Informatics Informatics Department Alvey Report

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7. Human resources

7.1 Human resources are key to the AIT programme. Information Technology is knowledge intensive and dependent upon skilled manpower. Our programme will require the involvement of substantial numbers of these personnel. The Directorate will need to monitor the total manpower requirements of the programme and to initiate actions to ensure that they are met.

Manpower for the programme

7.2 Precision in manpower planning is notoriously difficult, and detailed requirements for our programme will only emerge once it is under way. However, we believe that overall there is sufficient manpower with the required skills to launch the programme; but that extra manpower will be needed to carry it forward, particularly in the IKBS area. We estimate that around one thousand skilled personnel could be required once the programme is under way. Many of these - we estimate roughly half - are already involved on activities which will be embraced within the programme. Others can be found through redeployment from other areas. The remainder will have to be trained. The supply of skilled personnel is extremely limited. This is a further reason why collaboration between organisations is necessary. There is not enough skilled manpower at present for the programme to be tackled except on a collaborative basis. Collaboration enables the most effective use of scarce human resources.

7.3 The need to train additional personnel varies by technical sector. It is particularly pressing in the IKBS area, where there are at present few active participants. The completion of the IKBS programme depends upon increasing the numbers of those competent in this difficult research. The current very low level of industrial activity cannot expand until the supply of trained manpower is increased. This means urgent action in the higher education sector. We recommend the creation of ten additional teaching posts; the setting up of three advanced IKBS courses; and a build up to 15 IKBS fellowships and around 180 postgraduate studentships per annum. We estimate that this will cost roughly £6.8m in the first year and a further £9m in the following five. We have included these costs in the total cost of the programme, as they are an integral element of it.

7.4 There is also a strong need for education and training measures to support and carry through the programme in software engineering and man-machine interfaces. In software engineering a package is required, involving the creation of 20 teaching posts and a mix of advanced studentships and fellowships. We have costed this at £12.2m over five years and again have included it in the total programme cost. In MMI we have costed education and training at £8m over five years, including some forty postgraduate studentships per annum. The implementation of these education and training items will depend upon SERC being closely involved in the management of the programme, and upon the UGC earmarking the necessary funds to establish the additional teaching posts.

Retaining and using talent

7.5 A prime thrust of our whole programme is to exploit to the full our current human strengths in IT. The UK has an excellent reputation for research in computer science. In software engineering we are recognised as the leader within Europe, and worldwide are second only to the USA. The same is true for IKBS, though the numbers involved in the UK are few. However, these valuable human strengths are at risk. Restrictions on expenditure in higher education, whatever the intentions, have tended to fall across the board. IT has not escaped. This has exacerbated a situation where academic researchers are already overburdened by teaching and administrative duties and frustrated by the difficulty of getting research funding. The result is that many have left the UK to pursue their research overseas. And of those who remain an increasing number are now doing research for foreign industry. The research community is not large and the loss of a single person of high calibre can undermine a research programme. It is vital that this loss of talent be stopped and reversed; and that we make the most effective use of our human resources.

7.6 The programme should contribute to this in two main respects. First, it will provide nationally supported and challenging projects to attract and stretch our best researchers. Secondly, it will promote co-operation and the exchange of ideas between researchers through collaborative projects, common tools and a communications infrastructure. Maximum cooperation is particularly important in the IKBS sector where the number of active participants is no more than 150 altogether and they are scattered over several sites. It is essential that these researchers share their work to the full.

IT Fellowship

7.7 As a further measure to retain our best researchers and make maximum use of their skills, we propose that a national IT Fellowship be established. There would be, say, thirty full time Fellows based on recognised centres, including industrial establishments. In these centres 'IT Fellows' would be appointed to support the programme. They would in effect form a dispersed national IT institute and collectively could be an important source of technical advice to the programme's Directorate. At the same time they could provide research leadership for the establishments in which they are based. We believe this dispersed arrangement is more practical, and probably less costly, than the concept of a single IT Centre, which some have urged upon us. Moreover, the proposed national network will enable communication between dispersed sites, so concentration on a single site is unnecessary. The IT Fellowship is an integral part of our total programme.

Exploiting and using the programme

7.8 We can build up rapidly the manpower for the programme. But we do not have the manpower in anywhere near the numbers or skill levels needed to translate the programme into products or to use those products effectively. It is imperative that this major issue be tackled. Key to Japan's Fifth Generation Programme are actions in the educational and social sphere to promote the application of advanced IT in Japan's society and economy. The IT 82 campaign in the UK is an effective campaign to raise awareness concerning these issues in this country. However, it will need to be followed up extensively with practical actions and strategies to translate this awareness into real results. A principal component of this must be an on-going programme to ensure the availability of adequate manpower for IT both in quality and quantity. A wide range of organisations will be involved here. We see the Directorate making an important contribution from the standpoint of its role as sponsor of advanced research in IT. A detailed and wide ranging programme of action is needed in this whole area. We have not carried out a comprehensive review but several points are clear.


7.9 Action must start in the schools. We support the moves which are now putting computing on the curriculum. But, it is no good just providing schools with microcomputers. This will merely produce a generation of poor BASIC programmers. Universities in fact are having to give remedial education to entrants with 'A' level computer science. Teachers must be properly trained, and the languages taught chosen with an eye to the future. Uncorrected, the explosion in home computing with its 1950s and 60s programming style will make this problem even worse. Action is also needed to increase the stock of computer science teachers by training existing teachers of other subjects in computer science and by encouraging young computer science graduates to enter teaching. The teaching of computer science in schools must be increased substantially, in quality and in quantity.

Tertiary education

7.10 The role of the tertiary education sector in relation to computing is currently confused. There is too broad a spread of standards and courses do not match needs. A clear distinction should be made between programmer training courses and courses covering the concepts, theory and techniques of computer science. Those of the first kind should not have degree status. At degree level, courses should be geared to meet industry's need for highly skilled engineers, and to provide future researchers. Though there are excellent exceptions, current courses tend to meet neither of these objectives and are often artificially split between theory and hack programming. Industry needs engineers with a wide appreciation of computer science and a knowledge of hardware and software. In fact, there is a requirement for a new breed of information engineer with a wide understanding of the potential applications of IT to industrial needs, particularly in the service sector.

Increasing the supply

7.11 The supply of graduates with skills relevant to IT must be increased. This will require more teachers in higher education. The undergraduate output is currently some 6,500 per year. This is wholly inadequate to meet our future requirement, particularly when many of these opt for careers in non-IT areas. SERC have recently asked DES to provide UGC with earmarked funds of about £5.5m per annum to enable the universities to increase the number of academic posts. The additional funds would support 60 further staff, and, assuming the normal 13:1 student-staff ratio, would allow a further 780 students to graduate each year, an increase of 12 per cent. We support this request, and urge DES and UGC to act upon it at the earliest opportunity. However, it is the minimum necessary. As well as more than 30 new posts required to build up research and teaching specifically related to the AIT programme, substantially more posts are needed if the opportunities generated by this programme are to be exploited in the IT manufacturing and user industries. Steps are also needed in the polytechnics, and at technician level. The polytechnic authorities and the TEC must step up their training of IT personnel. The Engineering Council also has a key role, particularly in attracting more talent into the IT field, and in helping to gear education and training to industrial needs.

Postgraduate training and research

7.12 We need to strengthen postgraduate research and training. At the Masters level there is a need for two types of course: conversion courses for graduates of other disciplines to train them in systems analysis and applications; and advanced vocational training courses, e.g. the current SERC course in VLSI design, courses in Artificial Intelligence to support our IKBS programme, and also in MMI to support our programme in this sector. At the PhD level we recommend that a significant number of studentships, say fifty, be made available under the AIT programme to enable industrial companies to sponsor PhD students on four year sandwich courses. The student would be employed by the company but split his time between his employer and his university or polytechnic. He would be paid an industrially competitive salary to give these studentships high status. SERC's Teaching Company scheme provides a model for this type of industrially relevant postgraduate programme. The studentships should be controlled by the AIT Directorate to maintain high standards via competition. We would expect many of the studentships in Software Engineering, IKBS and MMI, included in our programme to be along these lines.

Continuing education and training

7.13 There must be continuing education and training of personnel in industry for full exploitation of the new tools and methods which emerge from the programme. The opportunity for this exists through the proposed communications network and common base infrastructure which will allow dissemination of instructional material directly to employers' premises. This will allow an Open University style of study, which should ease the problem of release which currently dogs continuing education in computing. There is a real opportunity here for a Distributed College to emerge, linking information technologists in industry and the academic sector.