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Scottish Take Computer Games to a New Degree
by Giles Turnbull
A SCOTTISH university has opened a course in computer games design,
demonstrating the thriving status of the computer software industry
in this part of the United Kingdom. At the University of Abertay
Dundee, in Dundee, eastern Scotland, the first higher education
course dedicated purely to creating computer games was started
recently and has attracted worldwide attention.
Further afield, Scotland's software creators are attracting millions
of pounds sterling worth of investment that predicts a bright future
for some of the graduates of Abertay's school for computer game
The university offers a Master of Science degree (MSc) in software
engineering (games and virtual environments) and a Bachelor of
Science degree (BSc, honours) in computer games technology and
virtual environments has been available from the start of the year.
Already 40 students have signed up for the MSc course, from Malaysia,
China, South Korea and Pakistan.
Exports of software from Scotland are booming, according to the
university's principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Bernard King.
The information technology (IT) industry is playing a crucial role in
the Scottish economy.
"There are now more than 500 software companies in Scotland of which
nine out of 10 are Scottish-owned," said Professor King. "Their combined
turnover last year was 410 million pounds sterling and that is
expected to increase to more than 500 million pounds sterling in the
current year, from a turnover of 170 million pounds sterling in 1989.
"In 1989 the value of Scottish software exports from these companies
was 35 million pounds sterling; in 1996 it was 133 million pounds
sterling and it could grow to nearly 190 million pounds sterling in
The potential is huge, as the European software market is estimated
to be worth 45 billion pounds sterling annually, four times the value
of the electronics hardware market. The continued growth of this
vital sector is highly dependent on an effective supply of high-level
It is these skills that the university seeks to foster with courses
such as the new games design and creation options run by tutor John
Sutherland. But Scotland is subject to skills crisis in information
technology, warned Tom McCallum, director general of the Scottish
Courses such as the one at Abertay were vital for bringing in new
blood, he said. "According to a survey in March last, there were 30,000
unfilled IT vacancies in the UK, so that makes about 3,500 of them in
"We tend to have a higher proportion of IT jobs than in the UK because
of the amount of oil business and finance business here. The software
industry in Scotland was growing by 14 per cent between 1995 and
1996, according to figures from the Scottish Office."
In the 1980s, universities had offered courses combining IT with
other subjects, such as marketing or accounting, but these were being
replaced now by pure computer science courses, to the benefit of the
industry, he explained.
"There is a thriving games alliance in the area around Dundee that is
doing extraordinarily well. They are exporting to companies in
America and Japan, which are the world leaders,'" said Mr McCallum.
"There are also lots of network management firms around Edinburgh and
call centre technology is also very strong here."
The games design course was developed with help from one of the
Dundee-based games design companies, DMA Design, which has been
extremely successful on a worldwide scale with titles such as
Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto.
Course leader John Sutherland said: "Interaction with computer systems
has opened up new avenues for exploration and commercialisation such
as in medicine, through visualisation and simulation, training,
education and the leisure industry. Students will have an exciting
opportunity to become involved in the most rapidly advancing field in
David Jones, director of DMA Design, said the course provided a "golden
opportunity". He added: "I foresee a massive demand for these courses,
from both students and industry. This demand must surely be a measure
of success. This is very much a first for the UK and probably very
rare throughout the world. It will help to strengthen the companies
that have taken root locally and for those graduates that come from
further afield, or who find opportunities further afield."
The Scottish expertise in software development has spawned a thriving
community that encourages interaction and communication between and
within companies. The Scottish Software Federation is evidence of
this, offering companies an independent voice to the Government and
wider industry circles.
There is a lot of activity on the Internet too. HotEcho is an Internet-based newsletter for the
industry, offering news, features and the chance for members to
interact with e-mail, newsgroups and chatrooms.
University of Abertay Dundee
Bell Street, Dundee,United Kingdom, DD1 1HG
Telephone: +44 1382 308000
Fax: +44 1382
Tom McCallum, director-general
Scottish Software Federation
Livingstone Software Innovation Centre
1 Michaelson Square, Kirkton
Campus, Livingstone, United Kingdom, EH54 7DP
Telephone: +44 1506
Fax: +44 1506 472209
Discovery House, Dundee Technology Park, Dundee
Kingdom, DD2 1SW
Telephone: +44 1382 561333
Fax: +44 1382 562333