Almost 30 teams took part in the competition, which is run by the BCS Young Professionals Group. Each team consists of up to five people aged 18 to 35, who solve problems against the clock.
Last year's winner, Trinity College Cambridge, won its heat but only managed two problems, compared with seven at the same stage last year.
The Cambridge heat was the most closely fought, with five teams completing two problems. The top four are through to the final. Trinity College won by almost two hours but the next three teams - the University of East Anglia, London's Imperial College and anti-virus software specialist Network Associates - were separated by only 19 minutes.
There was a similar close finish in the Scottish heat, hosted by Edinburgh University, where Cisco Systems beat last year's runner-up, Glasgow University, by just two minutes. Both teams completed three problems.
In the Northern Ireland heat, Queen's University Belfast managed three problems in less than half the time taken by Cisco and Glasgow University.
A joint Hull and York University team is going into the final with the psychological advantage of being the only team to complete four problems. University College London also made its mark, completing only two problems but being the second fastest to do so in the heats.
The final will take place in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, on 31 March.
The programming competition is sponsored by IT services group EDS and supported by e-competitions, set up by the former IT National Training Organisation (now the E-Skills NTO) to promote IT competitions for young people.
Details of the competition, and a sample problem, are at www.bcs.org.uk/ypg/progcomp
|Queen's University Belfast||3|
|Trinity College, Cambridge||2|
|University College, London||2|
|University of East Anglia||2|