In June 2019 the government announced that it would support the development of degree conversion courses in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science technologies to help address the shortage of AI and data specialists in the UK.
In response, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) provided a total of £13.5 million worth of funding between April 2020 and March 2023.
- £3.5 million was provided to develop postgraduate conversion courses in these areas. See list of courses available
- £10 million was provided to deliver 1,000 scholarships, worth £10,000 each, to groups underrepresented in the AI and data science sector to increase diversity, particularly for black, women and disabled students.
The scope of the programme was extended in 2021 to include the National Data Skills pilot.
In June 2022, DCMS and the OAI announced further funding for up to 2,000 additional postgraduate conversion course scholarships.
Find out more about the future scholarship funding
Find out more about the current funded projects
Responding to skills shortages
The primary goal of the new conversion courses is to respond to the shortage of data science and AI specialists in the UK. According to the government’s latest Digital Strategy, over 80 per cent of all jobs advertised in the UK now require digital skills.
The supply of skilled graduates would need to increase significantly to keep pace with current demand, and it is expected that demand will also increase rapidly in the next few years. A recent DCMS report found there were more than 110,000 AI and data science job vacancies in 2020.
Data from a survey conducted by the AI Council and The Alan Turing Institute showed 81 percent of those researching, developing, working with, or using AI technologies agreed there were significant barriers in recruiting and retaining top AI talent in their domain within the UK.
The other important aim for this programme of work is to increase the number of people from groups currently underrepresented in the AI and data science fields, and to encourage graduates from diverse backgrounds to consider a future in these occupations.
This lack of diversity was highlighted in the government's AI Sector Deal, which acknowledges that increasing diversity in the AI workforce is vital to ensure that everyone with the potential to participate has the opportunity to do so. For example, women represent 49 per cent of the workforce, but hold less than 19 per cent of all available technology jobs.
These new conversion courses will build on work already underway to diversify the sector. In the video below, Isabel Chapman from TechMums talks about work they've been doing with FutureLearn, the University of Leeds and UKBlackTech to provide flexible learning and working environments for women to find employment in the digital industry.