We explore the conditions under which students engage with, or disengage from, learning at university within the context of increased student diversity. We discuss the concept and use of academic engagement and disengagement but focus on the dynamics of disengagement in two comparable first year computing modules at a pre‐ and a post‐1992 university. The findings from this study suggest that there are many periods in which the learning and teaching environment, pedagogy and/or content do not academically engage the diverse interests and meet the needs of the range of students represented. Drawing upon this analysis, the reflections of participating teachers and interviews with their students, we consider what might be done to increase and widen academic engagement in the computing classroom. We conclude by drawing out some of the tentative implications that might be useful to explore in other universities.