Compsci: a dying breed?

Catherine Watts 15 November 2007

Cambridge University’s Computer Science department is launching a publicity campaign as it grows desperate for more applicants to the course.

A website is currently under construction which aims to debunk the myths about the subject including the characteristic geeky CompSci image, as well as the belief that the only graduate opportunities are based in China and India.

Numbers of applicants have fallen severely since 2000, when there were 100 students accepted out of 500 people. But last year only 210 applied, and just 70 were accepted.

Head of Cambridge’s computer laboratory, Professor Andy Hopper, told the Guardian where the problem lies: “We don’t portray ourselves to potential applicants in a contemporary way. We don’t show that computer science knowledge can help solve some of the world’s global problems. And we should”.

An affiliated lecturer at the lab, Jack Lang, said: “People seem to think computer science is for nerds and for boys playing shoot-em-up games. It’s just not true. Not only that, they assume computer science is just about spreadsheets. In fact, it is a subject that is ubiquitous in modern life. It is the basis on which planes are controlled, our bank accounts are guarded from identity fraud and the NHS is kept running”.

The national picture for the number of applicants to the subject is equally disappointing, having fallen by over 40% between 2001 and 2004.

But the University of Southampton has seen its biggest rise in the number of students on the computer science course for 5 years, with an increase of 20%. The course admissions tutor, Dr Paul Garratt, said this success came as a result of integrating electronics into computer science: “Students now are interested in how iPods and DVD players work; that is electronic devices with in-built software and hardware”.

But Hugo Hadlow, a second year CompSci at St John’s College was keen to downplay the issue. “Who cares if numbers have fallen?” he told The Cambridge Student. “It’s just the market.”

Catherine Watts