University-Industry Smart Synergy Model to Enhance Employment of IT Graduates

by Syahrul Nizam Junaini

Since year 2000, much has been heard about unemployment among Information Technology (IT) graduates. Ironically, the United States governmental sources reported that five of the top fifteen growing occupational categories for 2004-20014 were IT-related.

Moreover, the figure was projected to expand more than 38% annually (Borges-Mendez and Boisvert, 2006). What caused a mismatch between IT study program and the industry needs? What has caused this problem to surface?

Various reasons have been contributed to this dilemma. Among them was after leaving a university, many graduates had insufficient grasp of fundamental computing theory (Fernandez et al., 2006). They were also deficient in practical experience in utilizing current computer tools and languages.

As higher learning institutes began to add IT-related courses, they often did very little to link the program content to their potential industry counterpart. Consequently, the graduates were not adequately equipped with vital IT knowledge. The skills they possessed did not suit the industry needs. Such unpleasant realities emphasized the needs for well-expressed and smart connectivity between academia and the industry.

This article highlights strategies to abolish the misalignment between university and industry, thus eliminating needless dissatisfaction. This article proposes an innovative model of university-industry partnership called university-industry smart synergy model. The main idea is to blend the academic rigidity with industrial relevance. Bear in mind that in this joint venture the issue of academic quality assurance is central.

The summary of the model is illustrated in Figure 1. The university will provide professional education and industry-based research. The industry will benefit by having customized study program and competent prospective workforce. Market demand specification and financial funding are provided by the industry. They will help to enhance and develop the curriculum by certifying the study programme. The loop of the two arrows depicts continues processes.

Figure 1: University-Industry Smart Synergy Model

First, I would like to draw your attention towards the above-mentioned partnership trends in the United States. In this country, mutual association between IT educational institutes and the industry has been remarkable.

For instance, the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering has a great bond with Boeing as their industrial partner (Harkins, 2006). Besides that, Accenture Ltd has become the official corporate sponsor that pumped up to USD $3 million to the School of Information Sciences and Technology, The Pennsylvania State University (Cameron et al., 2005).

For many years, Computer Science and IT education has been facing a mounting challenge in determining the level of relevancy of its content not to mention the increasingly complex languages and software.

Recent trend stressed out the value of fluency with up-to-date programming tools in the job market. If the current industry trend uses VB.NET or C# as the main programming language, then teach it to our undergraduates. If the open source applications are the contemporary trends, then expose them in our lecture theaters.

The effort to align the university and industry is very important so that our students can match their programming competency with what the industry expects. This attempt is to align classroom teachings with the trends and current market needs of the industry. As a Computer Science and IT lecturer, ask yourself this question: “Do you want to teach industry- required subject, and if so, are you choosing the exact programming languages or software?”

I can clearly see that with lucid understanding of the industry needs, the faculty can create industry-driven course. With a pool of subject matter experts of professors and lecturers, the university can provide professional education. They could also assist to conduct industry-related research.

The main obstacle faced by our graduate is for them to graduate first as it takes three years or so to complete the degree. By the time the degree is earned, substantial changes have already taken place in the industry. The programming languages that they practiced in the first year might already have been obsolete. The software version might have been upgraded significantly. As a result, students would suffer the consequence due to the changes which was not reflected in the curriculum of the earned degree.

As Malaysia is rapidly growing in science and technology, unprecedented demand for better graduates has been created. The industry has often criticized that existing university curricula fell short to tackle the practical issues in computer-related industry. The industry expects that educational institutions to train their future employees with the latest technology.

However, the nature of educational system of universities is different – we are not a skills training center. I think what we really need to do at the moment is to have the requirements of the industry assessed and analyzed. We may start with reviewing national employment rates and predictions of IT workforce. Then compare it with what we are currently offering our students.

As an academic, we have to admit that we cannot describe to our student the current and state-of-the-art practice in the industry. In this case, the industry representatives could be invited to the lecture hall to expose our students on the challenges of IT industry. Firm support from industry professionals and practitioners could help the students to better understand the current challenges of the industry (Harkins, 2006). Once in a while, the classes could also be held on-site with cooperating industry partner.

Industry-based certification is an important credential that is primarily valued by the employer (Hitchcock, 2007). At the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology (FCSIT) in UNIMAS, the first cohort of student has undergone a professional certification program (3P -Program Pentauliahan Profesional) during the 2006/2007 session. Prestariang System Sdn Bhd conducted the program.

Among the courses offered were Certified Application Developer (MCAD), and Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) from Microsoft as well as Certified Network Associate (CCNA) from Cisco. The outcome of this program was impressive. The Managing Director of Microsoft Malaysia reported that the students who obtained Microsoft certification achieved a higher passing rate than the world average.

Another program that has been conducted in FCSIT was CampusConnect Programme, an initiative of Infosys Ltd. The author served as one of the faculty-level committee of this program. This year five FCSIT fresh graduates were sent to Mysore, India to attend a 4-month foundation program with this Indian IT giant. They were selected among the top 100 out of 313 candidates nationwide.

In return, the industry could also benefit from this smart symbiosis. They will have more competent workforce that will graduate from this customized program as this type of program is tailored based on the industry needs. To achieve this goal the university has to ensure that the most up-to-date technology that is being used in the industry should be accessible to both the students and faculty members.

I propose that each faculty in UNIMAS set up an Academe-Industry Committee. This special task force will have the responsibility to disseminate descriptive guidelines required by the industry before setting up new programs and courses. The industry will have the task to empower the academic-industry education and research community. Professional practitioners from the industry will have the responsibility to provide honest feedback to the university. This action is to ensure that the academic quality concerns are addressed.

In terms of academic research, this scholarly activity could prove useful and relevant to both academe and industry. The university will gain unique access to authentic data and environment, which normally are confidential. Thus will provide rich addition to computer science’s body of knowledge. On the other hand, the industry will hold exclusive rights for the research outcomes for commercialisation activity.

The industry should understand the challenge in supporting the university to meet the rising challenges of advancing technology in computing. One of the constraints is that the university’s computer labs are not as sophisticated and at par with the industry’s. Hence, the industry can provide funding by setting up their labs at the university.

Through this smart affiliation, the university will gain significant professional practice and monetary resources. The university could provide effective and professional-level services of the professors and researchers (Pimentel et al., 2006). In addition, as the university offers internship for its counterpart, the industry could offer the university fellowship program. In this way, academia could gain precious hands-on experience from the industry.

The industry could have a wish list of features of the program that they desire and present it to the university. However, this does not mean that academic programs should compromise its integrity just for the sake of money. The university should take precautious action not to tailor their curriculum simply just to meet the narrowly focused needs of a few corporations.

Another way to crack this obstacle is besides longer industrial placement, the industry needs to help by providing real case studies and sample problems for students. The authentic industry projects and teamwork will have a positive impact on students learning. They will learn managerial skills.

The students could be asked to develop projects under apprenticeship-based supervision of professional instructors of the industry. Industry-related assignments and projects could help to keep the university program become more responsive to the industry requirements.

In a nutshell, to have the relevant and industry-responsive Computer Science and IT curricula, smart partnership with the industry is indispensable. Indeed we have to acknowledge that the nature of computing curricula is dynamic and ever-changing. Hence, sturdy teamwork between university and industry is important to manoeuvre this high-impact reciprocal contract. The road to perfect the marriage between university and industry is still a long one.


Borges-Mendez, R., & Boisvert, D. 2006. Growth in IT andorganizational experience in BATEC. In Proceedings of the 7th Conference on information Technology Education (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, October 19 - 21, 2006). SIGITE ‘06. ACM, New York, NY, 89-94.

Cameron, B. H., Knight, S. C., & Semmer, J. F. 2005. The IT consulting model: innovative methods for industry partnerships. In Proceedings of the 6th Conference on information Technology Education (Newark, NJ, USA, October 20 - 22, 2005). SIGITE ‘05. ACM, New York, NY, 205-210.

Fernandez, J. D., Garcia, M., Camacho, D., & Evans, A. 2006. Software engineering industry experience: the key to success. J. Comput. Small Coll. 21, 4 (Apr. 2006), 230-236.

Harkins, R. J. 2006. A practitioners guide to organizing andoffering a small conference for CS/IT faculty, students and industry professionals. J. Comput. Small Coll. 22, 1 (Oct.2006), 54-64.

Hitchcock, L. 2007. Industry certification & academic degrees: complementary, or poles apart?. In Proceedings of the 2007 ACM SIGMIS CPR Conference on 2007 Computer Personnel Doctoral Consortium and Research Conference: the Global information Technology Workforce (St. Louis, Missouri, USA, April 19 - 21, 2007). SIGMIS-CPR ‘07. ACM, New York, NY, 95-100.

Pimentel, B., Paula Filho, W. P., Pádua, C., & Machado,F. T. 2006. Synergia: a software engineering laboratory to bridge the gap between university and industry. In Proceedings of the 2006 international Workshop on Summit on Software Engineering Education (Shanghai, China, May20 - 20, 2006). SSEE ‘06. ACM, New York, NY, 21-24.

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