Universities are not offering the IT programming skills that firms need, according to global research.

Skills in programming languages like Cobol, CICS and JCL are essential to support business-critical IT systems that underpin many organisations today, but the majority of IT courses don't support them.

A poll of academic leaders from 119 universities across the world discovered three-quarters (73 percent) of institutions don't support mainframe language Cobol, even though more than half of academic leaders (58 percent) say they believed Cobol programming should be on their curriculum.

Another 54 percent estimated the demand for Cobol programming skills would increase or stay the same over the next ten years.

Of the 27 percent confirming Cobol programming was part of their curriculum, only 18 percent had it as a core part of the course, while the remaining 9 percent made it an elective component.

Michael Coughlan, lecturer at the University of Limerick, said, "Cobol and legacy systems are a core part of our Graduate Diploma in Computing. In a particularly competitive job market it is vital to give students a way to differentiate themselves from other graduates.

"Our students have experience in modern programming languages and practices but also know how to ensure compatibility with legacy applications written in older languages. This differentiates them quite significantly from the majority of undergraduates leaving university, who may only really have Java or similar language skills, and who are lacking in knowledge of core legacy systems."

Respondents were also asked how they thought their IT course students felt about learning Cobol skills, and 39 percent said their students viewed Cobol as "un-cool and outdated", with 15 percent saying they wouldn't know what Cobol was.

When asked what academic institutions needed to support a Cobol curriculum, the largest proportion of respondents (43 percent) cited the top priority as "students requesting it", indicating no rush from the universities themselves to evangelise the need for Cobol.

Worringly a third (29 percent) did not even know if the programming skills of their graduates, whatever the language, helped them gain employment.

Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents said facilitating, sponsoring and encouraging greater collaboration between business organisations and academic communities teaching Cobol programming was important.

The research was sponsored by application modernisation, testing and management firm Micro Focus. Kevin Brearley, senior director of product management at Micro Focus, said, "Business organisations and academic institutions need to work together to showcase Cobol as a relevant, in-demand business skill with a promising future.

"Young developers need to be encouraged and more industry relevant IT qualifications and further educational courses need to be introduced. After all, out of a total of 310 billion lines of code, 240 billion lines are Cobol. It's the language behind 65 percent of all active code and 85 percent of all daily business transactions."