ERCIM News No.38 - July 1999

IT Training in a Changing Society

by Josef Kolar

The process of changes in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has removed barriers in their political, economical, and social life. In the Czech Republic, we experience the creation of a new environment in which both industrial companies and educational institutions are subject to conditions of an open market. This article presents some hypotheses concerning recent trends in student population at one of the faculties of the Czech Technical University in Prague.

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering was the first offering a comprehensive university education in IT in the former Czechoslovakia. The study program has always been a balanced mixture of software- and hardware-oriented courses, so that the graduates were attractive to a relatively wide sector of the job market.

After the removal of the communist regime, the computer market opened to a massive import of technologies whose supply was strictly controlled before. Free import eliminated the need of technologically obsolete IT systems produced in the former COMECOM countries. and caused a peak demand for IT personnel capable of a quick adoption to new technologies. Western companies started to build their local offices hiring mostly Czech personnel since they were cheaper and knew the local environment. Graduates from the Department of CS&E were some of the most successful in getting such jobs and in many cases they gradually reached the top positions in the Czech branches of many important companies (as eg IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.). Apart from this, the continuous development in IT and telecommunications has been attracting young people to enroll for computer studies at the department.
The figure shows how three indicators we consider interesting have been evolving in the last decade. They represent the overall student population of the faculty, the number of students of CS&E, and the number of women in the student population. The indicator values have been normalized in order to compare their trends (the actual starting values are 4037, 362, and 293, resp.). We see that after an initial stagnation, the population grows yet not that quickly as the numbers of CS&E students. The difference could have been even more remarkable if all students applying for the CS&E study program had been accepted, which is not possible due to limited space and personnel capacity of the department. While quite satisfactory for us, this situation reflects a serious drain-off effect to other study programs and departments both in student numbers and quality.

The critically decreasing number of women is something the university is not pleased with even though there is probably no chance for a technical university to achieve a close-to-balanced population with respect to sex. The decrease in women population is even more alarming if percentage is considered. The student population had 7.3% women in 1988, but only 1.6% in 1997. We tried to formulate possible hypothesis as to the reasons for this situation.

Girls do not like computers - The way children get the first exposure to IT is favoring boys. It is not only that most computer games are competition-oriented (fighting, war-games) but the technical aspects of the issue attract more boys than girls. More publicity is needed to stress the fact that there is enough space in IT applications for creativity, cooperation, and social communication, both in usage and in design (as eg in WWW pages or human-computer interface), in which the female factor can be fully appreciated.

Girls do not like electrical engineering (EE) - Even accepting that technical disciplines (and specifically EE) are perhaps more male-attractive, how to explain the latest trend that has led from a modest 7.3% to an almost complete female extinction from the student body? Our hypothesis is that nowadays, there is a richer offering in the educational market so that most girls actually select study programs what they like more.

Another fact derived from indicators that are not depicted in the diagram is that the average time needed to graduate (if ever) has grown remarkably. Our hypothesis, whose verification would need more data, is that the reason is not the difficulty of the program but mostly the deliberate decision of the students. Since they do not pay any fees and have important advantages, they often stay îstudyingî while actually working for some company. The university thus offers a shelter for a smooth start into their professional life.


There are many traditions and myths in university life that, surprisingly, quickly disappear when the society experiences a deep social transition. Although some of the changes are positive and some others are inevitable, we still have a chance to influence them provided that we find the real reasons.

Please contact:

Josef Kolar - CRCIM
Tel: +420 2 2435 7403

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