The number of students entering formal IT education fell 11.8% last year to 22,500, figures from the University and Colleges Admission Service reveal.
The decline, which marks the end of a five-year, year-on-year rise in the popularity of IT as a degree, has alarmed employers, who fear it will lead to future skills shortages as demand for IT staff picks up.
"Employers should be extremely concerned. We risk losing out in the productivity stakes when we cannot compete in terms of education and skills. This has the potential to affect the UK economy," said Ian Smith, managing director of Oracle UK,
University applications figures show that students are shunning IT in favour of subjects, such as media studies (up by 15%), cinema and photography (up by 11%) and social work (up by 35%).
With the IT jobs market showing signs of recovery, the downward trend will lead to a smaller pool of trained IT graduates for employers to choose from in three or four years' time, said Karen Price, chairwoman of E-Skills UK.
"There has been a lot of publicity about technology in decline and students are voting with their feet and going on courses they feel are more likely to lead to jobs. That will lead to skill shortages as the market recovers," she said.
Ian Rickwood, chief executive of the Institute for the Management of Information Systems, said, "The whole image of IT is a problem. The message is not being put across to the schools, and if it is, it is reaching them too late."