The Office for Students (OfS) - the regulator and competition authority for the higher education sector in England - is offering £13 million in funding to universities and other higher education providers to develop postgraduate courses designed to boost the take up of artificial intelligence and data science skills.
The strategy is aimed implementing so-called "conversion courses" that can quickly upskill students – who may have originally studied non-STEM disciplines – in new technologies and encourage a more diverse workforce. The goal is to attract at least 2,500 graduates by 2023.
The funding, delivered by the OfS on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and the Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI), comprises £3 million for course development costs and £10 million for scholarships for students from backgrounds underrepresented in these industries, particularly female, disabled and black students.
The initiative is the latest stage of the Government’s support for strengthening the UK’s AI talent pipeline and is one of key commitments in the £1 billion AI Sector Deal, which sets out how AI and data will bring economic growth to the UK.
Earlier this week, the Institute of Coding launched a campaign which aims to tackle stereotypes in the digital industry. It follows research which shows many young people are put off pursuing a career in tech due to a perceived lack of diversity.
OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said that there is a significant and growing demand for digital skills from employers across a wide range of industries, including – increasingly – those that have not traditionally relied heavily on this expertise.
However, she maintains that the supply of talent is not keeping pace with demand, and a lack of diversity in the current workforce threatens to undermine the capability and credibility of the sector.
Dandridge added: "We are committed to ensuring that graduates come to the job market with the skills that employers need, and that graduates from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to gain those skills.
"This funding will stimulate employers and universities to come together in developing innovative solutions to tackle skills gaps, and increase choice for students as they prepare for successful careers in a digital world."
Chris Skidmore, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, said: "AI has the potential to drive breakthroughs that will positively impact all of our lives. Digital skills in transformational technologies like this are gold dust for employers across a range of industries.
"Today’s funding will help our universities train the next generation of AI experts and in doing so, ensure we continue to support talented people to develop these skills to help our economy thrive in the future."