UK Workforce
The UK government has urged AI companies to come forward and join its funding efforts to enhance the AI skills of the UK workforce through 2,000 scholarships for AI and data science conversion courses for women, black and disabled people. Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Britain is trying to harness the power of artificial intelligence or AI jobs with fresh grants and scholarships to boost skills and diversity in the tech sector.

The UK government's Digital, Culture, Media & Sport department and the Office for Artificial Intelligence have allocated £17 million to create 2,000 scholarships in AI and data science conversion courses in the country.

According to the Sunak government, this funding for AI and data science conversion courses is essential for better inclusion of underrepresented groups in AI jobs. The new scholarships will help those without any experience get jobs in the tech sector.

The move aims to enhance the AI skills of women, black people and disabled people along with those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. This comes at a time when the government announced £118 million in AI skills funding recently.

The UK government has urged tech companies to contribute to the funding so that technological skills can be boosted in the country, making the future workforce ready for employment.

With the help of the AI industry, the government can strengthen the UK workforce at a faster rate as it will create 2,000 scholarships for masters courses in AI and data science conversion, worth £10,000 each. Through this funding, the Sunak government is helping UK graduates to do further studies in artificial intelligence even when their undergraduate course isn't related to it.

The AI and data science conversion courses will be available to anyone who fulfils the participating UK universities entry requirements and eligible students can apply for the scholarship through the respective university websites.

Britain has a long history of AI, starting from codebreaker Alan Turing's work to the London-based UK company DeepMind's AI research which helped in advanced drug discovery. The government is trying to harness such futuristic possibilities in the AI field through new funding.

At present, Britain is third in terms of private venture capital investment in AI companies with investment reaching £2.5 billion in 2019. A third of European AI companies are present in the UK.

So, the new scholarships will ensure that the country is leveraging the benefits of investment in AI for better employment and successful careers for UK citizens. This will improve diversity in the tech sector which is always growing and innovating, and hence needs better talents.

Earlier in 2019, the UK government supported 28 UK universities to set up and provide AI and data science conversion courses through the £13.5 million AI scholarship programme.

This addressed the disparity in AI and data science courses as 30 per cent of masters students in computing courses were women and 76 per cent of scholarship students were women.

In the first stage of the funding, 45 per cent of scholarships went to black students while 24 per cent went to disabled people. This will improve the diversity in AI and data science courses.

The first phase of funding also addressed regional disparity as students outside London and the South East got the benefit of studying artificial intelligence. While 70 per cent of the total number of students in AI and data science conversion courses were outside this area, 84 per cent of the scholarship students were not London-centric.

How will the funding help the AI ecosystem?

Speaking about the matter, the UK Minister for Tech and Digital Economy, Chris Philip said: "The UK is already a world leader in AI. Today we're investing millions to ensure people from all parts of society can access the opportunities and benefits AI is creating in this country."

"We are doubling the number of AI scholarships previously available to underrepresented groups to build a diverse and inclusive workforce fit for the future of tech," the tech minister added.

Science Minister George Freeman said it's essential to equip the UK workforce with the latest skills in technologies like AI as "it is playing a key role in every sphere of life – from climate science and medical diagnostics to factory robotics and smart cities".

According to Freeman, the new funding "will see underrepresented groups trained up to build successful careers in AI, supporting the growth and diversity of AI in the UK" which will make the AI industry accessible to talents from different backgrounds.

The UK AI Council Chair Tabitha Goldstaub said that the new funding will ensure a diverse talent pool, making way for future AI developments needed in society.

"These masters AI and data conversion courses welcoming people from non-STEM degrees attract a less homogeneous group which means the UK AI ecosystem benefits from graduates with different backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences," said Goldstaub.

Obum Ekeke OBE, Head of Education Partnerships, DeepMind revealed that an independent organisation will be announced later this year which will be responsible for "encouraging industry participation and investment into the AI Scholarships scheme".

This new funding is part of the National AI Strategy which seeks to invest in an AI ecosystem in a span of 10 years to make the UK an AI superpower. The new scholarships are building on the Industrial Funded AI Masters programme which the government started in 2019 to enhance AI skills across the country.

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