The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn ... and change — Carl Rogers The above quote from the American psychologist is a very relevant one for IT — and probably many other industries — because of the pace of change. What you learn today may be irrelevant tomorrow, so the ability to learn how to learn is essential. So does it matter at which type of institution you learn how to learn? It can be tough deciding which type of institution to head to — particularly with universities and polytechnics offering a wide array of qualifications nowadays. Recently in this column, Auckland recruiter Linda Peters bemoaned the demise of the old New Zealand Certificate in Data Processing, which she believed was a great qualification for people wanting to get into IT. She thought the replacement polytechnic qualifications weren’t as practical — or as useful to industry. However, Unitec’s head of information systems and computing, Alison Young, disagrees. Young is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications, an organisation she chaired for 10 years. She believes the three-year national diploma programme which replaced the NZCDP still retains the philosophy of applied computing and has very practical industry-based content. Young says the second year is as practical as NZCDP was and it’s much better for the industry. "Students have more ability to choose particular pathways, such as networking. The NZCDP had none of that — it was all compulsory. There’s much more flexibility for the students and for industry." Industry involvement is crucial, says Young. A third of the final year’s work is a major project in industry. And every polytechnic has to have a local advisory committee of industry people to make sure they’re teaching at the right levels and offering the right subjects. The National Advisory Committee also oversees these qualifications, keeps them up to date and supports the polytechnics in their delivery of them. Polytechnics have moved toward degree programmes, says Young but they are also applied, practical qualifications with industry-based work. "We balance the theory and the practical … and all the polytech degree programmes in computing are like that." She says the polytechnic degrees aren’t designed to compete with universities. "We are just addressing a different sector of the market — people who want applied computing and industry that wants work-ready graduates. Both degrees from universities and from polytechnics have a place in the market. "Both are respected by industry. Sometimes we say to people coming in for counselling that ‘you would be better off at a university’, because … we feel that that would be better for them." Unitec has just written a Masters of Computing. It has a particular focus in multimedia and the Internet but, again, it has an applied focus and with industry input. After my last column ran on this topic, one respondent quoted Mark Twain saying something to the effect of: "I never let my schooling get in the way of my education". He says that this idea is relevant to the IT industry because there needs to be a distinction between education and training. "If you want education go to university and get a degree. If you want training go to a private training company or tech and do shorter intensive courses." He says that a couple of years ago when he wanted to get into the IT industry, he started doing a Bachelor of Information Systems at polytechnic. However, he says it was inefficient and irrelevant and he didn’t have the patience for a long degree. "I quit and went to a private training institute for a one-year course in programming." This year he got a job as a junior analyst/ programmer with a salary of $45,000 — without a degree or any commercial programming experience. Mills is Computerworld’s careers editor and can be contacted at email@example.com or ph: 03-467-2869 or fax: 0-3-467 2875.
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