Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Comparing Global Statistics

This week I've been trying to compile some data on global levels on computer science enrollment. I think it would be really interesting to be able to access an all-in-one resource that would give data on computer science students all around the world so that I had a better picture of what exactly was happening internationally. However like most things the reality of the data is a lot more complex than it is in my head. I've run into more than a few little caveats that make my question just how valuable any numbers I find will be.

Finding data in the US generally isn't a problem. The NSF keeps statistics regularly for most disciplines and for computer science we have the luxury of the Talbee reports which have demographic information for undergraduate and graduate students that give a very nice picture of how Ph.D. granting America universities are doing enrollment wise.

However, looking internationally the picture gets a lot more confusing. It is difficult to find the equivalent of the NSF or other large reporting organization body that will handle statistics like this if they have one at all. Reports are littered with all kinds of figures that are often outdated or not sourced at all. It's hard to find where exactly these numbers come from if they arise at all.

Vashti Galpin has been sort of my inspiration for a lot of this as her 2002 paper Women in Computing Around the World gave one of the clearest pictures I've seen of the international enrollment levels. However, 2002 was 8 years ago and I imagine some of these numbers have changed so I was hoping to get updated data. It's only once I've begun digging that I've realized how important the many footnotes her paper included on the statistics are.

Most specifically, I've been wondering about the large section of her paper that details the many different computing disciplines she found statistics for. I remember blogging early about our lack of a common language but I'm wondering how can we measure a degree in Informatics against a degree in Computer Science. I've spoken to many people who say they're the same but I wonder again how a name can affect enrollment.

I find this point especially intriguing after our first focus group. A couple of the participants who are now graduate students at Carnegie Mellon in computer science did not do their undergrad work in computer science. Rather, they found their passion through computer engineering. The work they were doing in computer engineering was still computer science by Carnegie Mellon's definition but in their home countries they still had computer science programs. While I've been so focused on collecting statistics for only computer science it's becoming more obvious that I may need to be doing more investigating into computer engineering, informatics, and other disciplines.

I think if I stop and take my bigger question of "Who is doing Computer Science?" I can look at numbers all I want but I'll never get the answer. Only a closer reading of Galpin and the actual work being done around the world can I better understand where my data is coming from.

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