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UK facing ‘huge shortage’ of computer science academics – former Google chief exec

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Birthplace of computer science pioneer Alan Turing, the UK is now facing a severe shortage of computer science scholars, according to former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt.

In fact, UK universities will need an additional 10,000 of them if it hopes to keep up with the global knowledge economy, he told Times Higher Education (THE).

Speaking at a lecture hosted by the London School of Economics (LSE) earlier this month, Schmidt said: “British people invented a whole bunch of the science and the maths that I’ve grown up with, and yet the vast majority of the activity in the last couple of decades has not been done by British engineers.”

He attributed the country’s fall as a pioneer in the field due to the fact that it was “not seen or valued at the same level” in the education system.

Schmidt, who is now executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said that in order to bridge the gap, the UK needed an increase of computer science academics by “many, many thousands”, as well as more research and project funding.

He explained that U.S. universities, compared to British institutions, receive far more money to fund research, enabling them to push the boundaries of the field.

“The American high-end universities – Harvard, Yale, Princeton – are enormously wealthy with respect to discretionary money, project money and so forth, compared to the finest universities in Britain: LSE, University College London, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester.

“It’s a huge gap, and that discretionary money means that you’re not able to fund your graduate students, you’re not able to do expeditionary research. American universities have enough money floating around that they can try [things],” said Schmidt.

He called the lack of resources being channelled into the field a “national shame”, adding that the “opportunity for funding is so large, it’s a huge opportunity missed”.

Despite Schmidt’s stark warning, the UK doesn’t appear to be doing too badly in the field for now: in the THE World University Rankings 2016/17 by subject, the University of Oxford is the highest ranking UK institution in computer science, at #3 following Switzerland’s ETH Zurich and Caltech in the U.S. Oxford also holds the same place in the engineering and technology subject ranking.

However, if the UK wishes to keep up, the government and higher education institutions may do well to heed Schmidt’s advice. 

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