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Government earmarks £23m for 2,000 AI scholarships in England

The DCMS has confirmed £23m government funding for 2,000 scholarships in England for AI and data science Masters degree conversion courses

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced £23m in funding to create artificial intelligence (AI) and data science graduate conversion courses aimed, it is said, at underrepresented groups. such as women, black people and people with disabilities.

Up to 2,000 scholarships are to be made available for a Masters in AI conversion courses, open to people whose undergraduate degrees are unrelated to the field.

In June 2019, the department announced a tranche of £13.5m funding for up to 2,500 AI and data science conversion courses for professionals who have degrees in other disciplines, as well as 1,000 scholarships.

And in June 2020, it announced that the 1,000 AI scholarships were to be targeted at students from “under-represented backgrounds”.

At that time, a DCMS spokesperson confirmed: “People can now apply for places on the courses. Last year, we just announced the funding.”

At the 2021 Conservative party conference in Manchester, Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, confirmed the creation of 2,000 AI scholarships, adding to the existing 1,000 conversion course scholarships.

The department has confirmed to Computer Weekly that “this funding is for the 2,000 new scholarships only, which takes the total number of AI scholarships to 3,000”.

Computer Weekly understands that £17m of the £23m is new funding with £6m having been re-allocated from the original £13.5m for the first phase of the programme. This takes the total project funding to £30m, for the 3,000 scholarships. 

In the venture, the government is working with the Office for Students, an independent regulator that reports to the Department for Education and was established in 2017.

John Blake, director for fair and access and participation at the Office for Students, said: “The postgraduate conversion courses offer a valuable opportunity for students from all backgrounds to contribute fresh perspectives and innovation to data science and artificial intelligence.

“The enrolment data for the first year of the programme indicates that the courses are contributing to changes in the tech industry towards a more diverse workforce. I look forward to the next phase of the programme and seeing how universities and organisations are collaborating to support access for underrepresented students.”

The first stage of the AI conversion courses in 2019, delivered by the Office for Students, supported 28 universities in England to set up and provide the conversion courses.

That £13.5m AI scholarship programme is said to have enabled a diverse group of students to study AI and data science. Some 76% of scholarship students were women. Nearly half (45%) of the scholarship students were black, and 24% had disabilities.

DCMS reports that the first phase of the AI courses also attracted talent outside of London and the South East of England, with 70% of the total students and 84% of the scholarship students based outside of these areas.

The government is encouraging companies to match-fund the scholarships, said the department.

An independent organisation, to be announced later this year, will be responsible for encouraging industry participation and investment into the AI scholarships scheme. 

DCMS also said a competition will be held later this year for universities in England to bid for the new scholarships. The next round of the AI scholarship scheme will start in April 2023 and will be available until 2025. 

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