The number of students taking Computer Science courses at GCSE and undergraduate level has risen again in the last year – but more needs to be done to close a widening digital skills gap in the UK.
81,120 students sat GCSEs in Computing or Computer Science in 2022, which represented a 1% increase on 2021 numbers (79,964 students). This is, however, a 383% rise in student numbers since examinations began in 2014, when just 16,773 students sat a GCSE in this subject.
There is still a large disparity between the numbers of male and female students taking these subjects at GCSE level though. In 2022, 63,856 of the 81,120 students sitting Computer Science GCSEs were male (79% of the total), and just 17,264 (21%) were female.
However, this was the largest cohort of female students (and the largest cohort of students overall) since examinations began in 2014 – 17,264 female students sat Computing/Computer Science this year. This is a 4% increase over 2021’s number (16,549).
The number of male students sitting the course, in comparison, increased by just 1%, suggesting the popularity of the course is growing faster among female students.
At undergraduate level, the latest available UCAS data shows there have been a total of 179,600 applications for Undergraduate Computing courses in June 2022, 16% more than in 2021 (155,290). When comparing these to 2020 and 2019 figures, the increase is even more evident.
In 2022, there were 17% more applications for computing courses compared to 2020, when the figure stood at 153,480 for the June deadline. It is also 20% higher in 2022 when compared to 2019, where the total number of computing applications stood at 149,350.
While the number of students taking these subjects is steadily increasing over time, reports show that the digital skills gap in the UK is growing, and supply is not yet meeting demand.
Data from Tech Nation shows that tech job vacancies are at a 10-year high as companies struggle to find talent with the right skillsets.
In the UK alone, talent vacancies in the tech sector in May 2022 were up 191% from 2020.
Analysis of Adzuna data on job vacancies by OKdo shows that openings for computer science related careers have grown 281% year-on-year, with 43,343+ open roles as of August 2022.
Salary is unlikely to be cause of the skills shortage, as prospects for entry level roles have been positive over the past few years, especially when compared to similar junior level positions in other sectors. The average UK salary of a graduate software engineer was £29,934 in 2021, around £5k more than a marketing graduate (£24,470) and nearly £10k more than a teaching assistant (£20,173).
This year, the current average salary of a graduate software engineer is standing at £35,296 (+17% compared to last year), which over £15k more than a teaching assistant (£19,632) and £9k higher than a marketing graduate (£26,710), signalling companies may be offering higher salaries to try and attract talent with the right skillset amongst the growing shortage.
Dr Paul Rivers, Managing Director at Guidance Automation, said: “The jobs of tomorrow require skilled and digitally-enabled employees, as they are the key to business success and international economic development. However, there remains a lack of education and awareness about where students can start this process. This needs to change and become more accessible in order to prepare workforces – and businesses – for a digital future.
“There remain numerous unmet promises from the government around up-skilling in technology, including confusion around funding and a lack of support available for students. With UK leaders appearing to prioritise areas such as robotics and automation, the expectations would be that this would ultimately filter through to schools, colleges and universities, but this is not the case.”
Andrea Babbs, UK Sales Manager at cybersecurity company VIPRE, said: “Research demonstrates that 66% of women reported that there is no path of progression for them in their career at their current tech companies, suggesting the very reason why women tend to end up in the more ‘customer facing’ roles, such as marketing, sales or customer support. Having a diverse workforce allows there to be a balance of input, more creativity, new perspectives and fresh ideas.
“From different learning paths, to ways of approaching problems, and bringing in wider viewpoints, women bring an array of different skills, attributes and experience to tech roles.”
Nicki Young, President of OKdo added: “Our research highlights just how important it is that the number of students studyingcomputer science at GCSE and beyond – and choosing this as a career – continues to gain momentum. The tech industry is currently facing an unprecedented skills shortage, demonstrating how crucial the need for candidates with specific abilities has become over the past few years.
While advances have been made in encouraging students to pursue these subjects in their education, the pace of workplace demand for these skills is proving challenging to address.
“This is extremely important amongst female students who are still studying STEM subjects in low numbers but have proven themselves to be highly capable, and are key to ensuring the tech sector of tomorrow is diverse, but it’s also essential for their male classmates, as engagement amongst male students looks to be slowing down.
The industry’s efforts should be directed at engaging young minds of all genders and at all levels, to ensure the current skills shortage is addressed and the UK tech sector continues to thrive.”
For more information from OKdo’s Computer Science in The Classroom report, please visit: https://www.okdo.com/computer-science-in-the-classroom-report/.