By Brian McKenna
Computer science as an undergraduate degree subject has seen a gentle spike in demand between the 2015/16 and 2016/17 academic years, according to the most recent Higher education student statistics survey.
The subject saw a 4% increase in undergraduate enrolment numbers – the biggest percentage rise in all subjects. However, the absolute number – 1,175 – was below that for business and administrative studies, 2,395.
At graduate level, there was an increase of 885 in full-time, first-year computer science students. But in percentage terms, that rise lagged those for biological sciences, agriculture, creative arts – subjects allied to medicine, history and philosophy. The biggest absolute increase was in business and administrative studies – 5,000 students.
First-year male students dominated, overall, in science subjects. More than 80% of computer science and engineering and technology students were male, but there was a lesser preponderance of 62% in mathematics.
However, the number of female students of computer science has increased over the past three academic years. In 2014/15 the figure was 16,040, in 2015/16 it was 16,505, and in 2016/17 it was 17,390 – an 8.4% increase over the three-year cycle.
The percentage of female students studying science subjects overall has also continued to rise, from 39% in 2012/13 to 42% in 2016/17. For England, the percentage of full-time, first-year female undergraduates in 2016/17 was 39%, and in Scotland it was 46%.
Welsh and Northern Irish higher education institutions also registered more female first-year full-time science undergraduate students, in percentage terms, than did England – 43% in Wales and 47% in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, and with an eye to future student cohorts, in last year’s A-levels, a higher percentage of male students received computing A* to B grades than their female counterparts. This was a turnaround from 2016, when girls achieved higher grades than boys in computing A-levels, with 68.5% of girls receiving A* to C grades, compared with 61.4% of boys.
In GCSEs in 2017, the number of students of both genders who entered the computing exam increased by 9% year-on-year, from 63,650 in 2016 to 69,350 in 2017.