Applications to study computer science at degree level have increased by 13% this year, according to BCS analysis of UCAS data.
BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, said this is the biggest increase in applications of any university subject in the UK.
Julia Adamson, director of education at BCS, said: “The demand for computer science follows the rising profile of artificial intelligence, global cyber security, social media safety, and tech’s role in understanding climate change and pandemic modelling.
“The impact of Covid-19 and lockdowns has also made us realise how important digital technologies are in our personal and professional lives. The long-term challenge of closing the gender gap in computer science remains clear and starts at school level.”
The UK is currently experiencing a digital skills gap, with many firms complaining that there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill vacant IT roles, leaving employers fishing for talent in the same small pool.
According to BCS, applications to study computer science in the 2022/2023 academic year increased from 140,420 last year to 158,340 this year, the third year in a row that interest in the subject has grown.
The number of 18-year-olds hoping to take the subject has increased in particular, by 21% year on year, while applications in England increased by 18% from last year, and applications from Wales were up 10%.
Women are an under-represented group in the tech sector, with many young women choosing not to pursue a role in technology.
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Despite some young women claiming to regret not studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects later down the line, reasons cited for their decision not to do so include a lack of visible and accessible role models, the misconception that technology is “too hard” or exclusively for men, and a lack of inclusive culture.
Almost 20% of those who applied to study computer science in the 2022/2023 academic year were women, which, while slightly above the average number of women who make up IT specialists in the UK, indicates there is still a long way to go.
This is the third year in a row that the number of women applying to study computer science has increased – from 10,650 in 2019 to 30,730 in January this year – although the number of applications is not always representative of the number who actually end up enrolled on computer science degrees.
The past decade has seen a steady rise in the number of people accepted onto computing-based degree courses, with numbers increasing by about 50% from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020.
But culture still plays a part in the retention of both students and employees in the tech sector – 2019 figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that 9.8% of computer science undergraduates dropped out before completing their degree, and more than half of young people in tech are either leaving or considering leaving the industry because of bad culture.
Data from 2015 showed a large number of computer science graduates were still unemployed six months after graduating, despite technology skills being in high demand.