UK Higher Education

The rise of Computer Sciences: Is learning in lockdown affecting students’ university subject choices?

The impact of COVID-19 on the incoming cohort of UK domestic students and their university choices remains both critical and, in many ways, mysterious. How learning in the context of a pandemic and multiple lockdowns will affect the mental health, decisions, and futures of current year 13 students may not become fully apparent for many years to come.

However, there are answers we can find to some of the most pressing questions for institutions as they seek to understand how they can continue to attract, engage, and support prospective students both now and during their university careers.

Using our IQ On Demand tools, which analyse data from our two leading student-facing websites, Complete University Guide and Whatuni, we can gain insight into how year 13 students are changing their university decisions in numerous areas, from whether they are choosing to study closer to home, opting for online courses, or changing their subject trends.

Changing subject trends

In recent analysis of undergraduate student demand data in the UK, one striking trend has emerged over the last 3 months which may be indicative of the atypical learning methods current year 13 students have been subjected to over the past year.

Searches for courses in the Computing and Mathematical Sciences subject area have increased their % share of traffic from 8.18% in October, to 8.37% in November, to 9.65% in December.

October 2020 Subject Demand

November 2020 Subject Demand

December 2020 Subject Demand

This is the largest consistent upward demand trend of any subject area over the past 3 months (October to December 2020). Furthermore, while we did see a  similar upward trend in Computer Science searches over the same period in 2019, the extent of the upward trend was considerably less significant. In 2019, demand for Computing and Mathematical courses saw a % share increase from 7.74% to 8.17% between October and December, an increase of just 0.43% compared to the 1.47% increase over the same period in 2020.

The rise in demand for Computing and Mathematical Sciences is an important trajectory which becomes even more revealing when examined at a sub-discipline level. When we compare sub-discipline demand between November 2020 and December 2020 within the Computing and Mathematical Sciences subject areas, we can see that it is Computer Science that is driving the increase in demand for the subject area with an increase in volume of 7,500 (27.40%) between the two months. Conversely, the data for the subject areas shows that the Mathematics sub-discipline has seen a small decrease in demand in 2020, further indicating that it is the IT and Computing courses which are driving demand in the subject area.

The lesser-known IT sub-disciplines of Information and Communications Technology and Information Work/Information Use have also seen dramatic rises in their % volume of 36% and 32% respectively. With lower search volumes initially, the search volume for these other two sub-disciplines remains relatively low but the significant % volume change indicates that year 13 students are increasingly turning towards IT and computing courses and are broadening their awareness of the range of courses available in this field.

The increase of demand for the Computer Science sub-discipline between November and December 2020 is particularly significant when compared to the trend in 2019, where volume for the sub-discipline decreased between November and December by 9,329.

Equally, when we include sub-disciplines from all subject areas for context, as below, the growth of demand for Computer Science becomes even more apparent.

Even when compared to sub-disciplines from all subject areas, including high-demand subjects like Health and Medicine and Social Studies and Media, Computer Science has seen the biggest increase in demand from November 2020 to December 2020. The increase in Computer Science demand not only leads in terms of search volume, but also as volume % change and increase in % share of search traffic. Interestingly, this significant growth in demand for Computer Sciences is occurring just when some of the sub-disciplines which have seen upward trends in searches for most of 2020, Psychology and Life Sciences for example, are seeing a decrease.

So why are year 13 students increasingly searching for Computer Science courses?

It seems probable that the increase in searches for IT related courses reflects how this year’s cohort of students have had to use online teaching more than any year previously. Their experience of online learning increasing their use, familiarity with, understanding of and interest in computing technology are factors feeding into their university choices.

Having spent a year with intense reliance on computers and online technology, year 13 students may also have developed a greater appreciation of how important technology is, both now and in the future, heightening their awareness of the relative stability of computing technology as a future career.

If these hypotheses are correct, it will be interesting to see how the new January lockdown and school closures could further push year 13 students towards Computer Science and Technology courses, and whether this current upward trend is here to stay.

How we can help

Our IQ On Demand tools, available as a subscription service, allow our clients to track domestic student demand over time and at a granular level. The data can be segmented and analysed for trends in regional, subject and sub-discipline demand, with the added capacity to benchmark your institution’s student demand against a self-selected set of competitors. These tools allow institutions to stay ahead of the curve with domestic student demand and develop data-centric recruitment strategies optimised for success.

In addition, our expert team and suite of bespoke marketing services are available to support institutions in delivering successful recruitment campaigns tailored to serve your unique needs. For more information on how we can support you, reach out to us here.


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