- By Shiona McCallum and Chris Vallance
- Technology Journalists
July 14, 2023
Graduates are choosing computer science courses in record numbers, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
This year’s application data showed 18-year-olds were increasingly inspired to study computer science “thanks to the rise of digital and AI,” said UCAS chief executive , Clare Marchant.
Applications to study computer science have increased by almost 10% compared to 2022.
However, it was only the seventh most popular field of graduate study.
While almost 95,000 students applied for courses related to computer science and AI, nearly double that number applied to study business and management. More than 125,000 applied for design, creative and performing arts courses.
Subjects related to medicine, social sciences, biological and sports sciences, engineering and technology were all more popular than computer science.
However, the number of applicants for computer-related courses has increased every year since 2019, UCAS said.
This year, software engineering saw the largest increase in applications, up 16% from last year. IT attracted 11% more applicants. There was a 2% increase in the number of students applying to study computer games and animation, and 4% for artificial intelligence (AI).
The increased interest in computer science courses may be partly due to a growing public conversation around technology and artificial intelligence, Ms. Marchant said.
“We know that changes in the world around us are resulting in increased demand for certain courses, as we have seen for the economy after 2008, and for medicine and nursing during the Covid-19 pandemic. “, she said.
Chris Derrick, deputy headmaster of Glasgow’s Kelvinside Academy, said pupils applying for computer science courses are now all ‘digital natives’ who have ‘honed and developed these skills from an early age using every a powerful technology”.
“Programming knowledge is also so accessible through YouTube and ChatGPT,” he said.
“Students can explore their passions and learn at their own pace. If they don’t have an answer, Google and YouTube will,” he said.
While much of the public debate recently has focused on the jobs that will be replaced by AI, there are also a growing number of job opportunities related to AI, data science, design software and computer technologies.
There has also been an increase in the number of applications from British 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, UCAS said.
However, IT remains a male-dominated subject, with only 18% of applications for IT-related studies coming from female students, up slightly from 17% in 2022 and 16% in 2021.
The total number of UK applicants aged 18 was over 319,500, the second highest, a slight drop from last year.
Rashik Parmar, chief executive of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: “British teenagers know that AI will change the world forever; it shouldn’t surprise us to see this growing demand for computer science degrees.”
Vanessa Wilson of the University Alliance – an association of UK universities – agreed that greater public interest in AI in recent months could have helped to increase interest among applicants.
“The growing popularity of computing may well be a response to a growing awareness of the role of technologies such as AI, as well as a strong desire among students to develop what they see as computer skills. ‘test of time,'” she said.