and report here the ideas raised in more
than 50% of our university interviews.
A negative view of CS, typically false,
arose in a number of contexts:
˲ Unhealthy ICT sector in the face of
˲ Fewer opportunities and lower salaries in the ICT sector;
˲ Narrow view of the types of problems addressed in the discipline;
˲ Lack of recognition of the breadth
of CS application areas;
˲ Requirement of, and emphasis on,
the discipline’s mathematical sophistication;
˲ Stereotypes of the discipline’s students; and
˲ Earlier CS frontiers people now
take for granted.
The relative ease of use and ubiquity of general-purpose computing also
mask the challenges that have yet to
be solved in CS. As computers have become commonplace, students are increasingly less motivated to study them
as a discipline.
Negative perceptions of the discipline and the focus on machines rather
than on people have been particularly
detrimental in attracting women to the
field, so student recruitment is effectively being drawn from significantly
less than the full high-school population.
figure 3: cs master’s (blue, green) and Ph.D. (red, orange) enrollment;
source: statistics canada via ict-sitt industry canada presentation
(blue, green) and department data (red, orange).
Dept Ph. D.
1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
First-year students are often cited
as ill-prepared for the mathematically
and science-based approaches common in computing in the majority of CS
university programs. Explanations for
this lack of preparation include a lack
of opportunity to be introduced to the
discipline in high school; a shortage of
teachers with an adequate understanding of CS; a dearth of computing infrastructure in Canada’s high schools; and
overwhelmed guidance counselors unable to keep up with the ever-changing
discipline or offer comprehensive guidance about IT careers and options.
CS programs in North American universities often exhibit low undergraduate retention rates from the first to the
second year. Whatever the reason—
incorrect perception of CS, lack of preparation, or loss of interest due to the curriculum—the low retention rate fosters
the perception that the discipline is difficult and requires even higher student
Finally, CS curricula in North American universities have not adapted to the
incoming students or to changes in the
industry; CS curricula go stale quickly,
and specific topics can be seen by potential students as irrelevant. First-year
courses often focus on teaching a computer language to address toy problems
like temperature conversion, elevator
operations, and simple report generation. The curricula emphasize mathematical accomplishment and typically
develop from first principles. Also, Canadian universities often lack mandatory exposure to technology across all
their academic programs, leaving fewer
PHO TOGRAPH BY PHILLIP CHEE