Major shift towards tech-based degrees, according to UCAS data

New subject data for the 2020 cycle shows a spike in demand for technology disciplines – particularly computer science and engineering

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has released its final figures for the 2020 higher education (HE) admissions cycle, showing a sharp rise in demand for technology-focused degrees.

The ongoing pandemic has accelerated digital adoption across countries and industries, and recent reports highlight a surge in e-commerce and remote services following UK national lockdowns, with customer support services remaining in high demand over the past 12 months and more than 20,000 new positions expected to emerge in the field this year. As such, the uptake of technology degrees seems to echo recent societal trends.

Figures show impressive growth in engineering and computer science subjects over the last 10 years – including more than a 400% jump in artificial intelligence (AI) programme enrolments (from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020).

Data also confirm that acceptances to computer science courses have risen by almost 50% (from 20,420 in 2011 to 30,090 in 2020). Meanwhile, enrolments to engineering programmes are up 21% (from 25,995 in 2011 to 31,545 in 2020), primarily driven by heightened demand among 18-year-old across the UK.

“A growing and diverse pipeline of talent in Computer Science and AI is essential for the UK’s economic recovery and its global competitiveness. The establishment of the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) is giving more young people a positive experience of computing at school and helping to create demand for the subject at degree level and beyond,” said Julia Adamson, director of education at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

“AI degrees will attract a wider range of students than ever as AI becomes essential to solving ethical challenges in every sector of the economy and society. BCS has supported universities since computing was first taught at degree level, and we’re still helping them today to embed ethical and professional good practice in machine learning and data science courses.”

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On UCAS’s findings, Lydia Amarquaye, education policy adviser for the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, also commented:

“It is encouraging to see that a growing number of young people are taking up courses in engineering and associated STEM subjects. We hope this will only increase as young people see the employability and value of engineers through their response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Engineering UK’s briefing paper Young people and COVID-19, it was seen that young people were generally more aware of the role that engineers played in the effort to combat the pandemic. Some were also more aware of the importance of having a job that enabled them to make a positive societal contribution. This group of people, labelled as ‘Social Artists’ in an Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ report Five Tribes: Personalising Engineering Education, may have previously not seen engineering as a career that was useful for addressing societal needs.

“Through the Institution’s accreditation programmes, we continue to monitor engineering degrees to ensure that the skills and knowledge being taught at universities are relevant for industry and the ever-evolving demands on society, including energy and sustainability.”

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