over 60% between 2000-2004 and is now 70% lower than its peak in the early 1980, ii) interest in CS among women fell 80% between 1998-2004 (Figure 2) and 93% since its peak in 1982 and iii ) the degree of production of CS female graduates is dwindling fast (Figure 3). However, some Universities have managed to fill-up their intake and some even managed to increase their student numbers. The following questions therefore beget the observer:

1. Why did the downturn happen in CS education?

2. What are the real contributing factors to the downturn in CS education?

3. What actions could CS educators taken to prevent the falling enrolment?

4. Why did the CS educators not take the required actions?

5. Why are some Universities able to attract full enrolment or even over-enrolment despite the downturn?

6. What lessons can be learnt from this downfall?

7. What are the real underlying issues?

8. Why are that comparative perspectives on CS education in the non-Anglo-Saxon world?

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This paper addresses some of these questions and provides some pointers for introspection. The rest of the paper is organised as follows: the next section provides the context and perspectives on Computer Science, followed by the analysis of the list of issues raised in section 3. We discuss the lessons learnt in section 4 and give some pointers for further work in section 5. The conclusion summarises the paper and raises further investigative ideas.

As a special note, we record here that some of the arguments and recommendations presented in this paper can be controversial and may not necessarily relate to scenarios that exist in other countries. In addition, some of the assertions made are without comprehensive statistical data, as we could not gather them; however, the assertions and conjectures we make do have anecdotal, verbal and document-based support, some of which cannot be identified due to privacy reasons.

Perspectives on Computer Science

It is well accepted that computer science has its foundations in Logic, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering and Linguistics and according to Wikipedia (n.d.), its ideals are about "Finding eternal truths about problems and algorithms for posterity". Its emphasis is on analysing various problems, finding out their complexities, correctness and algorithms that yield the best solution. When the problems are solved, they do not change in a major way, except for "changes around the frills". Thus for example, the solution to the famous matrix multiplication problem has been found by many people with different degrees of complexities for different applications and their underlying contexts (e.g., sequential, parallel, etc). Formal theory, most often based on (computational) logic, have also been developed to understand and get a handle on problems in computer programming language, natural language, database structures and artificial intelligence.

Most Computer Science departments have their origins traceable to schools belonging to either Mathematics (most often) or Electrical Engineering (mostly in technology dominated Universities). In general, mathematics-originated CS departments (which we will call CSM departments) tend to be strong in theoretical aspects, while technology background CS departments (which we will call CST department) tend to be strong in practical aspects.

Computer science finds its niche by finding association with other disciplines and fields. …