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Up to £24 million to attract new and diverse talent to artificial intelligence and data science courses

Artificial Intelligence

#JoinYourAIFuture – @OliverDowden announces new application process to the world’s first #AI and #DataScience conversion courses

Graduates will have the opportunity to apply for a place on new artificial intelligence (AI) and data science masters courses starting in autumn 2020, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden announced today (Wednesday 10 June). 

The move will enable 2,500 people to develop new digital skills or retrain to help find new employment in the UK’s cutting-edge AI and data science sectors.

Up to £24 million of funding from government, universities and industry partners will help bolster the introduction of new and diverse talent into digital and tech roles, funding has been awarded to 18 universities who are working with partner providers to deliver courses in 28 universities and colleges across England.

The programme of courses, which begin from autumn 2020, will be available in 28 universities across England, with 1,000 scholarships available to students from underrepresented backgrounds.

The government has joined forces with the Office for Students, universities and industry partners to create a fund of up to £24 million to increase the number of highly-skilled workers in AI and data science roles. The cash will provide places for graduates from a range of backgrounds – both those that have a degree in science, technology, engineering, maths or social sciences and those that have studied other subjects to date. Scholarships will be made available to support applications from diverse backgrounds.

Applicants could include people returning to work after a career break and looking to retrain in a new profession, under-represented groups in the AI and digital workforce. 1000 scholarships will specifically target the female, black and disabled demographics.

Statistics from a Tech Nation and Royal Society report reveal women make up only 19 per cent of the tech workforce and people from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background represent just 4 per cent of the UK tech industry.

Successful students will have flexible access to study and course content so they can fit their studies around their daily lives. Students will undertake paid work placements to help maximise their employment opportunities at the end of their course which could see them land roles as machine learning engineers, data scientists, research scientists or AI architects.

Through specialist teaching and paid work placements, the conversion courses will allow graduates from both STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and non or far STEM subjects, like philosophy or geography, to significantly boost their digital skills – helping to address the shortage of AI and data specialists joining the UK workforce.

The programme aims to target graduates from backgrounds often underrepresented in these industries, particularly female, disabled and black students – £10 million will be used for scholarships to support students from underrepresented groups, out of a total of up to £24 million invested by government, universities and industry partners.

The data science and AI courses developed by these universities will teach skills relevant to a wide range of industries: many of which will be crucial to support recovery following the coronavirus pandemic including medicine, transport, social sciences, and biosciences. AI is being used in innovative ways in many other fields too, for example in countering online abuse, detecting early signs of disease, and driving improved support for at-risk communities such as refugees.

The announcement is part of the government’s commitment to increase R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Oliver Dowden 100x100Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

It is vital we increase diversity across our tech sector and give everyone with the aptitude and talent the opportunity to build a successful career.

This will help make sure artificial intelligence developed in the UK reflects the needs and make-up of society as a whole which will also help mitigate the risk of biased technologies being developed.

Through these new AI and data science conversion courses we are working with industry and academia to develop and maintain the best AI workforce in the world.

Amanda Solloway 100x100Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

From disease diagnosis to driverless vehicles, demand for a diverse new pipeline of talent in the AI and digital workforce has never been greater.

By working with our leading universities and industry partners, I am delighted that we are providing students from all backgrounds the chance to upskill and help tackle some of the most complex challenges of our time.

Creating a more diverse future workforce will help with the design of new technology that has the potential to help tackle some of the greatest social challenges of our time – from protecting our environment to transforming the way we live and work and also saving lives by detecting signs of diseases earlier.

Mark Martin MBE 100x100Mark Martin MBE, co-founder of UK BlackTech said:

The new AI and data science courses and scholarships will help boost uptake of these technologies across the country and prepare the next generation to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and social injustices.

It’s important we encourage more homegrown talent from different backgrounds to access these opportunities so we can develop better tech tools, services and organisations that truly reflects our nation.

Chris Millward 100x100Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said:

In recent years we have seen significant and increasing demand for digital skills in a range of fields. From healthcare and biosciences, to industry and transport – harnessing artificial intelligence and data science will be crucial in tackling significant global challenges for years to come.

It is also critical that graduates from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to gain the skills that employers need. With new AI and data science conversion courses across the country, and scholarships available to students from underrepresented backgrounds, this programme will both help tackle skills gaps and increase choice and opportunities for all students.

Wendy Hall 100x100AI Skills Champion Dame Wendy Hall quote:

It is imperative that we continue to grow the pathways that supply good AI and Data Science jobs. Introducing new and diverse talent will continue to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in AI and Innovation. These conversion courses and the scholarships attached demonstrate the importance we place on diversity and talent.


In addition to these new conversion courses, the Government is also supporting industry-funded AI Masters, prestigious Alan Turing Institute AI research fellowships and 16 dedicated Centres at universities across the country to train 1000 extra AI PhDs.

To boost the use of AI in the public sector the World Economic Forum has published new guidelines to help the public sector embrace the technology to help drive efficiencies and prepare for future risks.

The guidance will also help established companies, start-ups and new entrants to the AI sector compete on a level playing field for government contracts and drive adoption of ethical practices by tech companies.

The government’s Digital Strategy predicts that, within 20 years, 90 per cent of all jobs will require some element of 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 backgrounds to train in artificial intelligence and data science.

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.

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.

Universities which have been awarded funding are developing postgraduate conversion courses. Within the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the OfS expects all universities to give prospective students clear and timely information about how their course will be taught, so students can confirm their choice of course and university with confidence. Universities must also let prospective and current students know about any planned and possible changes, keep them well informed as circumstances change, and make all reasonable efforts to maintain the quality of teaching on offer. 

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