The computing crash

Computer science graduates are vital to the United Kingdom's future, but students don't seem to want to log on. Caitlin Davies reports

Undergraduates appear to be losing interest in computing subjects now that the glamour of the dot.com years has worn off - and experts fear the decline is bad news for UK business. The number of people signing up for degrees in information systems, software engineering and artificial intelligence fell significantly this year. Yet companies such as Oracle, described as the world's second largest independent software company, believe the growth of the UK economy depends on plenty of computing and engineering graduates.

According to provisional figures from UCAS, there has been a 6.5 per cent drop in students pursuing computer science degrees between 2002 and 2003. When it comes to information systems, software engineering and artificial intelligence, the drop is even higher, at about 14 per cent each.

While UCAS says more people are achieving places at university or college, and subjects such as medicine and law are on the increase, the interest in computing is on the wane.

At Southampton University, there has been a fall in computer science and software engineering applicants over the past three years after a peak in 2000. "It's a big puzzle," says Paul Garrett, senior admissions tutor in the school of electronics and computer science. While it's tempting to blame it on the dot.com crash, he says, it would have taken a few years for this to have an effect. Instead, it could be that students are not studying technical subjects at schools, where there is a shortage of qualified teachers.

Oracle believes the decrease in the number of undergraduates will have a terrible impact on labour force productivity. "I'm not surprised by the figures, but I am depressed," says Ian Smith, its Senior Vice-President and Managing Director for UK, Ireland and South Africa. He attributes the trend to a culture in which maths, science and engineering don't have the same status as other university subjects.

Smith points to a direct link between a country's GDP and its general well-being, and the number of people with maths, science and engineering degrees. He cites this year's budget statement, which suggested that in order to catch up with America's GDP, foreign students doing such subjects could be given permits to stay in the UK. "If we are to compete then we need indigenous labour," says Smith.

He believes people are abandoning computing degrees because the courses are difficult, "not made exciting" and young people are not motivated at school. "Careers for maths, science and engineering graduates are seen as boring," he says, "but I'm an engineer, and I know how exciting it is."

Oracle wants British businesses to work with the Government to encourage A-level students to see computing subjects as important for their future careers. Oracle UK is to donate £1m over four years to support 40 specialist school bids, and is the first "technology vendor" to do so.

But despite the decline in computing undergraduates, some universities say their figures have held up well. The universities of Teesside and Plymouth say computing is one of their growth areas and there have been no problems with recruitment.

Dr Andrew Main, head of computing at Bournemouth University, says there has been only a slight drop in applicants, which could be because the university has recently raised the entry requirements.

Bournemouth students see computing as a strong career move, says Dr Main, offering mobility and a wide range of future jobs, whether as a "techie" or project manager. Sadly, however, there has not been an increase in women applicants. Dr Main says the "pointy head brigade" at school tend to be boys, although women graduates do extremely well. (At Southampton, on the other hand, the number of British female computer applicants has doubled this year, with no obvious explanation.)

Yet, while fewer students are applying for computing subjects at degree or HND level, there has been a marked increase in those pursuing them at full-time foundation level. More universities are now offering foundation degrees, and this year accepted computer science applicants were up by 243 per cent. Last year there were only nine successful software engineering applicants in the UK, but this year it was a far healthier 58.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all