The need for hiring cybersecurity professionals is ever growing. Yet, there remains a hiring problem. Often, when considering this, people immediately turn their attention to educators of Computer Science at schools, colleges, and universities. From analysing research, I believe they’re right to do so.
In this blog I’ll be taking a closer look at higher education efforts, specifically for Computer Science at UK universities. I’ll be reviewing what the current situation is regarding gender and non-continuation (dropout) rates.
You can discover the full detail by accessing this year’s report which has been performed by Zuairia Chowdhury as an IN Security initiative. You can also access last year’s report which was performed by Raisa Begum Begun. Both joined my company as summer interns and are undergraduates at Brunel University London. To access these reports (and others), join the IN Security movement here – you’ll also get other benefits! 😉
Good and Bad News
The good news is that according to the latest data from UCAS and the British Computer Society (BCS), the number of people who applied to study Computer Science at UK universities in 2021/22 has increased by 13% – more than any other subject studied at university in the UK. The number of women who enrolled has also increased. According to HESA, 43% of women enrolled to study Computer Science at UK universities in 2021/22, an increase from 42% in 2020/21 and from 40% in 2019/20.
Now for the bad news. The dropout rates for Computer Science at UK universities continue to haunt those who remain in their studies.
Educate the Educators
If you’ve read IN Security, you may remember chapter six, Educate the Educators. In 2016, I wrote about the changes universities needed to make to their Computer Science degree courses if they were to improve gender, dropout, and employability rates. Having read the Shadbolt review that year, I was astonished to learn of the relatively high unemployment rates for UK Computer Sciences graduates in the UK. According to the review, UK graduates suffered from higher unemployment rates (11.7% six months after graduation) relative to other STEM disciplines (8.4%). This appeared at odds with demand for technology skills.
The review presented numerous recommendations to address the concerns, including improving the quality of teaching, enhancing industry-academia collaboration, and encouraging a more diverse student body.
Six years on, I was curious to understand whether any progress for Computer Science degree participants at UK universities had been made, and that’s when I asked Raisa to look into the situation. This year I compare results. I was especially interested considering Rishi Sunak’s (the UK Prime Minister) stance on “rip-off” degrees. Recently, he’s vowed to take decisive action against low value degrees, which he believes provide limited job prospects and earning potential, burdening students with debt. Now, he wants to increase accessibility, stimulate job growth, and boost the economy. Under a new directive, the Office for Students (OfS) will be asked to limit the number of students universities can recruit onto courses that are failing to deliver good outcomes for students.
The UK Cybersecurity Skills Shortage
UK businesses are facing a severe shortage of well-trained cybersecurity experts with an average of 21,600 new recruits being needed every year to meet demand. According to recent research from the UK government, in 2022 around 51% of businesses, accounting for approximately 697,000, experienced a skills gap in basic cybersecurity.
Unsurprisingly, this lack of talent is leading to unprecedented vulnerabilities in businesses that adversaries – mostly cyber criminals and nation state hackers – are exploiting. The issue is being felt across the UK’s economy, with data breaches rising yearly and businesses in every sector grappling with the consequences of the cybersecurity skills shortage.
To address this issue, the UK government is heavily investing in education and training programmes to produce more cybersecurity experts. The Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT) has pledged to “build a thriving tech workforce and secure the resilience of the future digital economy while supporting the Prime Minister’s priority of growing the economy and creating better paid jobs”.
A good example of this is Upskill in Cyber,which officially launched in May 2023 and is being delivered by the SANS Institute. But this is just one of several programmes being delivered by the UK government, who has been rolling out programmes since the end of 2021. These are in addition to other excellent schemes such as the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) Cyber Explorers and CyberFirst which focus on schoolchildren and the under-25s.
Away from UK government initiatives, organisations like Immersive Labs with their Cyber Million initiative and (ISC)² with their 1 million CC initiative are also working hard to attract more practitioners to cybersecurity, including women. These should positively impact UK cybersecurity skills.
I welcome all these upskilling initiatives as they’re crucial for the nation’s digital future. But they’re not the only action that needs to be taken. Gender diversity in cybersecurity is essential, and as it’s been historically low I’ve been keeping an eye on progress.
The Pipeline of Talent Coming Through UK Universities
UK universities have long been known for producing some of the brightest minds in the world. However, there’s been growing concern over the lack of gender diversity in Computer Science which has limited the pipeline of talent coming through universities. In the UK, as in many other countries, the gender gap among students in Computer Science degrees is notable. Across the board, women are still less likely to pursue Computer Science degrees than men, and this gap may widen as students progress through the curriculum.
Whilst dropout rates are typically higher for men than women at UK universities, when it comes to Computer Science it may be higher for women than for men. I say may be, as comparative dropout rates are not current and were last published in 1989 where the dropout rates for women were 15% and 12% for men.
Analysing the Impact of Gender at UK Universities
Gender diversity is a critical issue for cybersecurity that deserves attention, action, and discussion. As university education is an experience that can be both challenging and rewarding, statistics indicate that not all students manage to complete their studies successfully. Gender, as a crucial component of identity, has played a pivotal role in this phenomenon in the UK.
Research conducted on university dropout rates illustrates that male students are more likely to leave university than their female counterparts. Factors such as academic challenges, financial constraints, and social pressure, all contribute to the higher dropout figures for male students.
Gender disparity in dropout rates raises issues of concern such as the negative impact it may have on future career prospects, and the challenges it poses in achieving gender balance in the workplace. Studying the impact of gender on university dropout rates is essential to address these disparities and create a fairer and more accessible university experience for all students.
The tech industry has long been criticised for its lack of diversity, especially when it comes to gender and race. Whilst some progress is being made, the current state of UK university dropout and gender rates in Computer Science should be a cause of concern for cybersecurity leaders in the industry.
The disparity in gender and the high dropout rates indicate a severe problem that needs immediate attention. Not only is a lack of diversity a drain on progress towards reaching gender parity, but dropout rates mean companies are missing out on talented cybersecurity professionals.
The UK Computer Science field must aggressively tackle these issues by increasing accessibility, improving course content, and providing a supportive and inclusive environment. By doing so, we can establish a diverse pool of cybersecurity professionals and close the skills gap to meet ever-growing cybersecurity demands.
Now I want you to do this…
- Join the IN Security movement here if you’ve not done so already.
- Read the Gender & Dropout report for Computer Science at UK Universities 2022 and then drop me a message to let me know your thoughts.