Skills Shortage • Page 2

It's time for direct action against bad game-related degrees.

This is hardly surprising. Anecdotal evidence points to just how bad some videogame degrees at UK universities can be - in some instances rivalling the most reviled and ridiculous degrees in any university's catalogue in their sheer pointlessness and banality. It's no surprise that games companies, exasperated with the universities' poor standards, are now calling for a return to more traditional maths, physics and computer science degrees - although I note that on that front, the country's top science universities say that they may soon have to add an extra year to their degree courses in order to make up for the falling standard of maths and science education at secondary level. The implication is that the essential skills which the games industry needs are in widespread decline, which is a disturbing prospect.

Most of all, however, it's the students who embark upon these games degrees that are being let down the most. Developers and publishers have real, tangible concerns over the standard of education in the sector, and they need to be listened to both by government and by the institutions - but the most tragic stories in this whole mess are those of the students being shafted by their universities.

There is enormous enthusiasm for the videogames industry among young people in the UK, which is what universities are seeking to tap into by offering these courses in the first place - but there's something absolutely soul-destroying about speaking to a bright-eyed, excited young person who is incredibly keen to work on videogames, only to discover that his university has convinced him that the right way to prepare for this career isn't to study maths or science, but to play games and write essays analysing them.

A vast swathe of these courses are failing both the industry and their own students, and urgent action is needed both to secure the supply of talented graduates which the development sector needs, and to prevent more and more young people's enthusiasm for the market from being crushed by sub-standard, badly taught and often utterly inaccurate courses.

What can the industry do? On one level, it can certainly do more to ensure that prospective students are informed about the value (or lack of value) of these courses. Communicating with schools, career guidance counsellors, parents and the students themselves is a major undertaking, but one which the industry and its representative bodies must be prepared to engage with.

Moreover, however, we are rapidly reaching a point where positive affirmation of good degrees won't be sufficient. As well as providing accreditation for the best games degrees, perhaps it's time to start thinking about more drastic measures - such as naming and shaming the worst degrees out there.

This is, of course, the nuclear option. It will sour relationships with some academic institutions, and may result in some universities pulling out of offering games-related courses altogether - but that, in itself, could be the result the industry needs. Better to have fewer games courses than to have a host of rubbish ones - better for the industry, and certainly better for the students presently being hoodwinked by the institutions that are supposed to be equipping them for their future careers.

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Rob Fahey

Rob Fahey



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