STEM A-Level results show encouraging signs for prospective talent

With students receiving their A-Level results today, analysis from NTT DATA UK has found that STEM A-Level entries in the UK this year now account for two-thirds (64%) of all courses taken, an increase of 8% over the last five years.

Computing in particular has seen a surge in popularity among A-Level students, with uptake increasing by 131% in the space of five years.

“It’s great to see that more students than ever before are achieving STEM-related A-Levels in today’s results,” said Roei Haberman, head of telco, media and technology at NTT DATA UK.

“As the need for computing-based skills and experiences continues to increase in the workplace in this digital era – and it’s not difficult to understand why – there is a high demand for technology skills, and students are increasingly aligning their subject choices to their future vocation.”

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Adam Mayer, senior manager at Qlik, commented: “Students receiving their results today are facing more uncertainty about their future education and immediate working prospects than perhaps any previous generation. They will be the first truly digital working natives – whether entering online higher education courses or working remotely for enterprises.

“This in itself offers a great opportunity for those with the right skillsets to become leading forces in creating the blueprint for the future enterprise. That’s why it’s very encouraging to see the increase in entries for maths and computing this year, which will help prepare them to thrive in enterprises that are accelerating their adoption of data and digital-centric processes.

“Though the career paths for these digital working natives may not be clear cut just yet, these skills will prepare them to be leaders of digital enterprises in the long run.”

Increase in female participation

A-Level results throughout the UK have also seen an increase in female students opting to study STEM subjects. In computing, for example, the total number of girls taking the subject grew by 21.8% year-on-year, while male participation increased by 10.1%.

Additionally, maths and further maths each saw an increase of 4.8% in female participation, and while overall study of biology and chemistry has declined (by 5.9% and 5.1% respectively), participation among girls decreased less than their male counterparts (4.3% vs 8.7%).

“The tears and cheers of this year’s A-level students will have been heightened this year, as the lack of final exams will likely have snatched away the opportunity for many to make that last big effort that could have meant the difference between success and failure,” said Agata Nowakowska, area vice-president EMEA at Skillsoft.

“It’s impossible to know for sure how big of an impact this will have made to the 2020 results, but it’s fantastic to see that the trend of more girls sitting A-level science subjects has continued this year – particularly computing.

“This is the result of a major push in recent years to encourage girls to study science and maths-based (STEM) subjects. There are increasing numbers of female role models who are pioneering change in science-based careers including the hugely talented Sarah Gilbert, who’s leading the Oxford University vaccine team to help defeat Covid-19.

“Let’s hope that the myth that STEM subjects are primarily the preserve of boys has been busted once and for all.”

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Debra Danielson, chief technology officer at Digital Guardian, commented: “Whilst its encouraging to see a slight increase in the number of girls taking computing, maths, and further maths, the disproportionate number of girls sitting A-level science subjects this year shines a light on how far we as an industry have to go.

“There are serious pipeline problems in getting girls and young women to be interested in tech, engineering and STEM. We have problems attracting and keeping female university students interested in computer science.

“We have problems recruiting and hiring enough women, retaining women beyond mid-career in tech, keeping women in tech careers and not shifting them out. We have pay parity and promotion equity problems, and we have to constantly fight pervasive expectations that women aren’t as technical as men.

“At Digital Guardian, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing and diverse team. I never want to work again in an organisation where I’m the “odd man out”, and I’d love it if all women had the opportunity to experience this in their careers – from the classroom to the boardroom.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

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