Number of students taking computer science degrees up 7.6% in 2020

The number of students choosing to study computer science at degree level rose year-on-year in 2020, according to BCS

The number of students choosing to study computer science beyond A-level has increased in 2020, according to BCS.

Looking into figures from university admissions organisation UCAS, BCS found the number of people accepted on to computer science degrees in 2020 increased by 7.6% year-on-year to 30,090 students.

Julia Adamson, director of education at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: “More students than ever before have chosen to study computer science at university. That is important because the government has stated that tech skills should be the ‘rocket fuel’ which powers the UK’s economic recovery.”

Adamson also claimed the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), which has been training teachers to better deliver the computing curriculum, may have contributed to this increase in computer science undergrads, as it has “ensured that more young people are getting the positive experience of computing at school that opens up the possibility of further study”.

This year was tumultuous for education providers across the UK, as the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent UK lockdowns left many students learning from home in the first half of the year.

Exams were cancelled, leaving concerns surrounding how A-level results were calculated – grades were decided through a combination of teacher recommendation, non-examined assessments, school data, and data from previous years.

In many cases, the algorithm used was deemed biased and unfair, leaving many worrying about whether or not their grades would allow them to attend their chosen universities.

Despite these hiccups, there was an increase in the number of students achieving higher grades year-on-year in A-level computing, where female students outperformed male students, and an increase in the number of both male and female candidates choosing to take A-level computing.

But a lack of women in the tech sector is an ongoing issue – with BCS finding women accounted for only 16.2% of computer science degree students in 2020, an increase of only 1% year-on-year.

UCAS figures show the number of women accepted on to computer science-related courses via UCAS increased year-on-year from 4,275 in 2019 to 4,880 in 2020.

When looking at specific courses, there was a small year-on-year jump in the number of women choosing to take computer science, software engineering or artificial intelligence (AI) courses in 2020, though the number of women on AI courses or “other” computer science courses is still minute.

Adamson said closing this gender gap in tech was important for the sector, pointing out that organisations specifically focused on encouraging more women into the sector would help to “strengthen and diversify the range of new talent coming into the industry”.

While hiring during the pandemic has been a mixed bag, some skills grew in demand in 2020, including IT support and cyber security.

Meanwhile, fears of a Brexit talent shortage mean the UK is focused on trying to build its home-grown digital and technology talent.

According to the BCS’s analysis of UCAS figures, there was a 65.1% year-on-year increase in students accepted onto AI degrees in 2020, as well as an increase in acceptances to courses in software engineering.

Read more about computing education

  • A report from member organisation Jisc has found that a larger number of further education colleges have a skills shortage in IT teams.
  • All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM suggests recommendations for increasing equity in education after stating coronavirus makes diversity increasingly important.


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