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An accessible route to new technologies via computer science

New technologies develop at a rapid pace. The field of computer science is available to new learners and established career professionals via our new programme. Programme Director, Dr Martyn Harris, introduces the new MSc Computer Science programme that has been developed with Birkbeck University of London, highlighting the flexible learning and career prospects it offers.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

Working flexibily in the office
"The online material was specifically written and curated for the programme, alongside with tutor support."

The programme is not only designed for graduates new to computer science to embark on a career in IT or software engineering, it is also relevant to professionals wishing to update their skills.

The programme is available to anyone. "There is no requirement for a background in computing, which means this field will become more diverse with a range of skilled individuals contributing to the development of new technologies," says Dr Harris.

"The landscape has changed in how we deliver learning and teaching. With newer ways of learning, the online structure of the MSc Computer Science offers the flexibility to study wherever learners are right now, not something offered by traditional face-to-face delivery models.

"Thanks to technology and the willingness to adapt we now see more higher education providers offering alternative delivery learning models. There is blended learning via online and face-to-face, including all the way to fully online."

The programme starts completely from scratch, taking you through the very basic concepts and gradually builds on those as you progress through the programme.

"With many individual aspects in our lives to balance; it makes sense that technology has advanced to help us to create that balance. Moving online creates flexibility as to when and where we learn, making a big difference to fit learning around a family, career, caring responsibilities, or all three."

The master's programme offers practical skills in coding and using infrastructure, an example is cloud computing. Other focus is around and fundamental theoretical knowledge on computer systems and technology, data management, network communication, and information security.

Highlighting the delivery of the programme Dr Harris explained, "The online material was specifically written and curated for the programme, alongside with tutor support. Students will also have frequent opportunities to evaluate their progress."

For working professionals looking for a stepping-stone to develop their careers, there is growth for new varied roles within the sector.

"It has been challenging for the education sector to keep pace with industry in terms of the skills required. Our daily use of technology highlights how quickly things change. This is true of job roles, where we see new careers emerging, for example in renewable energy and automation. The programme addresses the core knowledge across the discipline to enable people to adapt and be flexible to this change."

The programme modules also explore relevant issues such as data privacy. Managing breaches and security issues presents evermore challenges as we move nearly all of our work and personal life online.

"Both the data management and information security modules provide the necessary skills to tackle some of the challenges we face. Avoiding security breaches is vital for organisations storing and handling confidential data, particularly as there are huge penalties for non-compliance.

"The two modules also provide the technical and the management side of data and security information systems, going beyond the technical methods such as cryptography, which are not enough to guarantee a high level of security nowadays."

It has been challenging for the education sector to keep pace with industry in terms of the skills required. Our daily use of technology highlights how quickly things change.

"Very often we attend training courses as part of our role at work, and then slowly that knowledge is lost as the opportunities are not there to integrate it into our roles immediately as it can be difficult to see ways in which to apply it," says Dr Harris.

"The project module on the MSc programme can enable students to fully integrate their learning into their role at work straight away whilst the knowledge is very much present. Ensuring that both the learner and the employer can benefit from the knowledge and skills acquired."

When choosing a topic for the project, Martyn explained, it depends on your career path. "If you plan to develop your career in your existing organisation, focus on what you do now. For example, 'how I can automate a repetitive task I do frequently?', or 'can I analyse the data I have in a progressive way to bring about new insights or strategic benefits to the organisation?’"

'If you plan to switch careers, a project focusing on an area or industry close to the one you wish to move to can provide a portfolio of work to show prospective employers.’

"If a start-up appeals, then why not make the project your core idea, the feedback will be useful before you progress to the next level. If neither apply, then choose an idea you are passionate about. It will help you stay motivated and achieve your end goal."

There is an increasing rate of participation from female students in the field of computer science over the past few years. Dr Harris commented on how women can be encouraged to join the field: "Typically, most computer science courses see around 19% participation from women. I often hear the term “geek” associated with computer science students, which is very off putting. Computer science is no different from any other discipline.

"A key point has been to change the language around the subject. The attention is not just on the technology, but how the technology is used for the benefit of society."

Due to our long history, we recognise that modern computing and information system skills often become obsolete as new technology develops in response to industries. Our strong tradition of focusing not only on developing practical skills, which are important in the marketplace now, but also emphasis on theory.

What makes Birkbeck's Computing Department highly regarded? "We have a strong background in research-led computing since the department was first established in 1957. Then we were the first UK University to have an official computer science department," said Dr Harris.

"Due to our long history, we recognise that modern computing and information system skills often become obsolete as new technology develops in response to industries. Our strong tradition of focusing not only on developing practical skills, which are important in the marketplace now, but also emphasis on theory.

"We find this equips our learners with a solid basis to develop new skills, techniques and technologies, and even new theories as technology evolves. Computer science is at the core of our modern society, it touches so many aspects of how we communicate and work. It has always been a good time to study this field!"

Finds out more about the MSc Computer Science programme.

Studying and working from home
"The attention is not just on the technology, but how the technology is used for the benefit of society."