What Are Today’s Students Studying More: Business, Or Computer Courses?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of school-leavers send their applications to UCAS detailing the course they would like to study at university or college. And, every year, the most popular course choices fluctuate as interests change and times evolve. 

But as the years have progressed, computing has become an increasingly popular choice amongst students.

After all, computing is a big part of our present times, and of our future prospects. What with the rise of our reliance on artificial intelligence (AI) and coding, this is hardly surprising. 

Regardless of this, the uncharted progress this subject is taking up the popularity ranks remains an impressive feat and, of course, a true sign of our digital times. 

The Rise Of Learning Computing 

This year’s UCAS application data has shown that applications to study computing are up almost 10% compared to 2022, says the BBC.

Nearly 95,000 students applied for courses in computing and AI-related courses. But, whilst this is a significant leap from previous years, it is still notably below the figures for other higher education courses.

Almost twice the number of students applying for computing courses applied to study business and management. Additionally, more than 125,000 applied for design, creative and performing arts courses. 

Other subjects related to social sciences, medicine, biological and sports sciences, and engineering were all more popular than computing. 

Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to be impressed upon by the stoic rise of computing as the years have gone by. In fact, since 2019, the numbers applying for computer-related courses have risen every year. 

This year, software engineering saw the steepest rise in applications – up 16% compared to last year. Computer science attracted 11% more applicants. There was a 2% rise in students applying to study computer games and animation and 4% in AI.

With all the counts in, computing stood as the seventh most popular area of higher education study this year. 

What Has Caused This Increased Popularity?

Clare Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, attributes that the rising inspiration to study computing among 18-year-olds is “thanks to the rise of digital and AI”.

The increased interest in computing courses may in part be down to a growing public conversation around technology and artificial intelligence, Ms Marchant said.

“We know that changes in the world around us translate into increased demand for certain courses, as we saw for economics post-2008, and for medicine and nursing during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

Vanessa Wilson from the University Alliance – an association of British universities – agreed that greater public interest in AI in recent months might have contributed to more interest from applicants.

“The rise in the popularity of computing may well be a response to increasing awareness of the role of technologies such as AI, as well as a strong desire from students to develop what they see as future-proof skills,” she said.

Chris Derrick, the deputy headteacher at Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow, adds that he believes there has been a rise in pupils wanting to study computing courses because a lot of them are already “digital natives”.

In other words, a lot of these students have already “honed and developed these [comptuing] skills from a young age using powerful tech every day”. 

“Programming knowledge is also so accessible via YouTube and ChatGPT,” he said. “Pupils can explore their passions and learn at pace. If they don’t have an answer, Google and YouTube will”. 

The public discussion surrounding computing and the opportunities it can bring has evidently caught the interest of pupils around the UK. Whilst there have been talks of jobs being replaced by AI, there are also a growing number of employment opportunities related to data science, software design and computing technologies.

Computing Is “A Guys Job”

Not only has there been a general increase in the number of school-leavers applying for computing, but there has also been a rise in the number of applications by UK 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, UCAS said.

Despite this, computing firmly remains a male-dominated subject.

This year, only 18% of applications for computer-related studies were from female students. Although this is a slight increase from 17% in 2022 and 16% in 2021, female applications are continuing to lag behind. 

Interestingly, where there has been an increase in female stats in computing is a little later down the line. 

Whilst studies show that women are less likely to work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) than men, some are beginning to buck the trend and kickstart a new career path in computing

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2021 there were 15,000 more women working as programmers and software developers in the UK than in the previous year. The number of women working as web designers also increased by almost 10,000.

Jessica, a primary school teacher from Glasgow, decided to switch to a career as a junior software engineer after feeling burnout from being in the classroom for five years.

“I didn’t have science or maths at school so I didn’t think I could manage to code – I thought that those doors in STEM were closed,” she said. “To be honest I didn’t even really know what a software engineer was,”

“I assumed it was a geeky, guys job – I certainly didn’t know any other women in these roles that I could look at as a role model or inspiration.”

Jessica is just one of the many women deciding to buck the stereotype and consider a career in tech. Unfortunately, it seems that in schools, computing-related subjects are still viewed as more of a “guys job”. 

Nevertheless, the growing public discussions surrounding the opportunities computing can bring may see this trend change among young people.

“Teenagers in the UK know that AI will change the world forever; it shouldn’t surprise us to see this soaring demand for computing degrees”, says Rashik Parmar, chief executive of BCS.

Indeed, looking to the future, it can only be expected that the rise of computing amongst teens will continue to dominate the UCAS ranks. One can only hope that this rise will continue to incorporate an increase from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as from female applicants.