Computing Science at Robert Gordon's College

The founder of the Scottish Tech Army has called on education chiefs to embrace new approaches to address the challenges in the provision of Computing Science studies in Scotland’s schools.

Alistair Forbes has highlighted the opportunities available to students in the sector – if they are provided with the correct support and pathway into a future career in tech.

Despite the clear need for talent in the tech sector, access to Computing Science teaching in schools is shrinking. Scotland had 766 Computing Science teachers in 2008 – that figure is now 588. The number of exam presentations for Computing Science in Scotland also declined from 28,393 in 2001 to 9,873 in 2020 – the same period saw use of digital technologies and the internet grew from 5% of world population to 65%.

Alistair said: “Recent headlines have highlighted the downsizing of staff numbers in some of the world’s largest tech companies but as a whole the tech sector is still strong and growing and contributing disproportionately to economic growth in Scotland and the UK.

“Unfortunately, the most common challenge cited by companies is a shortage of talent to fill these high value, highly productive roles. We need more students, more excited and better prepared to achieve the potential for themselves and the tech industry and we need different approaches to deliver this. Ultimately, this will create economic growth that will benefit all sectors of society.

“The opportunities for students are there, and a career in tech remains a positive destination for anyone embarking into the world of work. The potential is limitless, with the latest advancements in technology set to have far-reaching impact on every one of us, and it is a fantastic time to grasp the opportunities offered by careers in the sector.”

In response, Robert Gordon’s College brought together some of the country’s smartest minds to form a Strategic Advisory Board, of which Alistair is a member, to support the launch and development of RGC Online, an online education programme designed to support the future growth of the Scottish tech ecosystem and respond to what Alistair calls a “major talent shortage” in the industry.

Championing a collaborative approach from within its global alumni network, Robert Gordon’s College has worked alongside tech industry experts and academic leaders from Robert Gordon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to develop the digital education programme, which offers live-taught SQA accredited Higher Computing Science in addition to Higher Applications of Mathematics.

Toni Scullion, a supporter of RGC Online and founder of computer science charity dressCode, said: “The tech sector in Scotland is currently facing a talent shortage, which is not surprising given the challenges faced by Computing Science education in schools.

“We need to work hard and make a conscious effort to inspire pupils at every age and stage and nurture the talent pipeline from schools to CEO. A comprehensive strategy that provides long-term support and investment at school level is crucial to creating a sustainable talent pipeline for Scotland. The tech talent pipeline starts in our classrooms.”

RGC Online also offers additional online tech modules, designed to equip young people with the skills required for future roles in the sector. Certificates are awarded upon the completion of each module, which include: Artificial Intelligence, Data Science and Machine Learning, Cyber Security, Game Design, and Entrepreneurship. A new Quantum Computing module is also currently in development and will be launched this year.

Chris Bain, founder of Player One Consulting and another member of the RGC Online Strategic Advisory Board, is a central figure in the video games industry. He explains the need for such a programme in his field, saying: “In a global industry, a lack of access to talent can force growing companies to either fold at an early-stage of growth or relocate to more talent-rich locations.

“The tech industry is central to the success of any economy that is serious about growing. In my own field of video games, there are a myriad of careers that support technical and creative skills – from programming to game design, from animation to audio, and from production to social media marketing.

“By giving pupils an early view of industry relevant skills that are often overlooked in favour of more “traditional” academic subjects, courses like RGC Online can set pupils off on the right foot.”