Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Survival Mode: The Stresses and Strains of Computing Curricula Review

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Survival Mode: The Stresses and Strains of Computing Curricula Review

Article excerpt

Introduction

In an ideal world, review and changes to computing curricula should be driven solely by academic concerns for the needs of students. The process should be informed by industry accreditation processes and international best practice (Hurst et al., 2001). The reality in Australia is quite different. In their telling report, What Drives Curriculum Change? Gruba, Moffat, Sondergaard and Zobel (2004) conclude that "changes are driven by individuals, politics, and fashion more than they are driven by academic merit and external curricula." Optimistically, they comment that, despite widespread difficulties encountered in Australian higher education institutions, overall computing academics remain confident that the right changes are being made regarding curricula development.

Over the past twenty years there have been "seemingly never ending waves of amalgamation, restructuring and re-organisation of Australian universities" (Saunders, 2006). The amalgamations of technical and higher education institutions began in early 1990s, accompanied by governmental changes to funding models for both sectors, which have impacted greatly on the curricula design and how courses can be conducted (Skilbeck & Connell, 1999). Today, the bottom line is that education institutes are expected to be financially independent. Within each institute, individual operating units need to attract enough students, both local and full-fee paying international students, to justify their existence. Otherwise, they will face either merger or dissolution. A consequence of the need for fiscal sustainability of programs has seen many institutes begin franchise arrangements with offshore partners for the delivery of Australian computing courses.

Against the backdrop of the Y2K scare and dot.com bust, computer science student enrolments have been undergoing a dramatic decline worldwide. For instance, between 2001 and 2005 the number of freshmen who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science has plummeted by 59 percent at one Californian university (Foster, 2005). In Australia, since 2002 the numbers of ICT students has dropped 19% nationally (Multimedia Victoria [MMV], 2007). This alarming trend triggered the State Government of Victoria to commission a survey of the 217 students who planned to go onto university studies, to state their study preferences. Worryingly, the survey found that only 13% of males said they would study IT, whereas no female said that she planned to study IT at university (MMV, 2004).

This trend of diminishing student enrolments, together with the need for financial independence, is having an adverse effect on many Australian computing faculties, undermining their continuing survival. Accordingly, this paper looks in detail at the current challenges faced by IT faculties, and then describes the local situation for the School of Computer Science & Mathematics at Victoria University. The impact of poor student enrolments has had upon computing curricula is described along with the various interventions undertaken to alleviate the problem. The paper outlines the challenges we faced during the process, the rationale for the proposed response and the consequent alignment of the computing curricula.

Current Challenges in Computing and IT Programs

Worldwide there remains a strong job market and high demand for computing professionals (Liu, 2007; Melymuka, 2006). In the United States, Dychtwald, Erickson and Morison (2006) in their book Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent have predicted an impending IT workforce crisis for the coming decade due to the declining enrolments in both undergraduate and graduate IT programs. In Australia, where the ICT industry generates revenues of AUD 65.7 billion (USD 60 billion) or 8.7 % of GDP, the federal government has identified the shortage of IT students as an issue requiring remedial action in the near future. …

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