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HE Bulletin - Spring 2021

Students turn to technology with university choices, new UCAS data shows

Published: 27/04/2021

New subject data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) shows a big shift towards technology-based degrees, including a 400% jump in acceptances to artificial intelligence (AI) courses.

The final release of university and college level application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle reveals that the continued popularity of STEM subjects shows no sign of waning.

Acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020). Acceptances to engineering courses are up 21% from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020 – driven by an increase in demand from UK 18 year olds.

Acceptances to the newer artificial intelligence (AI) courses have seen a 400% rise in the past decade (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020).

Julia Adamson, Director of Education at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said: “A growing and diverse pipeline of talent in Computer Science and AI is essential for the UK’s economic recovery and its global competitiveness. The establishment of the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) is giving more young people a positive experience of computing at school and helping to create demand for the subject at degree level and beyond.

“AI degrees will attract an ever-wider range of students because this subject is vital to solving ethical challenges in every sector of the economy and society. BCS has supported universities since computing was first taught at degree level, and we’re still helping them today to embed ethical and professional good practice in Machine Learning and Data Science courses."

Clare Marchant, Chief Executive of UCAS, said: “There are a lot of factors that go into what subjects students choose. It is pleasing to see that they are responding to economic cues with increased demand for subjects like engineering and, inspired by the work of the NHS, with more mature applicants and 18 year olds applying for nursing. The decline in accepts to languages could exacerbate the languages skills gap in the wake of Brexit, therefore it is important that action is taken to promote the benefits of languages across the education sector."

For more information, please visit the BCS website.

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