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Cambridge computing profs 'desperate' for applicants

Increasingly generous percentages grudgingly considered for acceptance

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The computer sciences department at Cambridge University has said it is "desperate" to attract more students to its courses, despite the fact that it currently turns down two applications in three.

The Guardian quotes Jack Lang, a lecturer at the Cambridge computer laboratory, as saying that:

"People seem to think computer science is for nerds... It's just not true... It is the basis on which planes are controlled, our bank accounts are guarded from identity fraud and the NHS is kept running."

It seems that last year, a measly 210 youngsters applied to study computer science at Cambridge, and disgusted profs were forced to accept 70 of them. They prefer to reject a higher proportion; in 2000, back in the good old days, 500 applied and 400 were turned down.

"We want potential students to know that the burst of the bubble is well and truly over," said Professor Andy Hopper, head of the Cambridge computer lab.

"There is a shortage of computer scientists in this country, jobs to be filled and the chance to get rich."

Across the University, on average 28 per cent of applicants are offered a place to study, so on the face of it the IT lads' 33 per cent stats aren't so very bad. In fact, if you look at the 2006 figures you can see that plenty of subjects were less popular than Computer Science. Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic offered places to 53 per cent of applicants; Classics, 55 per cent; and Education Studies, 60 per cent.

Even the English department, offering a very pleasant and leisurely three years, was only a tad ahead of the computer guys, offering places to 25 per cent of those who asked. Tough departments requiring serious mathematical competence were in some trouble, too, owing to the national shortage of schoolchildren willing to tackle hard sums. Engineering profs were offering places to 29 per cent of those who knocked on their door, and the actual Maths department was compelled to take an embarrassingly high 38 per cent.

However, Professor Hopper probably doesn't want to be compared to these departments. He can accept students with a somewhat lower level of maths ability, and he'd like it if people saw a computing degree as a surefire path to wealth and prestige, like the departments of Law, Medicine and Social/Political Science*, all lying at almost five applicants per place in 2006 - just like comp-sciences back in the glory days of Bubble 1.0.

"Ours is a rigorous and demanding course that produces graduates able to both manage and innovate," insisted Hopper's deputy, Prof Peter Robinson.

Computer departments nationwide have still failed to recover from the dark days of 2001. Hopper and Robinson may have to wait a while before they're back up with the lawyers, doctors and political wannabes. The Guardian report is here. ®

*SPS at Cambridge is the equivalent of the (in)famous Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) degree at Oxford. It's the course you take if you're thinking of being a politician, high ranking civil-service mandarin or similar.

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