Depending on who you believe, AI either poses profound risks to humanity or is set to save the planet but, either way, British youngsters are craving a slice of the action, with record numbers applying to study computing courses at university this year.
While attracting school leavers to tech subjects has historically been a hard slog, it appears the rise of AI and advances in digital technology are now proving a major attraction.
According to university admissions service Ucas, the number of applications to computing courses by 18-year-olds in the UK has risen by 9.5% since last year; Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant suggests students are becoming “increasingly inspired” by the rise of the likes of ChatGPT.
As of June 30 – the final deadline to apply to up to five courses simultaneously – there were 94,870 applications to computing courses from 18-year-olds in the UK, up from 86,630 last year and 71,150 in 2021.
The number of applications from British school leavers to study software engineering has increased by 16% compared to the same point last year, while computer science (up 11%), artificial intelligence (up 4%) and computer games and animation (up 2%) have also seen applications rise on last year.
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.
“These new figures suggest students are becoming increasingly inspired to study computing thanks to the rise of digital and AI.”
Overall, the figures show there have been 195,690 applications to computing from applicants of all ages and from all countries, up 9% on 2022.
The chief executive of tech trade body BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, Rashik Parmar, 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.
“AI is already reshaping how cancer is diagnosed, how we tackle climate change, how we work and how we communicate. The thousands of young men and women applying for computing through Ucas do so because they want a say in this future.”
Even so, Ucas figures reveal that the overall number of 18-year-old school and college leavers in the UK applying to undergraduate courses has fallen this year, with 319,570 applicants, compared to the record high of 326,190 in 2022.
Ucas said a range of factors are influencing applications, including geopolitics, the economy and job market, and the cost of living crisis.
Earlier this week, it was claimed that the rise of AI could give the UK economy a major shot in the arm, creating £200bn in additional revenues, but media and marketing HR bosses fear AI will displace jobs more rapidly than it will create new ones.
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