European IT literacy levels high, too few IT graduates

Eurostat, the statistical office of the EUROPEAN union has published some intriguing data on how IT literate Europeans are.

In the 27 members of the European Union 3.4% of university graduates obtained a degree in IT in 2009. Compared to 2005 this percentage even went down 0.6%. When you just look at the number of people coming out of the universities it shows how much Europe seems to be lagging behind the emerging powers of China & India. Each year they churn out tens of thousands of graduates in just IT alone. (Although it is claimed that 85% of them are actually unemployable in high growth industries.)

There are big differences between the various EU states when it comes to growth or decline though. Malta saw the biggest increase in graduates with a jump from 1.9% in 2005 to 5.6% in 2009 and Hungary increased the percentage of graduates from 2.0% to 3.4%. The largest decreases were in Portugal (from 5.1% down to 1.7%) and the United Kingdom (from 5.9% to 4.0%). Malta and Austria had the biggest percentage of graduates (both 5.6% of all graduates) in 2009, followed by Spain (5.1%), Cyprus (4.7%) and Estonia (4.4%).

When you look at how the use of personal computers has increased, you can see that there still is an age gap, although this is narrowing. In the age group of 16 – 24 year olds an average of 96% have used a computer at some point. Below average PC use can be found in Bulgaria (87%), France (93%), Italy (90%) and Romania (81%). Several countries show a 100% penetration.

When you look at the whole population, the percentages drop dramatically. The highest percentage of people aged 16-74 who have used a computer were living in Sweden (96%), Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (all 94%), and the lowest percentages were in Romania (50%), Bulgaria (55%) and Greece (59%). These low percentages are most likely a result of the agricultural nature and economical under development of the last three nations.

In 2011, almost 66% of people aged 16-74 in the European Union indicated that they had moved or copied files or folders on a computer, compared with 89% for those aged 16-24. Of those aged 16-74, 43% stated they had used basic arithmetic formulas in a spreadsheet6, while this share was 67% among the younger age group. Three out of ten individuals aged 16-74 had created an electronic presentation, compared with six out of ten individuals aged 16-24. The percentage of people who claimed to have written a computer program was 10% amongst those aged 16-74 and 20% amongst the younger age group.

The age gap is to be expected given that computers have not been that integrated in people’s lives for that long, but the worrying fact is the low percentage of IT graduates. If Europe wants to compete with Silicon Valley or the IT industries in India or China, governments will need to ramp up their educational systems and churn out even more IT graduates.

The only other alternative is to import large numbers of highly qualified IT graduates from China and India, something the USA has done for years, but this won’t be popular with the large numbers of unemployed Europeans.

Given that it will take at least 10 years to see a big impact, the time to act is now!

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