Auckland ICT Grad School one year on

October 2016

 

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As Auckland ICT Grad School approaches its first birthday, the school’s director PROFESSOR GILLIAN DOBBIE talks to Education Review about getting the new school off the ground and how it is well placed to help meet the needs of a rapidly growing IT sector.

 

Gill dobbieHow do you think the Government has approached the skills shortage in ICT at the training level so far?

Dobbie: The approach to solving the ICT skills shortage is two-pronged. The first prong trains people, who have a degree in another area, in IT. The second prong takes those with IT training and prepares them for industry. We offer two qualifications, the Postgraduate Certificate in Information Technology and the Master of Information Technology. The postgraduate certificate provides technical training to people who have a degree in areas as diverse as business, law, medicine and the arts. The master’s provides complementary skills and an internship to those who have an information technology undergraduate degree.

The approach seems sound, offering IT training to those who already have critical-thinking skills and ensuring those who are IT trained are industry-ready.

 

The ICT grad school is a recent addition to the university – how have students and industry found it?

Dobbie: There has been a lot of support from many quarters of both universities to enable us to do things outside the usual structures.

In our first offering of the postgraduate certificate, we had students from a range of backgrounds, including one who had just completed his law degree, engineering students and a statistics student who had been in industry for a couple of years, and an arts student who had majored in languages. They have different backgrounds and different skill sets, so one of our challenges is making the material relevant to each of them. The students have reported that the feeling of cohort and working as a part of a team helps them in their learning and their sense of belonging in the programme.

Industry representatives on the Industry Advisory Board have been impressed with the topics that are being covered in the master’s. Industry likes the programme structure that Auckland ICT Graduate School offers to students. The differences between this programme and traditional programmes are the combination of technical-skill focus courses and complementary courses, the internship component and the extracurricular activities. These prepare students for industry, developing professionalism and business awareness.

The companies that we have spoken with were excited about our existence as the Auckland ICT Graduate School provides a platform for companies to find the ‘right-fit’ talented IT graduates. The companies that have taken interns have all reported that it has been a very positive experience for them, and the students rave about their experience with the companies.

 

How does the University of Auckland ensure that the skills are always relevant, given the rapid speed at which technology evolves?

Dobbie: The currency and relevance of skills is ensured through our close ties with industry and the most current research in IT.  Industry relevancy is ensured through our independent advisory group and a governance board, which are both chaired by industry representatives who meet regularly. Working as interns also exposes students to current industry practice. The academics and university staff who teach into the programme and present at workshops are experts in their own fields, attending either academic or professional networking events.

 

Have you found more strength and resources when partnering with the University of Waikato?

Dobbie: Through partnering we are able to combine our geographic and academic strengths. The school can draw from students and serve industry north of Taupo, instead of only north of the Bombays. This enables us to tap into students and industries with different characteristics and demographics. Each university has its own strengths. The partnership enables us to take advantage of those strengths.

 

With technology such as what we saw in Jeff Rodman’s masterclass, do you think that this could potentially work on a wider scale, especially when you’re now competing with so many courses that are online only and don’t have that class interaction?

Dobbie: We trialled video conferencing between Waikato and Auckland over the 2015–16 summer for some of the academic and industry presentations. It works well and can save travel time. Having said that, the postgraduate certificate is quite intense and students learn programming better in labs with face-to-face contact with the instructor, tutors and their peers.

 

It was mentioned that the students studying in the masterclass come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including one who was a police officer. Given the skills shortage, how enthusiastic do students seem to be when it comes to learning higher technologies?

Dobbie: The students are keen to learn. The postgraduate certificate can be taken part-time or full-time. Many of the full-time students have been working in industry and have chosen to come back to study. The part-time students are in full-time employment, so they are choosing to give up their spare time to learn about current technologies.

The master’s students cover technical and complementary courses. The technical courses introduce new technology, while the complementary courses cover topics such as innovation and management. The students are really interested in new technologies, and find the complementary courses completely different from courses they have taken in the past.  


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