In partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI), the Office for Students (OfS) has announced funding 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 programme, which began in 2020, aimed to enrol at least 2,500 students by autumn 2023 and increase diversity for groups who 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 to 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 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.
Artificial Intelligence and Data Science (MSc) student at the University of Hull, Miranda Maimela 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”.
Simon Martin, Chief Executive at Group GTI 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”.