Please tell us a bit about the National Software Academy (NSA). What was the impetus for the NSA to be set up?
The National Software Academy is a partnership between Cardiff University, Welsh Government and industry leaders, arising from the findings of the Newport Business Development Task Force led by Simon Gibson, CEO of Wesley Clover.
We aim to address the shortfall of qualified, industry-ready software engineers, by producing sought after graduates with industrial experience who will be recognised as leaders in their field. Our vision is to deliver industry-focused degrees in software engineering aimed at providing students with academic experience of relevant and leading-edge technologies delivered within an industrial framework, utilising industry-proven tools and techniques to facilitate transition into the job market.
The first intake to the BSc Applied Software Engineering was in September 2015 and that first cohort will graduate this summer. Since 2015 the intake has grown to around 60 undergraduates every year and in September 2018 we will also be launching a postgraduate degree in Software Engineering. This expansion has meant that the NSA has outgrown our current premises and, in partnership with Newport City Council, will be moving to the Information Station building in Newport. We hope that this will become the heart of an emerging digital hub in Newport.
What makes the NSA different from other university courses and experiences?
The close integration between industry and the NSA is the key difference. This is most obvious in the delivery of our project-based learning approach that has been recognised for its innovative and collaborative approach by Cardiff University, and also by industry networks for its long-term commitment to change the way that Software Engineering is taught.
Students work on a number of team-based, client-facing projects over the duration of their degree. This means that as well as getting the academic and technical underpinning, the students are constantly practicing their softer skills; team-working, communication and project management in particular.
The teaching spaces at the NSA are more akin to a modern software development office environment than a traditional academic environment; we have no lecture theatre at the NSA. Wherever possible, students are encouraged to work collaboratively to solve problems as they would in a workplace.
As well as helping with the initial design of the curriculum and providing projects, industry are constantly engaged in other ways such as the provision of summer placements, lunch and learn talks, guest sessions and, importantly, working with our academic team to keep the curriculum current and relevant.
Since 2015, over 200 different companies across multiple sectors have engaged with the NSA. The nature of this engagement varies from a simple visit through to providing projects, talks and placements.
What positive feedback do you most often hear from businesses and students?
I think it best if I leave this to our students to answer. Some good videos are available here:
From industry, the following is a note from Matt Wintle, Head of IT at Admiral Group who have been a key supporter of the NSA from the outset:
“In Admiral it’s important to us to find talented and driven individuals to join our successful team. We are a highly active recruiter in South Wales and finding the right individuals can be difficult, especially ones that are aligned to our culture and have the right attitude. NSA has helped us to get to know students, establish a close working relationship with them and establish ourselves as a key technology company helping to shape and define the courses and supporting the students. We look forward to continuing to develop our strong partnership even further in the next few years and helping students secure permanent careers within Admiral.”