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.