Computer science, IT and maths
Why study computer science, IT or mathematics in the UK?
With cutting-edge technology and a high standard of teaching, the UK is the perfect place to start your career. From Alan Turing’s groundbreaking ‘universal machine’ – widely seen as the first model of a modern computer – to Tim Berners-Lee’s creation of the World Wide Web, the UK has a long heritage in computing, and a global reputation for innovation.
Today, many computer scientists and mathematicians use UK universities and colleges as bases for research into new systems, and many private companies work with universities on research. This means students can work on projects that are well-funded and relevant to businesses around the world. Much of the work on new technologies starts here, from robotics to artificial intelligence!
Did you know…
- The UK ranks second in the world for collaboration between universities and industry (BIS), meaning students are given unique opportunities to gain work experience and learn from professionals
- The UK is the largest European market for high-end consumer electronics products, and is home to over 40% of Europe’s electronics design industry (UKTI)
- The UK is Europe’s leading market for software and IT services, and every year attracts £930 million from international businesses investing in software research and development (UKTI)
- The UK has the highest number of computer game development companies in Europe. From Tomb Raider to the Harry Potter games to Grand Theft Auto, UK-made games account for £1.34 billion in sales (UKTI)
- The UK’s telecommunications sector invests nearly £2 billion in research and development every year, and the UK mobile handset market is the largest in Europe (UKTI)
- The UK is renowned for innovations in website design and development, and accounts for over a quarter of Europe's online advertising spend (IAB)
- Developments in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and simulation are heavily funded and supported by organisations such as the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour (AISB).
Courses and qualifications
You can study computer science, IT, information systems or mathematics as single subjects, or combine them with others. Many students choose to combine maths with subjects such as statistics, operational research or economics, or you could study IT alongside business or English to improve your language skills.
At school and further education level, you can study for GCSEs, International Baccalaurate, AS- and A-levels (or in Scotland, Highers and Advanced Highers) in computer science, IT, or similar subjects (some schools offer Information and Communication Technology, or ICT). Mathematics is a core subject in the UK National Curriculum, so all students will study it up to the age of 16.
You can also study for more career-focused (vocational) qualifications such as BTEC Firsts and Nationals in IT, Software Development, Computer Science or Quality Assurance for Computer Games Development. There are also around 300 Foundation Degree programmes available in subjects across computing, software engineering, digital media and more.
In higher education, there are a lot of different Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs) you could take, as well as Bachelor’s (BSc) degrees, and at postgraduate level, Master’s (MSc) and doctorate (PhD) degrees. There is an increasingly wide range of subjects on offer at UK universities and colleges – you could take computer science or IT as single subjects or focus on a particular area such as business IT, e-commerce or web design, or combine subjects to study computing with law, engineering, philosophy or finance.
Most undergraduate mathematics courses take three years and lead to a BSc degree, although you could do a four-year ‘sandwich’ course, which includes a period of work experience (check your visa status allows this). Some institutions also offer a four-year undergraduate course which leads to a Master of Mathematics (MMath) qualification.
Click here to read more about qualifications for students aged 16 and under
Click here to read more about further education qualifications
Click here to read more about higher education qualifications
To study mathematics at higher education level, most institutions require a good A-level or equivalent qualification (such as the International Baccalaureate or Scottish Highers) in maths. Some institutions might also ask for qualifications in a related subject such as statistics, physics or further maths (advanced maths).
Computer science and IT courses usually require a qualification in a related subject, such as computing, as well as mathematics.
If English isn’t your first language, most courses will also ask for evidence of your English language skills, such as an IELTS or equivalent qualification.
All schools, colleges and universities have different entry requirements, so make sure you read the course details thoroughly and ask your chosen institution directly if you have any questions.
UK computer science graduates are in demand across many sectors, with strong problem-solving skills and analytical thinking. You might work in software development, telecommunications, e-commerce or finance. There are also many opportunities for research.
Mathematics graduates can get involved in many areas of technology and engineering, solving real-world challenges such as improving air travel safety or making online shopping more secure. You might work in finance, accounting, industrial and commercial mathematics, IT applications and research, or teaching.
Many UK institutions work with employers to develop hands-on vocational courses, and new courses are continually being introduced as technology evolves – for example, a degree in Interactive Media could lead to a career as a website content manager, or you might study computer graphics and work in videogame design.
There are also many undergraduate courses that allow students to do a work placement, where you spend a certain amount of time on your course working in a professional environment. It is a great way to boost your CV (check your visa status allows this).
For more career advice, go to Entering a career.
The latest news about developments at UK universities and research organisations…
- The University of Liverpool has created the most realistic computer ‘virus’ ever – that can spread through computers completely of its own accord. The ‘Chameleon’ malware can move between devices without the user clicking on any links, and exploit weaknesses in Wi-Fi networks. The scientists hope to use this knowledge to adapt a new type of protection software.
- Could your best friend be a robot? Scientists at the University of Lincoln are employing ‘Erwin’ (Emotional Robot with Intelligent Network) to find out! The advanced ‘friendly robot’ is being used as part of a PhD study into the robot-human relationship, ultimately hoping to design robots to help people with emotional disorders.
- Robots could be as much a part of the household as vacuum cleaners, thanks to a new business-university collaboration in the UK. Sir James Dyson, the British inventor behind the Dyson electricals brand, is investing in a new robotics laboratory at Imperial College London to build ‘a new generation of robot that understands the world around them’.
- Scientists at Swansea University have found the ‘mathematics’ behind the way sheepdogs round up sheep on farms – and they say it could lead to 'robot shepherds' to control crowds of sheep, or even people. Read more here.
- Researchers at the University of Birmingham and University of Lincoln are working on a project to create robots that could act as 'employees' in real-life situations. Meet PhD students Christian Dondrup from Germany and Joao Santos from Portugal – pictured right, with one of their creations! Read the full story here.