An industry case study: How the quality of University courses is limiting graduate employment in the UK.

In 2008, sales generated by the UK video games industry totaled £2 billion. The global market for computer games is predicted to grow annually by 10.6% in the coming years and is expected to reach $86.7 billion in 2014. The UK is in a strong position to capitalize on this growing market, and demand for skilled employees in these industries is high.  However, industry reports suggest that the UK has recently slipped from 3rd to 6th in the world development league of computer scientists and artists, and that the education system is failing to produce talent of the standard required  (Livingstone, 2011).

Although video games and visual effects are growing industries, only 12% of graduates from specialist UK courses are employed in the games sector six months after graduating. In addition, more people are studying specialist video game courses here than there are jobs in the industry. However, despite this surplus of graduates, 58% of video games employers say that it is difficult to find graduates with the required skills straight out of higher education. This figure rises to 71% of employers in companies with more than 100 employees.

Dissatisfaction with graduate quality is not limited to the video game industry. A poll of major British firms revealed that 75% of bosses think that British graduates are poor across a number of domains, including written and spoken English, technical skills and interpersonal skills.

As a result of the shortcomings of graduates educated at UK specialist video game courses, employers turn to graduates from other countries. 30% of graduates employed in the UK video game industry have studied overseas. The following table shows self-report measures of the kind of skills students feel they are learning during their degrees, and the reports of UK students suggest that our courses are lagging behind overseas courses.

The standard of graduate educated in this country is falling short, and employers know it. Certain UK institutions with industry accreditations have higher employment rates than non-accredited institutions, but on the whole the consensus from industry experts is that most courses do not focus on the specific technical skills needed to create video games.

The UK video game industry provides a case study of why quality of the degree is limiting graduate employment, not saturated job markets. The evidence is clear: UK Universities are producing Universally poor graduates ill equipped for industry and employment.

* Unless stated otherwise all statistics in this blog were obtained from the Next Gen report, which was co-authored by video game industry experts.

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6 comments
  1. Tom P said:

    Nice blog Dec, this brilliantly portrays the problems facing both students seeking employment and educators slated by industry professionals. I would have to agree, especially after researching statistics congruent with yours (The DLHE Survey).

    After looking at advertisements regarding these types of employment, an often-seen theme is the lack of requirement for a computer-based degree. Instead, a high-grade degree in any discipline (to demonstrate a level of learning) combined with a technical proficiency (game-design, programming), often shown in extra-curricular activities will suffice. Indeed individuals that enjoy programming and game design can demonstrate this through their own extra-curricular attainments, showing both intrinsic motivation and passion. This is logical, as Jones (1995) demonstrated that many US and European educational establishments take a theoretical approach regarding their computer courses. Resultantly graduate employers have to waste resources to provide in-job training.

    As many of these devalued courses are accredited (similar to Psychology and the BPS) by the Institution of Engineering Technology, it appears that this accreditation is also not valued by employers. Perhaps a post-graduation assessment of an individuals proficiency, recognised and valued by employers would demonstrate the requirements for work in this sector? If the sector recognises this assessment, then educational establishments would be required to alter their curriculum as a result. Do you think this is feasible?

    • It’s true that video game companies hire more graduates from non-specialist courses. One survey found that only 20% of graduates currently employed in the field studied specialist games programming and games art courses, while 48% held computer science degrees or degrees in STEM subjects.

      However, I disagree that industry accredited programmes are not valued by employers.

      In the UK, Skillset accredited video game programming and design courses are required to provide industry relevant skills, such as programming, algorithm development, extensive training in computer art, and a solid foundation of maths and physics. 27% of graduates from Skillset accredited courses found employment in the industry after 6 months, compared to only 10% of graduates from non-accredited courses. These are statistics that students need to be aware of when choosing their universities.

      These Universities are making efforts to train graduates up to the standard demanded by industry, and should provide a model for other Universities to follow. The increased success of graduates from these courses suggests to me that accreditation is the right way to proceed. I’m not convinced that post-graduate assessment is necessary or in fact fair to students who have already studied for three years, and are then required to study for ANOTHER exam. Surely a well developed portfolio and a good degree from an accredited course would be sufficient?

      • Tom P said:

        I agree that a well developed portfolio and a good degree from an accredited course would be beneficial, yet not completely sufficient. The burden still rests on the employers, even though the fault rests with educational establishments.

        According to the Next Gen report which you highlighted (specifically figure 11), employers have difficulty employing graduates as a result of their technical insufficiency (30%), lack of experience within the industry (30%) or they struggle to even find graduates (35%). It can therefore be assumed that the majority of employers have difficulty filling available positions. Given the cost of advertising for employers, this could be detrimental and there should be a quick way to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

        I think that our individual ideas are less disjointed than we think – the post-graduate assessment I suggested, would be similar to that of counsellors applying for BACP accreditation – the creation of a portfolio that shows technical sufficiency and could even demonstrate industry experience (http://www.bacp.co.uk). The only difference between the assessment and a self-created portfolio would involve the assessment containing a certain standard required (and defined) by employers for its approval. This makes those who have an approved assessment highly distinguishable amongst other applicants. Furthermore, the Next Gen report displays that project management is another valued attribute for applicants. This mindset is supported by Kavanagh and Drennan (2008) and once again, this can be demonstrated within the assessment.

        I believe a new approach should be implemented as, even with accreditation (which is, admittedly, more beneficial than non-accreditation), employers are still incurring high costs as a result of graduates’ technical insufficiency, lack of industry experience and finding the graduates in the first place.

  2. psub4f said:

    In many respects, you have to wonder whether it is the the poor degree, or the education system in general? For example, this report (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00219266.2002.9655805) highlights the fact that there has been a general decline in Mathematics ability amongst bioscience undergraduates, with only 6.3% of those questioned answering a simple maths test correctly. I find this omewhat shocking, when you consider the neccesity of good maths in such a degree.

    Additionally, I think there is some sort of snobbery going on here that ‘ a Vocational Education is a great idea for Other Peoples Children’ (Proffesor Wolf, Does Education Matter? 2002). Given the technical nature of game programming, perhaps this would be a career better taught through a recognised vocational qualification- such as other highly technical, vocational qualifications such as the Health and Saftey Diploma. People slate vocational courses, however, the holders of rigerous, difficult and highly sought after qualifications such as the NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Saftey (http://www.nebosh.org.uk/qualifications/diploma/default.asp?cref=69&ct=2) can access highly paid careers, and have starting salarys matching that of graduates of traditional university education (http://www.prospects.ac.uk/health_and_safety_adviser_salary.htm).

    So what am I suggesting? A move away from the snobbery that ‘vocational= not qualified’ and begin to recognise that many skills can be learned to a much better standard ‘on the job’. In many respects, I think this course has shown that a liberal arts education in soft subjects may not be relevant to the modern world.

  3. Although the report you cite does highlight a general slide in maths ability in bioscience undergraduates, I think the evidence I’ve presented shows that first and foremost, degrees are generally not preparing graduates for employment.

    It should be noted that not all UK courses are poor. In the field of computer animation for example, the National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA) at Bournemouth leads the way. Some facts for you about this institution taken from the Next Gen report:

    + The NCCA is also the highest-rated research centre in Computer Animation in the UK, having been awarded a top score in the Research Assessment Exercise of 2008.

    + Around half of its graduates end up as Technical Directors in the visual effects and animation industries, and the other half as Technical Artists in video games.

    + Fifty-five of its graduates were involved in the production of the visual effects for Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time.

    In short, the NCCA produces industry standard graduates.

    Given that some universities are producing such excellent graduates,I think it’s a bit of a copout to blame the education system. What excuse can other universities possibly have for the poor standard of graduate they produce?

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