With RIM also reviewing its IT diploma course, and the RTC having suspended its degree programme last year, the government is concerned 

ICT: With Sherubtse college having decreased its BSc Computer Science slots from 60 to 30, the government is concerned that the country may not be able to keep up with demand for IT graduates.

The Department of Information Technology’s (DITT) concerns stem from other developments such as the Royal Thimphu College (RTC) suspending its Bachelor of Computer Applications last year, and the Royal Institute of Management (RIM) currently reviewing its IT diploma course.

The College of Science and Technology has not changed the number of slots for its IT course.

While the RIM is reviewing all its diploma courses on the instructions of the civil service commission and RTC is reintroducing an updated IT degree programme this year, DITT is worried that the institutions and public may be under the wrong impression that IT graduates are not being employed.

“The public, citizens and institutions have developed the perception that the second highest unemployment in the country is IT people (diploma and graduates),” said DITT economist, Chencho. “The students, do not want to pursue IT courses which in turn causes a rethink on the introduction of IT courses by RUB (Royal University of Bhutan),” he added. Sherubtse is an RUB college.

Sherubtse’s head for mathematics and IT, professor R Balamurugan, explained that intake has been reduced because there are no takers. He said that the employment market is saturated with government posts for IT officers filled and no openings in the private sector.

The professor pointed out that during the last admissions, 500 students had been contacted to gauge if they’d be interested in pursuing an IT degree. Only 30 decided to go for an IT degree and in the end, only 28 showed up for the course.

Despite the hard work put in to acquire an IT degree, students feel that they are not being employed, explained R Balamurugan, and therefore, opting for easier streams.

He added that if there are candidates, the programme can be increased to 60 slots again.

Similarly, the RTC associate dean, (Dr) Samir S Patel said that decreased interest or applications had caused the unavailability of the IT degree course.

With the government looking to attract international IT companies to Bhutan, having a steady supply of IT graduates is being seen as a prerequisite.

“The actual reality in the market is that the demand is more than supply,” said DITT’s Chencho.

He pointed out that a Bangladeshi software developing firm at the IT park, Southtech, recently opened up vacancies for 50 IT graduates but was able to recruit only 25. The company did receive over 100 applicants but found only 25 to possess the qualities they required.

Chencho said that other IT firms face the same problem and that by looking at the situation from such an angle, supply is not meeting demand.

The department could not provide a statistical picture of the demand for and supply of IT graduates in the market but a labour ministry survey of unemployed youth in 2014 shows that the largest group of unemployed, as much as 20 percent, were those with an IT training.

The situation raises a number of questions such as whether IT graduates are being produced at a skill level that is satisfactory for potential employers, or whether the IT industry is large enough or growing at a pace to absorb all of them.

RTC’s Samir S Patel, claimed that the IT degree programme offered by RTC is “sound, with past graduates showing good employability.”

RIM ICT department head, Karma Nidup, said that their diploma graduates are absorbed “fairly well” by the market but he also pointed out that their entry level is lower than that of IT degree graduates. While he said that there has been a significant drop in recruitment into the civil service, he added it is because of a saturation of vacant positions at their level.

Samir Patel said the reduced interest may be caused by a perception that the job market is saturated with IT graduates. But he pointed out that the market is also saturated by graduates from other fields. “In fact, the IT sector seems to be seeing a bit of a resurgence recently,” he said.

He added that RTC will be marketing its updated IT degree programme as a viable future career.

Local IT firm, iTechnologies’ Hari Kafley, said that the government is the largest employer of IT graduates today but that it still takes in less than five percent annually by his estimates. “Bhutanese private sector is a nascent one, lacks access to finance for investment and innovation and is highly dependent on government to sustain,” he added. “However, FDI in IT is picking up providing career options to IT graduates,” he also said, but pointing out that entrepreneurship maybe the best option for IT graduates.

Technical lead, Arpan Lepcha, for Selise, a Swiss software developing company at the IT park, said that if the institutions decide to downsize their IT courses it could be a move in the wrong direction. “The question that our institutions need to ask is, are we producing graduates that are employable.”

Gyalsten K Dorji