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Students turn to technology with university choices

08 February 2021

New data from UCAS shows a big shift towards technology-based degrees mirroring recent trends, with the last decade seeing growth in engineering and computer science subjects, including a 400% jump in acceptances to AI courses.

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The final release of university and college level application and acceptance figures for the 2020 cycle reveals 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); and 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; whilst 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 a wider range of students than ever as AI becomes essential 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.”

The IMechE’s Education Policy Adviser Lydia Amarquaye comments: “It is encouraging to see that a growing number of young people are taking up courses in engineering and associated STEM subjects. We hope this will only increase as young people see the employability and value of engineers through their response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Engineering UK’s briefing paper Young people and Covid-19, it was seen that young people were generally more aware of the role that engineers played in the effort to combat the pandemic. Some were also more aware of the importance of having a job that enabled them to make a positive societal contribution. This group of people, labelled as ‘Social Artists’ in an Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ report Five Tribes: Personalising Engineering Education, may have previously not seen engineering as a career that was useful for addressing societal needs.

“Through the Institution’s accreditation programmes, we continue to monitor engineering degrees to ensure that the skills and knowledge being taught at universities are relevant for industry and the ever-evolving demands on society, including energy, and sustainability.”

Lydia's comments come from the recent press release issued by UCAS showing a sharp rise in students choosing technology courses, including engineering.

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