Roadmap drawn for 'new golden age' of games education

Roadmap drawn for 'new golden age' of games education

By Rob Crossley

February 1st 2011 at 12:01AM

EDUCATION WEEK: Livingstone-Hope review recommends computer science be brought into the national curriculum

Critical changes must be made throughout Britain’s academic infrastructure if the UK wants a new ‘golden age’ generation of game developers, a major new study has concluded.

The Livingstone-Hope Review, released today at the behest of the Culture Department, has issued 20 recommendations to transform game academia not just at universities, but “across the entire talent pipeline”.

It says that the UK could generate an extra £1 billion in sales by 2014 if it overcomes the existing barriers in academia and keeps up with global competitors.

Develop Online, which has been given full access to the 88-page report in advance, will raise key findings every day throughout its Education Week special. To begin, an outline of the report’s 20 major recommendations can be found here.

The review urges Schools, Colleges and Universities to each do their bit to revive the UK from the so-called ‘brain-drain’ – a common term for lack of graduates properly prepared for work in the industry.

Evidence of that brain-drain was made clear via one of the review’s most alarming statistics: only 12 per cent of games course students land an industry job in six months after graduating.

In the UK’s 2008/09 academic year, 1578 students completed a games development-related university course from over 140 on offer. Half a year later and only 189 of those pupils found employment at a games studio – leaving 1389 still in search of that dream job.

Alex Hope, co-author of the review, said that “far too many UK universities draw in students with a prospectus that doesn’t reflect the needs of the industry”. It is a statement routinely echoed by those in the games industry. The argument is that students need experience building games for themselves, and have a better knowledge of science and maths and, in particular, computer science.

But the games industry itself needs to collaborate too if it wants the best-equipped graduates sending their CVs in. Develop Online will cover this very issue later in the week.

“The UK has gone backwards at a time when the requirement for computer science as a core skill is more essential than ever before,” said co-author Ian Livingstone.

The paper’s revelations come as the UK continues to lose ground on the global stage, with the astounding growth of the Canadian games market trailblazing ahead. In 2008, the number of computer science graduates in Quebec alone stood at 2,852.

Change at an early age

Of the twenty initiatives that the independent review makes, the headline proposal is to introduce Computer Science within the National Curriculum – a measure that aims to restore the very foundations of games academia.

Not only does the report recommend students gain an understanding in computer science from an early age, it also strongly implies that these lessons should replace ICT courses.

ICT, “with its focus on every day applications such as word processing, does not teach the valuable computer programming knowledge that is vital to high-tech industries such as video games and visual effects”, the report explained.

The re-introduction of computer science in schools, via the national curriculum, was said to be the solution to widespread unawareness on games development opportunities in schools.

In a survey of 403 teachers, less than 5 per cent of physics teachers thought that physics was one of the most important subjects to study for a career in video game development or visual effects.

Meanwhile, only 21 per cent of art, ICT, maths and science teachers interviewed know that top-selling video games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and ‘SingStar’ were developed in the UK.

“Despite young people being passionate about video games, they are unaware that games such as Grand Theft Auto and SingStar were developed in the UK and unaware of the career opportunities in the UK,” Livingstone added.

“We need to transform young people’s passion to play video games into a desire to make them, whilst equipping them with the right skills for the industry. In the brave new online world, a second 'golden age' for the UK games industry beckons. It's an opportunity which shouldn't be missed”.

Another of the report’s recommendations was to utilise the appeal of video games to draw greater numbers of young people into STEM subjects and computer science.

About the review

The Livingstone-Hope review has been produced with NESTA and Skillset and undertook seven separate strands of research for its completion, which included: a survey of 564 young people, a survey of 918 parents, a survey of 403 teachers, interviews with 19 course assessors at the UK universities producing the best specialist graduates for the sector, a survey of 224 UK video games companies, and an online survey that was completed by 910 people currently working or seeking to work in the UK video games industry.