Funding for conversion courses will help underrepresented groups get tech jobs even if they have no previous experience in the field
Businesses are encouraged to contribute funding to boost the skills pipeline for the future workforce
Up to £23m of government funding will help create more AI and data conversion courses, helping young people from underrepresented groups including women, black people and people with disabilities to join the British artificial intelligence (AI) industry, world leader.
Up to two thousand scholarships for master’s conversion courses in AI, which allow graduates to pursue studies in the field even if their undergraduate course is not directly related, will create a new generation of experts in science data and AI.
The UK has a long and exceptional history in AI, from the early work of codebreaker Alan Turing to pioneering research by London powerhouse DeepMind that will enable faster and more advanced drug discovery.
AI powers apps that help us navigate cities, stop online banking fraud, and communicate with smart speakers.
The UK is ranked third in the world for private venture capital investment in AI companies (investments in 2019 in the UK reached nearly £2.5bn) and is home to a third of the number total AI companies in Europe.
The new scholarships will enable more people to build successful careers in AI companies, create and grow new and larger companies, and improve the diversity of this growing and innovative technology sector.
DCMS Minister for Technology and Digital Economy Chris Philp said:
The UK is already a world leader in AI. Today, we are investing millions to ensure that people from all walks of life can access the opportunities and benefits that AI is creating in this country.
We are doubling the number of AI scholarships previously available for underrepresented groups to create a diverse and inclusive workforce fit for the future of technology.
UK AI Council Chair Tabitha Goldstaub said:
Ensuring there is a diverse talent pool to drive AI developments forward is vital to the success of technology and society.
These masters conversion courses welcoming people from non-STEM backgrounds attract a less homogenous group, meaning the UK AI ecosystem benefits from graduates with different backgrounds, perspectives and life experiences.
Obum Ekeke OBE, Educational Partnerships Manager, DeepMind said:
The next generation of AI researchers must be representative of the world around us if AI is to benefit society as a whole.
These fellowships will help build a stronger and more diverse AI community in the UK and bring a wider range of experience – as well as valuable multidisciplinary expertise – to the field.
The government is encouraging businesses to play their part in creating a future AI talent pool by co-funding the AI scholarships for conversion courses. Industry support would bring more people into the AI and data science job market faster and strengthen their businesses.
An independent organization, to be announced later this year, will be tasked with encouraging industry participation and investment in the AI Fellowship program.
First round of AI courses a resounding success
The first stage of AI conversion courses in 2019, delivered by the Office for Students, helped 28 universities in England set up and offer degree conversion courses in AI and data science.
The £13.5m AI Scholarship scheme enabled a diverse group of students to study AI and data science as 76% of scholarship students were female, while only 30% of master’s students in traditional IT courses are women. Nearly half, 45%, of scholarship students were black and 24% had a disability, boosting representation in AI and data science courses.
The first phase of AI courses also attracted tech talent outside of London and the South East, with 70% of total students and 84% of scholarship students based outside of these regions in England, improving AI and data science skills. .
The program is part of the government’s National AI Strategy, which commits to investing in and planning for the AI ecosystem over the next ten years, to strengthen the UK’s leadership as a global science and AI superpower.
The new scholarships follow the government-backed Industrial Funded AI Masters program since 2019 to increase AI skills across the UK with investment from industry.
John Blake, Director of Equity and Access and Engagement at the Office of Students, said:
Postgraduate Conversion courses provide a valuable opportunity for students from all backgrounds to bring new perspectives and innovation to data science and artificial intelligence. In turn, these courses provide an important opportunity for organizations of all sizes to bridge the digital skills gap and support post-pandemic recovery across the country.
Enrollment data for the program’s first year indicates that the courses are helping to move the tech industry toward a more diverse workforce. I look forward to the next phase of the program and to seeing how universities and organizations work together to support access for underrepresented students, and subsequent student success as they continue to develop their learning and experiences in this crucial industry.
Notes to editors An open competition will take place later this year for universities in England to bid for the scholarships. The next cycle of the AI scholarship program will start in April 2023 and will be available until 2025.
At the 2021 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, the Chancellor confirmed the creation of 2,000 AI scholarships, adding to the existing 1,000 AI and data science conversion course scholarships.
Courses are inclusive by design, providing students with flexible access to study (e.g. evenings, distance options) and course content suitable for non-STEM graduates
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the AI Office are also looking to make more underrepresented groups eligible for the 2,000 AI scholarships.
A broker organization will be established by April 2022 to support industry investment in this program and provide information to industry on AI skills initiatives. If you would like to support the scheme, please contact [email protected]
The Office for Students has developed a series of case studies on scholarship students, highlighting the benefits of this investment.
The National AI Strategy aims to achieve broad public trust and support and, through the participation of diverse talents and viewpoints in society, focuses on three pillars:
- Invest in and plan for the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem to maintain our leadership as a superpower in science and AI;
- Support the transition to an AI-based economy, capturing the benefits of innovation in the UK and ensuring that AI benefits all sectors and regions;
- Ensure the UK gets the right national and international governance of AI technologies to encourage innovation, investment and protect the public and our core values.