children using computers in education

Computing courses attract record numbers of applications to universities

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The rise of AI tools has inspired a record number of British school graduates to study computing courses at university, according to new figures.

Computing has become the seventh most popular course to study at university after the number of applications from Year 13 graduates rises by 9.5 per cent, compared to 2022 figures. 

In 2023, there were 94,870 applications to computing from 18-year-olds in the UK, up from 86,630 last year and 71,150 in 2021, Ucas revealed.

The reason for the course's increase in popularity could be the effect of the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT, a large-language model chatbot which can answer questions in a seemingly natural way and is trained on a massive data set.

“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," said Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant. “These new figures suggest students are becoming increasingly inspired to study computing thanks to the rise of digital and AI.”

Overall, the figures show there have been 195,690 applications to computing from applicants of all ages and from all countries – which is up 9 per cent on 2022.

Moreover, the number of applications from British school leavers to study software engineering has increased by 16 per cent compared to the same point last year, while computer science (up 11 per cent), artificial intelligence (up 4 per cent ) and computer games and animation (up 2 per cent) have also seen applications rise on last year.

“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," said Rashik Parmar, chief executive of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. “AI is already reshaping how cancer is diagnosed, how we tackle climate change, how we work and how we communicate.

“The thousands of young men and women applying for computing through Ucas do so because they want a say in this future.”

Despite the courses' rise in popularity computing remains a male-dominated field, with only 18 per cent of all applications from 18-year-olds in the UK made by women, according to Ucas figures. 

In addition, the figures show that the overall number of 18-year-old school and college leavers in the UK applying to undergraduate courses has fallen this year, with universities receiving a total of 319,570 applications in 2023, compared to the record high of 326,190 in 2022.

Ucas said a range of factors are influencing applications – including geopolitics, the economy and job market, and rising cost of living.

When it comes to country of origin, the number of international applicants, of all ages, has increased by 2.4 per cent in the last year, Ucas said. The figure is mainly driven by interest from India, the Middle East and Africa, while the number of applicants from China is down by 2.2 per cent. Ucas said the reason for this is most likely Covid-19 restrictions and disruption to learning.

“The ratio between domestic and international students being placed at UK institutions remains relatively constant, with about 13 per cent of all accepted students from outside the UK – so there remains plenty of choice available to domestic students," Marchant said in a blog on the Higher Education Policy Institute’s (HEPI) website.

Marchant added that Ucas research suggests that the number of Chinese applicants will recover, countering suggestions that we may be close to "peak China”.

In February, research conducted by BCS, the chartered institute for IT, found that 62 per cent of professionals believe that chatbots like ChatGPT will make it harder to mark students’ work fairly. 

The technology has been shown to be able to create passing-grade answers even at university level, including passing law exams at one university.

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