School-leavers are choosing computing courses in record numbers, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
This year’s application data showed 18-year-olds were increasingly inspired to study computing “thanks to the rise of digital and AI”, UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant said.
Applications to study computing were up almost 10% compared to 2022.
However, it was only the seventh most popular area of higher education study.
While nearly 95,000 students applied for courses in computer and AI related courses, almost twice that number applied to study business and management. More than 125,000 applied for design, creative and performing arts courses.
Subjects allied to medicine, social sciences, biological and sports sciences, and engineering and technology were all more popular than computing.
However, the numbers applying for computer-related courses have risen every year since 2019, UCAS said.
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 artificial intelligence (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.
Chris Derrick, deputy headteacher at Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow said pupils applying for computing courses now were all “digital natives” who have “honed and developed these 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,” he said.
While much of the public discussion recently has been around which jobs will be replaced by AI, there are also a growing number of employment opportunities related to AI, data science, software design and computing technologies.
There was also an increase in the number of applications by UK 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, UCAS said.
However, computing remains a male-dominated subject, with only 18% of applications for computer-related studies coming from female students, up slightly, from 17% in 2022 and 16% in 2021.
The total number of UK 18-year-old applicants was over 319,500, the second highest it has been, a slight decrease on last year.
Rashik Parmar, chief executive of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said: “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”.
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.