Two thousand new scholarships available to boost digital skills

Funding has been announced for up to 2,000 additional scholarships each worth £10,000 for artificial intelligence (AI) and data science postgraduate conversion courses, aimed at women, black students, disabled students and those from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds.

The funding announcement is made by the Office for Students (OfS) in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI). The programme, which began in 2020, aimed to enrol at least 2,500 students by autumn 2023 and increase diversity for groups that are underrepresented in the AI and data science industries. According to new findings from an independent evaluation carried out by The Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) and funded by the OfS, the data shows recruitment targets have been significantly exceeded, with 3,859 students enrolled since the programme began. Of this figure, 510 students were scholarship students.

Twenty-eight universities across England are currently offering the courses. Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of the total UK-domiciled scholarship students enrolled across the programme are women, compared with 27 per cent on computing postgraduate taught masters’ courses previously. Thirty-eight per cent are black students (12 per cent) and 26 per cent are disabled (16 per cent). This is much higher than the tech workforce as a whole. Compared with data by TechNation highlighted in the government’s AI Sector Deal, women represent 49 per cent of the workforce but hold less than 19 per cent of all available technology jobs. The scholarships help to address this imbalance and will also be open to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from September 2023 to further improve representation.

Organisations are encouraged to consider funding AI scholarships. The OfS has appointed employer engagement partner Group GTI to support organisations to develop strong relationships with the universities and students that they support, helping industry gain access to top and diverse AI talent to strengthen their businesses.

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

'Due to the nature of the programme as a conversion course, we all came into it with different skills and experiences having completed varied undergraduate degrees ranging from teaching, law, politics and finance among others. This meant that everyone was able to bring unique and diverse thoughts during workshop discussions. This made things more interesting as we were able to see and consider solutions through a different lens.

'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 2020. 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.'

Chief Executive at Group GTI, Simon Martin, said:

'We’re excited to be the employer engagement partner to help broaden access to AI and data science postgraduate study.

'We believe that diversity of thinking and lived experience is important to the future of AI to reduce the risk of bias and ensure fairness in algorithms. This initiative will help employers to access top and diverse AI and data science talent.

'We feel well placed to introduce employers to universities to discuss sponsoring students in our capacity as a trusted platform provider to over 90 universities and thousands of employers.'

DCMS Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy, Chris Philp, said:

'I want to ensure the UK remains a world leader in AI and data science. If we are to retain this status, businesses need to be attracting and developing talented people from diverse backgrounds that can lead this fast-paced area of tech in the future.

'I’m delighted the Office for Students will be delivering on our commitment of up to 2,000 new scholarships for underrepresented groups of people. These opportunities will ensure they can play a vital role in shaping a booming sector, whilst supporting our levelling up agenda and delivering major benefits to our economy.'

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

'This encouraging data shows enrolment targets for these courses have been exceeded, and provide positive evidence that they will help to increase diversity in these industries. Emerging findings from the graduate survey also indicates that these courses will help students to gain the skills needed to explore careers in this field to support the UK’s levelling up strategy.

'The need for highly skilled AI and data science graduates in the UK workforce is clear and the work placements are contributing to students’ practical and industry knowledge to prepare them for work. Universities and employers continue to have an important role to play in ensuring that students are able to gain the digital skills needed for to excel in these cutting-edge industries'.

Notes

  1. For more information, see our postgraduate conversion courses webpages
  2. According to the government’s latest Digital Strategy, published today, 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.
  3. 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.
  4. These courses are the latest stage of the government’s support for strengthening the UK’s artificial intelligence (AI) 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. 
  5. The Office for Students is the independent regulator for higher education in England. Our aim is to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
  6. The Office for Artificial Intelligence is a joint unit between the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport departments.
  7. 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 report was organisations that are making use of data science and AI, following by a specialist organisation in one of those fields.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 13 June 2022

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