Are our Universities teaching relevant web design skills?

Having recently interviewed a number of Graduates for a Web Development assistant position, my concerns over the formal teaching of web design in our Colleges and Universities have not exactly been alleviated.

While I’d fully expect to see some sort of “skills gap” between those candidates straight from university, and those with a little real-world experience, it is the size of that gap that continues to worry me.

I’d like to stress that all our recently graduated candidates were bright, intelligent and talented individuals, all with (or about to get) good degrees – they are not at fault – but I fear the institutions teaching them, and preparing them for a career in web design are letting them down.  

One or two actually hinted at being fully aware that what, and how they were taught was not “recent”, and that they knew they’d need to learn new skills immediately.  We had 1 guy interview who was entirely self taught, and said the only reason he did his university course was to get the bit of paper that  confirmed he could do it.  He then went on to say that he was actually worried that during the 3 years formal education he might actually “un-learn” all his good habits with the bad habits he was being shown.  By bad habits he was referring to things like table-based layouts, ignorance of semantic markup, and lack of standards or css.  All quite worrying stuff…

I recently did a lecture to the School of Computing and Creative Technologies within the University of Abertay, Dundee, to an audience of Computer Arts and Web Design Students.  At the time I was really encouraged by the enthusiasm and feedback from the lecture hall, which later spilled out into the café – the majority were genuinely interested, asked some great questions, and left me with a positive outlook on web design (and technology) education.  So clearly the passion is there, I just hope it’s backed up by the teaching of relevant skills. 

Personally – if I were a student considering my options for web design and development at University or College, I’d be damn keen to interview them – not the other way around.  Challenge their bold statements on their websites about “web standards” and “advanced web authoring” and get down to the detail about what you’re actually going to teach me.  Show me a <TABLE> and I’m gone.

Share this on social media...

5 Responses to “Are our Universities teaching relevant web design skills?”

  1. Fiona B

    Hi I stumbled across this blog and found your comments quite interesting.
    I recently did just what you are suggesting(more or less), interview them. After working in the public sector for years I had planned to go back to university and re train, but when it came down to looking at the individual institutions and where to apply to,it seemed to me that many of the courses were not as up to date as possible. After researching industry needs I actually opted for Open University as the course on offer with them was more industry specific. The course im doing is the certificate in web aplication development. Its good, relevant and fast paced and at times can be heavy going with work and other commitments. Despite this its well structured and students are encouraged to keep themselves up to date with recent developments. Heavy emphasis on correct markup, css and standards etc. (they did cover s, but only to advise(basically against them) 🙂 )
    I am hoping that the choice I have made with my course will stand me in good stead, but my main concern is that although the course may be more industry related it is a university certificate course, not a degree. My other concern has to be that although my knowledge and the teaching I have recieved might be more up to date than another student with a degree from a full time uni course, will I still be passed over on the grounds that their qualification is a degree and mine is not………………………….?
    Is it a timescale thing with a degree, with technology moving at such a fast pace? is three to four years too much lie time? and so it is harder to keep the course material in date?
    Perhaps shorter, more specific courses are more suited? Or perhaps if we go that way students will begin to lack in the fundamental basics of their skills that they are tought in the first year or two of their degree?
    I empathise with mr x above who said he went to uni just for the piece of paper to say he could do it, and i think many of us ( myself included) do look at it a bit like that, as there is a notion you need that piece of paper before you will be considered for a job. Is this the case though? or is it just what people are led to believe?

    Its a difficult one really……………………………………..

  2. admin

    Hi Fiona,
    Your story is one I’ve heard a few times recently, and the OU certainly do seem to have a good reputation for keeping it relevant. I personally think that while the “bit of paper” is important, it’s not the be-all and end-all. This industry is primarily skills based, and we certainly spend more time looking at a candidate’s skill-set (and potential “on-the-job learning of new skills etc) than we do looking at the qualifications. Of course the ideal candidate has both, but I certainly don’t think that you’d be passed over in favour of someone just because they’ve got the “degree”.

    Best of luck to you in your career.

  3. Matthew Bennetton

    I am hoping to start a University Degree in Web Design and Development in September, I have also had these concerns. I have found a course that looks excellent, on the Open Day the course lecturers spoke about keeping the course up-to-date with the latest web standards and technologies. They openly admitted that by the time we finish the degree, most of the stuff we have been taught, won’t be relevant. What they did say is that they will teach us the logic behind programming and the principles of design. This will enables us to adapt to the changes in the industry and teach ourselves new technologies as they come along.

    I don’t think there will ever be a perfect Web Design and Development course, this industry moves so fast that the best course in the world will not be 100% relevant in three years time.

    Life as a web designer is hard work, you never stop learning.

  4. web design st george utah

    This does not seem completely new at all. It always seems that people who are being taught any kind of technology in school do not keep up with the changing industry. Plus the industries are merging together more and more. You have to know about the changing search engines and marketing strategies to incorporate into the design of a website. If you don’t have good structure then you will have bad results marketing your site.