A record number of students are enrolled in Artificial Intelligence (AI)-related university courses, new figures from the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) have revealed.

Today the UK admissions service for higher education published the university and college level application and acceptance figures for the 2020. The figures showed that the “continued popularity of STEM subjects shows no sign of waning” the independent charity said.

Between 2011 and 2020, there was a 400% jump in acceptances to artificial intelligence (AI) courses, from just 65 in 2011 to 355 in 2020. Acceptances to computer science courses have also risen by almost 50% and acceptances to engineering courses are up 21%.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means that current university students face entering a challenging job market over the next few years. This may have led some to consider courses related to emerging technologies, especially as remote working drives an even greater need for tech professionals.

Considering the UK tech industry is currently experiencing a skills shortage, along with emerging technologies being important for the UK’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery, this is an encouraging sign.

The data reveals that humanities courses have declined in popularity over the past decade. For example, English studies decreased from 10,020 acceptances in 2011 to 6,980 in 2020.

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UCAS also highlighted a “significant decline” in the popularity of language courses, which it said was “of concern” in a post-Brexit Britain. Acceptances to modern language courses decreased by 36% between 2011 and 2020.

Geoffrey Taylor, Head of Academic Programmes at SAS UK & Ireland said:

“The importance of analytical calculation has been further reinforced by the pandemic, which is why we are seeing unprecedented demand for analytical and AI skills. As the use of data-driven technologies grows, so too will demand for people with the skills to drive the software and undertake the analysis.

“While it’s therefore pleasing to see more students now studying technology and AI-related courses, it’s important to note that real-world case studies are generally seen as the most effective tool for mastering the skills needed. Further education institutions need access to non-sensitive real-world data so that from the outset, students learn that data can be complex and messy, often incomplete and occasionally even incorrect. Real-world case studies equip Gen Z with practical data skills which they’ll be able apply in the data-driven world.

“Nurturing the right skills for future growth is not a short-term game, but one which starts with education. The rising number of STEM courses and students, together with the government’s skills frameworks supporting the national Industrial Strategy will, in time, combine to overcome the country’s current skills gap. It will ensure that individually and nationally we can benefit from the huge opportunities that the digital era is opening up, and contribute to the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”

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