Computing degree applications down by nearly a tenth

The volumes of applications to study computer science at university this year has fallen by 7.3 per cent year on year, June figures from UCAS show.

The organisation that processes applications for entry to higher education in the UK, revealed 89,825 students applied for a computer science degree, a drop from 96,872 in 2011.

This decline was roughly in line with the overall fall in the number of applicants to higher education courses across the board, down 7. 7 per cent from 669,956 in 2011 to 618,247 this year.

Meanwhile, the number of people who applied to study a combined degree of maths and computer science had fallen 2.5 per cent from 45,613 last year, to 44,473 in 2012.

Representatives hope that the ICT education reform announced by the government in the spring will help remedy the problem, but the continual slip in applicants to degree-level IT courses is a cause for concern for the IT industry in the UK, which is facing a skills shortage.

Bill Mitchell, director of BCS Academy of Computing, said: “The main problem seems to be that our secondary school curriculum does not teach students how computers work, or how to create software for themselves.

“BCS firmly believes that the current ICT curriculum needs to be replaced by a rounded, computing curriculum that includes digital literacy, information technology and computer science.”

Mitchell’s comments were backed by Intellect, the IT industry’s association.

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“If the UK is going to maintain its position as a world leader in IT, then we need to reverse this drop in numbers applying to study computer science,” an Intellect spokesperson said.

“Introducing computer science into the classroom is a vital step to get children excited about IT lessons and encourage them to go on to study it at university. The government has committed to make this change and we now need to see it happening in classrooms across the country.”

Phil Smith, CEO of Cisco UK and Ireland, agreed: “Courses like this are critical for our industry and economic growth in the UK more generally. It is essential that we engage young people at an early age in computer science.

“The youth of today clearly have a greater affinity with IT and technology than ever before, but with ageing teaching methods, many continue to be uninspired to pursue computer science at an advanced level. We need to seriously rethink the way that IT is taught and presented as a career path.”

Sector skills council e-skills UK’s latest research, Technology Insights, revealed that an estimated 129,000 new entrants are needed into the IT sector each year – a record high.

While the organisation encourages young people to study computing as a degree, it also supports other routes into the industry, such as apprenticeships.

“Young people are looking for alternatives to university degrees to make a start in IT, and employers are increasingly looking to recruit young people straight from school into fast-paced and rewarding jobs,” said Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK.

“So it is important that the IT industry continues to offer a variety of entry routes to careers in this growing and rewarding sector. We are working with employers from across the sector to develop our various apprenticeship products, as well as continuing with what we have achieved through the IT Management for Business (ITMB) degree programme.”