SC Exclusive: Cyber-security fails to make the grade at university
SC Exclusive: Cyber-security fails to make the grade at university

Other university lecturers professed to see growing interest in cyber-security – Coventry University, for example, says this is the case with its ethical hacking course. However, other professors say that the problem goes deeper, to a lack of interest in STEM subjects.

Alan Woodward, Europol adviser and visiting professor at Surrey University's Computing Department, told SC: “Possibly the most unusual aspect of this whole area is the general point about computer science; of all the STEM subjects it has the highest level of unemployment apparently. The Council of professors and heads of computing looked into this and found that it was very variable with places such as Surrey being at the top with over 90 percent employment down to some others that had as low as 60 percent. It seems to be more to do with other socio-economic factors as well as what employers think of the degree.”

“Many are now of the opinion that these more specialist degrees, especially when they become very specialised such as cyber-security, need some form of kite mark.  Six of us have been fortunate enough to have GCHQ accreditation for our masters' degree so I suspect it will I trickle down to undergraduate degrees too.” 

Like Davis, Woodward said that young people will ‘not choose degrees they do not understand', while adding that this would also apply to students' influencers, like parents and teachers.

“I think perception plays a significant role, and cyber-security is really suffering along with many other engineering subjects. “In short we have a problem, we know we have a problem, were collectively failing to attract young talent, and we're running out of time.” 

Stephanie Daman, CEO of the Cyber Security Challenge, added:  "The skills shortage in cyber-security cannot be solved by tackling it at one particular stage in the career development process. Universities play a critical role which is why past failures in terms of ignoring or at least failing to prioritise security sufficiently in computing and computer science courses are now being addressed. 

“The GCHQ accreditations are an important step forward and we at the Challenge and working on our own university programme with industry mentoring and skills development training camps due to be rolled out with universities across the country later in the year. However, as this survey suggests, some of this good work will be lost if we don't have a fully primed pipeline of talented applicants to these courses. This is why the Challenge has, for a number of years now, been working at the secondary school age to introduce security as an exciting career rather than just a set of principles to keep you safe online.”

She added: “We also mustn't forget that a major source of untapped cyber-security talent can be found within the existing professional base, where there are thousands of people with all the skills, who would love move into security but can't see a route in that wouldn't require them taking significant pay cuts. As an industry we must make it easier for this group to demonstrate their talent and transition sideways rather making them start all over again at the bottom."