The Province of Nova Scotia is spending $16.8 million to allow four Nova Scotia universities to expand and improve their computer science programs.

In a statement, the province said COVID-19 has accelerated digital adaptation and that producing more digital talent will strengthen the startup ecosystem across all areas from cleantech to agri-food and ocean sciences.

The four universities – Dalhousie, Acadia, Saint Mary’s and St. Francis Xavier -- will each receive funding to increase or enhance their computer science programming.

“As we work toward economic recovery, we need to focus on sectors that will energize our economy and set us up for long-term sustainability,” Lena Metlege Diab, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, said in the statement.

“This investment will help foster new opportunities in the digital sector with an emphasis on equity and inclusion and ensure more Nova Scotians have access to the training they need. Nova Scotian universities and our quality of life have long been natural advantages to our startup environment, but we can aim to be a world leading startup capital where CEOs invest, grow their firms and create more jobs.”

The funding breakdown is based on the total enrolment for each university’s Computer Science program. The funding amount for each university is:

Dalhousie University - $13.3 million
Acadia University - $1.47 million
Saint Mary’s University - $1.27 million
St. Francis Xavier University - $794,000

Dalhousie University has the largest Computer Science Faculty in the region, and its enrollment has doubled in the past five years. 

“The digital tech sector in Nova Scotia is booming and it is going to play an increasingly important role in the future economic and social vitality of our province,” said Dal Dean of Computer Science Andrew Rau-Chaplin in a report in Dal News on Friday. “Digital talent, in the form of software developers and computer scientists, is what drives digital adoption across industries, accelerates startups, and attracts new digital industries to the province.” 

There has long been concern about the dearth of computer talent in the region, and educational groups have been working to address the problem.

In September 2019, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council reported that Atlantic Canada’s post-secondary institutions graduated only about two-thirds of the IT personnel required by industry.

The report Digital Technology Firms: Their Importance and Role in Atlantic Canada’s Economy, said there were 1,358 graduates from “digitally focused” programs at Atlantic Canadian post-secondary institutions in 2017 -- well below the 2,000 workers required by industry each year.

The report, which was commissioned by the pan-regional IT group TechImpact, noted the $6.1 billion in revenues produced by Atlantic Canadian companies engaging in IT.

APEC estimated there were 43,000 people in Atlantic Canada’s digital industry labour force in 2016 – about two-thirds of them in industries outside the digital sector, such as large corporations with substantial IT departments. In the report, 52 percent of the IT companies surveyed identified recruiting and retaining skilled employees as a problem, with the companies with larger revenues saying their pain was greater.

In July last year, Entrevestor reported that Dalhousie computer grads had risen 26 percent in one year, driven by rising enrolment and the insatiable demand for tech talent.