Remove tuition fees cap, says UK games biz

In a bid to plug the skills deficiency in the UK gaming business, the UK games industry’s trade association, TIGA, has publicly called on the government to increase funding on higher education and abolish the cap on tuition fees.

The proposed measures are designed to address a chronic shortage of skilled workers across all areas of game development in the UK. Speaking about the particular skills that we’re lacking, Eva Field from TIGA told THINQ, “It’s across the board really. The main skills in game development are obviously programming, design, development, sound and art, and it’s really across all of the five disciplines there are shortages, particularly at senior levels.”

To alleviate the skills shortage, TIGA proposes that the government increases the proportion of GDP invested in higher education, particularly in mathematics and computer science courses. With a small dose of caution, the organisation says that it wants the government to keep the level of spending on tertiary education at 2009 levels at the moment, but then increase it as the government’s “deficit is brought under control.”

TIGA also proposes that the government scraps the current cap on tuition on fees, while also offering tuition fees for mathematics and computer science courses at a “competitive rate” compared to fees for other courses. With more investment from the government and reduced tuition fees, it’s hoped that universities will have access to more resources, while mathematics and computer science courses will become more tempting to students.

TIGA’s CEO Richard Wilson referred to the student financing figures from other countries to demonstrate the current underfunding of our universities. “Funding per student has halved in the UK over the past 20 years,” he says. “Funding in the UK ($11,866) is around half the US level of investment ($24,704) and substantially lower than Canada ($19,992) and Sweden ($16,073).”

It’s no surprise that this makes it tougher for UK game developers to compete internationally. “The UK video games industry competes to a crucial extent on the quality of its workforce,” says Wilson. “If tertiary education is not adequately financed then the supply and quality of graduates will be adversely affected.”

Jamie MacDonald, who oversaw the development of Sony’s SingStar games, as well as the EyeToy, is in full agreement. “Reducing tuition fees for mathematics and computer science degree courses and keeping them lower in comparison to other undergraduate subjects would provide a strong financial incentive to bright students to study these subjects,” he says. “Other things being equal this should increase the supply of good quality graduates in these disciplines, potentially easing skill shortages in the video games sector and in other industries.”

This isn’t the first time that TIGA (pictured) have tried to get financial assistance from the government to help make the UK games industry more competitive. In November 2009, the group wrote an open letter to Alistair Darling calling for a Games Tax Relief system.