The number of students passing technology-related A-levels has decreased again, with less than 10,000 students passing the ICT exam. However, application numbers for IT and computing degrees at universities have improved since last year.
Figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications show a general decline in the number of people sitting the exams on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
The number of people sitting ICT A-levels dropped, with 9,479 students sitting the exams this year compared with 10,419 in 2013. This continues the decline from 2012 when 11,088 sat ICT and in 2011 when 11,960 took the exam.
Split between the genders, almost double the number of male students studied the subject. In total 6,058 male students sat the exam compared with 3,421 females.
The number of students getting A* to B grades in ICT has also decreased marginally with 9.2 percent achieving A grades compared with 10.3 percent last year.
The Computing A-level fared slightly better when compared with 2013. Nearly 400 more students sat the exams this year. Like ICT, Computing is also a male-dominated subject with 3,857 males sitting the exams compared to just 314 females.
Grades for Computing did not change significantly from 2013. The number of A* and B grades decreased fractionally, while A grades increased by 0.3 percent.
Mathematics increased across both sexes with an additional 207 students sitting the exams this year, taking the total number to 14,028.
The sciences also proved to be more popular than they were last year. With the exception of the male-dominated Physics, the other sciences, including Chemistry and Biology, saw fairly matched student numbers from both genders.
A decrease in the overall number of students sitting A-level exams could be the core factor to the fluctuation seen across STEM subjects.
This makes it difficult to accurately ascertain whether the need for IT skills is having an impact on the subjects studied at A level.
Figures released by UCAS on the number of school-leaver applications made to degree courses shed more light on the subject.
A greater number of students are opting to study degrees in Computer Sciences, Engineering and Technologies since last year.
UCAS revealed that eight percent more students have applied to study Computer Sciences, bucking a trend of decline over the past few years. Engineering saw a five percent hike in applications, while Technologies enjoyed a seven percent increase.
Other STEM-related degrees also increased, with the exception of Mathematical Sciences which saw a drop of applicants by three percent.
Given these figures, it would appear that the need for STEM skills in the UK is becoming realised at university level, with more students opting to study technology-based degrees than ever before. This is something that the technology industry feels strongly about.
Quentene Finnegan, vice president of professional services for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at business analytics giant SAS, told V3 that there is such a demand for people with STEM skills that companies, including his own, will try to snap up talent whenever and however they can.
Finnegan cited one particular example: “I was recently at a prize-giving at my daughter’s school and one young lad had excelled in maths and sciences. I spoke to him afterwards about doing a work placement with us at SAS and I’m delighted to say he’s just completed a very successful placement.
“Not only did he get hands-on experience with our software, but he was keen to find out what else it could do and was prepared to make suggestions about how it could be improved,” he explained.
In a discussion with V3, Finnegan said one of the barriers preventing more people from studying STEM and IT subjects was the perception that the careers they lead to are dull.
However, he is keen to challenge that viewpoint: “The reality is that once young people actually start using the technology and seeing what it can do, they experience how creative you can be in terms of the questions you ask of the data and how the outputs are presented.
“And with demand for these skills continuing to rise in an increasingly data-driven world, there is now job security and financial rewards too that should hopefully start to attract some of the very best talent to our industry,” Finnegan concluded.
Finnegan echoes the opinion of others in the industry, expressing both concerns over the UK’s IT skills gap and the desire to address the issue.
Microsoft has already highlighted its concerns that the lack of people studying STEM subjects could result in a massive shortage of IT skills by 2025.
Rackspace is taking a more proactive approach by adding its expertise to a recently established boot camp designed to train PhD students to become data scientists – a job area that is predicted to grow significantly in the near future.