Fri 26 Feb 21
Computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Professor Maria Fasli has had her UNESCO Chair in Analytics and Data Science role renewed for another four years.
Since taking up the role four years ago, Professor Fasli’s key focus as UNESCO Chair has been to address the challenge of helping developing and transitioning countries to gain the data science and analytics skills they need for the 21st century.
Data underpins almost every aspect of human life and there is huge potential for unlocking its benefits for economic growth. However, in developing and transitioning countries there is an acute lack of skills in data science and analytics.
Along with her team, Professor Fasli spent the first term forming strong partnerships with collaborators and experts from around the world, engaging in research in analytics and data science, hosting a wide range of activities and developing training programmes to help address this skills gap by strengthening the knowledge base.
Workshops and joint events with collaborators have been held in Brazil, China, Malaysia, South Africa, Indonesia and Rwanda and over 35 students have been supported with scholarships to attend the summer school and 12 academics/researchers have been hosted for research visits. This work has laid the foundations to intensify and grow this important work in the next four-year term.
“The cornerstone of our approach is that data is all about people. By improving people’s data literacy and capacity, along with access to and understanding of data and knowledge we can empower citizens to positively contribute to the governance of their country and transforming economies of developing and transitioning countries into strong, self-reliant digital and knowledge economies.”
Professor Fasli, who was the founding Director of the University of Essex’s Institute for Analytics and Data Science (IADS), said: “I am delighted my role as UNESCO Chair has been renewed so we can continue our important work to help address the acute lack of skills in data science, analytics and artificial intelligence in developing countries but also more widely internationally.”
Demand for workers with specialist data skills like data scientists and data engineers has reportedly more than tripled over the past five years. As developing economies grow, digital services and information will play a pivotal role.
Professor Fasli added: “The cornerstone of our approach is that data is all about people. By improving people’s data literacy and capacity, along with access to and understanding of data and knowledge we can empower citizens to positively contribute to the governance of their country and transforming economies of developing and transitioning countries into strong, self-reliant digital and knowledge economies.”
One successful partnership formed as part of the UNESCO Chair role has been with the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA) in Brazil where Professor Fasli has worked on finance and AI research projects with Dr Elton Sbruzzi, who is an expert in data science and AI linked to finance and investments.
Dr Sbruzzi, who is an Essex alumnus, said: “I think helping improve the skills in data science and analytics is crucial for developing and transitioning countries such as Brazil. Particularly, teaching data science and analytics has been challenging in this country. There is a lack of skilled professionals in these areas. Consequently, the quality of use of our available data is below its potential.”
He added: “Maria's contributions have brought our research projects to the next level. She is very diligent when reviewing our work and is open to propose and discuss new ideas.
Maria is a world leader in data science and analytics and has helped us at our work at ITA here in Brazil. I am very proud to say that today she is a reference for my work.”
Another partnership formed by Professor Fasli during her role as UNESCO Chair has been to develop research ideas and support programmes at the University of Malaya in Malaysia.
Dr Fariza Nasaruddin, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Malaya, said: “Professor Fasli has shared so much information with us in regards to what other countries are doing and explained how we can emulate them and improve our syllabus and research initiatives.
“She has also been very helpful in introducing to us various research opportunities, many of which we were not aware of before."
Balgyn Zaurbekova from Kazakhstan won a UNESCO Chair Scholarship to embark on her PhD in computer science and deep reinforcement learning at the University of Essex in 2018.
“The scholarship is a gateway for opportunities in the future on a global scale,” she explained. “For students from countries categorised as developing or undeveloped, it is a great opportunity to study and learn from leading experts in the field. In my case, the scholarship was the only chance which could provide me all these opportunities.
“I wanted to study at Essex because it is ranked as one of the top UK universities for providing excellent research experience and facilities, that was my priority for PhD study.”