Funding boost to tackle digital skills gaps in AI and data science

The Office for Students (OfS) has announced a funding competition to support universities and colleges to provide scholarships to students studying artificial intelligence (AI) and data science postgraduate conversion courses.

Up to £17 million of funding will be available to address digital skills gaps in the workforce.

The competition, funded in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), will fund scholarships worth £10,000 to encourage more women, black students, disabled students and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to study AI and data science at universities and colleges in England. These groups of students are currently significantly underrepresented in these types of courses, and in AI and data science industries.

Employers across the country are encouraged to take part in the programme and to co-fund scholarships. Supporting this government initiative, employers will take an active role in building a diverse pipeline of AI talent, and addressing the digital skills gap which estimates suggest costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP.

Applied AI and Data Science (MSc) student at Solent University, Nse Udoukpong said:

‘I didn't have any experience but wanted to understand the complexity of coding and the techniques to create anything you want to. This is what pushed me to apply. I really like the fact they don’t only want to teach you but also practically make you apply what you have learned into real world problems.’

Artificial Intelligence and Data Science (MSc) student at the University of Hull, Miranda Maimela said:

‘Since starting the course, I have managed to complete a work experience placement with Team GB as a Data Analysis Coordinator for the Tokyo Olympic Games 2022. This opportunity was possible through the university’s partnership with Team GB. The six-week project involved analysing data from previous kitting out events to enable the coordination of individual kit requirements for each Team GB athlete in advance of the games.’

Minister for Technology and Digital Economy, Damian Collins said:

'AI is creating great jobs across the country and we want to make sure they are open to everyone. We're investing millions to help people previously underrepresented in tech get the skills they need for a successful career. I encourage eligible universities and colleges to bid for this funding.'

Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students, John Blake said:

‘This important new funding will provide opportunities for students to fulfil their career aspirations. Data science and AI will continue to be crucial to our economy and society, and it’s right that the industry can draw from the widest possible pool of graduates for their future employees.

‘The data shows the clear need for highly skilled AI graduates in the UK and this funding will provide opportunities for universities and colleges to establish the strong and long lasting relationships with industry necessary to boost local economies.

‘Hearing of the successes of students and recent graduates of the programme demonstrates the clear value of these courses. In particular, the opportunity to work flexibly around other work and caring commitments demonstrates how universities and colleges are responding to the needs and range of students interested in study within the broader context of a post-pandemic world.’

Simon Martin, Chief Executive at Group GTI, which is partnering with the OfS to support employers to build relationships with universities in this work, said:

‘This is a great opportunity for universities and colleges of all sizes and regions across England to bid for data science and AI course funding and to partner with employers in a new way to help equality of opportunity.

‘We’re excited to be working with employers to help with talent acquisition and at the same time broaden access to AI and data science postgraduate study for people who may otherwise not be able to do it.’

This funding competition builds on an existing £13.5 million investment in the current postgraduate conversion course funded programme. The programme began in 2020 and has exceeded recruitment targets with 3,859 students enrolled up to March 2022. Of the 28 universities across England currently offering the courses, nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of the total UK-domiciled scholarship students enrolled across the programme are women. Thirty-eight per cent are black students and 26 per cent are disabled. This is much higher than the tech workforce as a whole.

Early evidence shows that graduates are also going on to secure careers following the courses, most of which are data-focused, meeting a key aim of the programme. According to emerging findings from the independent evaluators at the Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC), the majority of respondents (nearly 60 per cent of 97) in a graduate survey found careers or had a job offer within two to three months following graduation.

Each course has been designed to be taught flexibly, with full-time and part-time options allowing students with other care or work commitments to enrol. Some courses also offer work placements to boost students' employability after they graduate.


  1. See the independent interim report from CRAC on the OfS website.
  2. According to the National AI Strategy, estimates suggest the digital skills gap costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP.
  3. According to the government’s latest Digital Strategy, over 80 per cent of all jobs advertised in the UK now require digital skills. The Industrial Strategy states the UK’s ambition to generate good jobs and greater earning power for all; addressing skills shortages is a key component of the artificial intelligence and data ‘grand challenge’ which aims to remove retraining barriers, normalise career changes and drive diversity. This funding aims to address these issues by working with universities and industry to allow people from non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) backgrounds to train in artificial intelligence and data science.  
  4. A conversion course may be aimed at either upskilling someone with capabilities and expertise to enhance those they have already or equipping them with entirely new capabilities and expertise aimed at a career change. The skills and competences offered by such courses are applicable to a wide range of professions: from jobs requiring highly technical data science and engineering knowledge, to broader business and management process roles.  
  5. These courses are the latest stage of the government’s support for strengthening the UK’s artificial intelligence talent pipeline and represent the delivery of another of the key commitments in the £1 billion AI Sector Deal. The AI Sector Deal sets out how artificial intelligence and data will bring economic growth to the UK. 
  6. Data from a student survey, completed by 97 students two to three months after completing the conversion courses, shows emerging evidence of student employment outcomes, with 50 students in a new job, eight students with a new job offer, and nine having started a doctorate. Twenty-one respondents were looking for a new job and five had remained in their existing job. Overwhelmingly, the most popular career destination reported was organisations that are making use of data science and AI, followed by a specialist organisation in one of those fields.
  7. Universities have been raising students’ employability skills by working with businesses to develop work placements as part of the courses. Companies interested in partnering with universities to offer placements and employment opportunities after graduation are urged to get in touch with Group GTI directly to enquire.
  8. These masters’ courses are designed as conversion courses to make them suitable for students with a broad range of abilities and experience, including students without a background or undergraduate degree in a STEM subject. Students are supported to quickly upskill with the aim of starting careers in AI and data science following graduation. They are delivered with flexible study options available to help provide opportunities for students with other work or caring responsibilities.
Published 22 September 2022
Last updated 23 September 2022
23 September 2022
Correction to figure: 'estimates suggest the digital skills gap costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP'.

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