Chelsea Samantha

Popularity of subjects changes after Covid


Our latest report “Before and After the Outbreak” maps the changes in student interest from 2018 through 2021.  

With the world changing at lightning-fast speed, challenging long-held assumptions and future forecasts alike, it is crucial to determine the direction of student interest over time. 

Mainstays still in high demand

The mainstays of English-taught international higher education are still in high demand, with programmes in Business & Management, Social Sciences, and Engineering & Technology capturing historically more than 40% of student interest. Nevertheless, major changes emerged over the past years. 

Studyportals ranked individual subdisciplines before and after the outbreak of Covid-19. Taking two snapshots of student interest – one representing 2018 and another representing 2021 – we can take a long-term perspective. 

The big picture has been dominated by a sway in student preferences among STEM subjects: Engineering & Technology appears to be on the decline, while students refocus their preferences onto Computer Science & IT. 

The decline of Mining Oil & Gas materialised at the same time as interest for Environmental Economics & Policy emerged.


Environment and sustainability 

Across over 200 subdisciplines, Environmental Economics & Policy now ranks 83rd in popularity, moving up 37 places since 2019, while Mining, Oil & Gas has slipped from #122 to #161.  The rise and fall of the two respective sub-disciplines come as no surprise considering the increasing urgency to address climate change as one of the biggest challenges facing humanity.  

They seem to reflect Gen Z’s commitment to environmental values and the growing role of sustainability on student decision making within and beyond the academic world.  

Technology-related skills 

Even more impactful has been the rise of interest in subdisciplines connected to Computer Science & IT. These are not only hard-science, STEM subjects, but involve every aspect of digital transformation. As the world rebounds from the outbreak of Covid-19 by transitioning to digital solutions, students seem to be ever more attracted by programmes providing them with the tools to take an active role in the transformation. 

The data shows increasing demand for technology-related skills: programmes categorised as Cyber Security, Machine Learning, Digital Marketing, Digital Communication, Artificial Intelligence and UX design have displaced other subjects in popularity. 

With the pandemic acting as a catalyst for rapid digital transformation across every industry, we expect this upward trend in digital subjects to continue.  

While Higher Education adapts to a post-pandemic world, it is necessary that it provides students with the skillset required to thrive in the near future. This means making sure that programme portfolios are up-to-date and cater to the needs of a changing context, and new student preferences. 


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