Record numbers of school-leavers are opting for computing courses, as reported by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). The data from this year’s applications indicates that 18-year-olds are increasingly motivated to pursue computing studies due to the growth of digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI). The number of applications for computing courses has risen by almost 10% compared to 2022.
While the surge in interest is significant, computing remains the seventh most popular field of higher education study. Although nearly 95,000 students applied for computer and AI-related courses, the number of applications for business and management courses was almost double that figure, with over 125,000 applications for design, creative arts, and performing arts courses.
Subjects allied to medicine, social sciences, biological and sports sciences, as well as engineering and technology, were all more popular choices than computing. However, the number of applicants for computer-related courses has been steadily increasing every year since 2019, according to UCAS.
Among the different computing specializations, software engineering experienced the highest rise in applications, with a 16% increase compared to the previous year. Computer science attracted 11% more applicants, while there was a 2% rise in students applying for computer games and animation and a 4% increase in artificial intelligence applications.
One possible reason for the increased interest in computing courses is the growing public discourse surrounding technology and AI. UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant suggested that changes in the world around us often lead to higher demand for specific courses, as seen with economics after 2008 and medicine and nursing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Educators also provided insights into the motivations of students choosing computing courses. Chris Derrick, the deputy headteacher at Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow, mentioned that current applicants are “digital natives” who have been exposed to powerful technology from a young age, developing skills and knowledge through daily use. He highlighted that programming knowledge is accessible through platforms like YouTube and ChatGPT, allowing students to explore their interests and learn at their own pace.
While much of the recent public discussion has centered around jobs that may be replaced by AI, there is also a growing number of employment opportunities emerging in AI, data science, software design, and computing technologies.
UCAS noted an increase in applications from the most disadvantaged backgrounds among UK 18-year-olds. However, computing remains a male-dominated subject, with only 18% of applications for computer-related studies coming from female students, a slight increase from 17% in 2022 and 16% in 2021.
The total number of applications from UK 18-year-olds reached over 319,500, the second-highest recorded, though slightly lower than the previous year.
Rashik Parmar, chief executive of the British Computer Society (BCS), emphasized that teenagers in the UK recognize the transformative impact of AI and its potential to reshape the world. Consequently, the soaring demand for computing degrees does not come as a surprise.
Vanessa Wilson from the University Alliance, an association of British universities, concurred, stating that the recent increase in public interest in AI may have contributed to the growing interest among applicants. She suggested that the popularity of computing could be a response to heightened awareness of the role of technologies such as AI and a strong desire among students to develop skills they perceive as future-proof.