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UK gov't helps fund 2,500 artificial intelligence and data science conversion courses

by Louis Stone
Article ImageWith 1,000 places for students from under-represented backgrounds

The UK government will help fund 2,500 postgraduate conversion courses, training people in artificial intelligence and data science.

A total of 1,000 scholarships will be offered to students from under-represented backgrounds, with a priority for those who are female, black or disabled.

While the government is covering some of the costs, applicants will still have to pay for their education unless they receive a full scholarship.

The government will also “support” artificial intelligence Masters programs, AI research fellowships at the Alan Turing Institute, and 16 dedicated centers at universities, aiming to train 1,000 extra PhDs in AI-related fields – but the funding, in this case, will come solely from industry sources.

The workforce of the future

The 2,500 conversion courses will be made possible with “up to” £24m ($30m) in funding from the UK government, universities, and unidentified industry partners.

The money will be distributed among 18 universities that are working with partners to deliver courses across 28 educational institutions in England; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were not mentioned.

The program hopes to provide places for graduates from a range of backgrounds. That includes those that have a degree in science, technology, engineering, maths or social sciences, as well as those that have studied other subjects, and are looking to retrain in a new profession.

The specific focus on underrepresented groups comes after Tech Nation and Royal Society studies found that women make up just 19 percent of the tech workforce in the UK, and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds represent only four percent of the industry.

Scholarship application documents note that they may be available for students from areas of the country where young people are less likely to progress towards higher education, care-experienced students, estranged students, Roma or Traveller students, refugees, and those from military families.

"It’s important we encourage more homegrown talent from different backgrounds to access these opportunities so we can develop better tech tools, services and organizations that truly reflects our nation," Mark Martin MBE, co-founder of UK BlackTech, said.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden added that a more diverse AI workforce would "also help mitigate the risk of biased technologies being developed."

Announcing this latest funding and training initiative, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said that "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.

Beyond representation issues, the UK also faces a wider AI and data sciences skills shortage. In 2019, the Royal Society found that demand for workers with specialist data skills had more than tripled over five years.

"Demand shows no sign of slowing down, and skill shortages that have plagued the economy for years will only get worse," Professor Andrew Blake said at the time.

"Addressing Britain’s chronic supply issues requires radical action... Universities may want think about embracing this joint model for data science and AI, to help secure their AI talent for the future."

Admission at all 28 participating universities will open this Fall, the government saidalthough some applications are available immediately.

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