Govt opens £17m AI student fund but firms must pay too

studentThe Government is dishing out up to £17m in funding to create more scholarships for AI and data science conversion courses, in a move which it claims will help underrepresented people in the tech industry – including women, black people, those with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds – join the AI industry.

As part of the initiative, ministers are calling on companies to play their part in creating a future pipeline of AI talent by co-funding the AI scholarships, claiming it will help get more people into the AI and data science job market quicker and strengthen UK their businesses.

Together, Government and industry funding will create two thousand scholarships for masters AI and data science conversion courses, each worth £10,000, meaning UK firms will have to stump up £3m towards the cost.

An independent organisation, to be announced later this year, will be responsible for encouraging industry participation and investment into the AI Scholarships scheme.

The programme is enabling graduates to do further study courses in the field even if their undergraduate course is not directly related, creating a new generation of experts in data science and AI.

Courses are open to anyone who meets a participating university’s entry requirements. Details of how to apply are available on the universities’ websites. Eligible applicants can apply for a scholarship through their university.

Ministers point out that the UK has a long history in AI, from codebreaker Alan Turing’s early work through to London-based DeepMind’s pioneering research which will enable quicker and more advanced drug discovery.

The UK is ranked third in the world for private venture capital investment into AI companies (2019 investment into the UK reached almost £2.5bn) and is home to a third of Europe’s total AI companies.

The Government claims the new scholarships will ensure more people can build successful careers in AI, create and develop new and bigger businesses, and will improve the diversity of this growing and innovative sector.

The first stage of the AI and data science conversion courses in 2019, delivered by the Office for Students, supported 28 universities in England to set up and provide degree conversion courses in AI and data science.

The £13.5m AI Scholarship programme attractive a diverse group of students, with 76% of scholarship students being women, compared to only 30% of masters students on traditional computing courses. Nearly half, 45%, of the scholarship students were black and 24% had disabilities.

Some 84% of the scholarship students were based outside of London and the South East.

DCMS minister for tech and the digital economy Chris Philp said: “The UK is already a world leader in AI. Today we’re investing millions to ensure people from all parts of society can access the opportunities and benefits AI is creating in this country.

“We are doubling the number of AI scholarships previously available to underrepresented groups to build a diverse and inclusive workforce fit for the future of tech.

Office for Students director for fair access and participation John Blake added: “The postgraduate conversion courses offer a valuable opportunity for students from all backgrounds to contribute fresh perspectives and innovation to data science and artificial intelligence. In turn, these courses provide an important opportunity for organisations of all sizes to address the digital skills gap and support the post-pandemic recovery right across the country.

“The enrolment data for the first year of the programme indicates that the courses are contributing to changes in the tech industry towards a more diverse workforce. I look forward to the next phase of the programme and seeing how universities and organisations are collaborating to support access for underrepresented students, and the subsequent successes of students as they continue to develop their learning and experiences in this crucial industry.”

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