Funding boost for digital student scholarships

  • Date

    Thu 30 Mar 23

Male and female student looking at a tablet

Students can now benefit from new scholarships for artificial intelligence (AI) and data science postgraduate conversion courses at the University of Essex thanks to securing Government funding.

Essex is one of just 30 universities to share £8.1 million funding from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI), which is being awarded by the Office for Students (OfS) to universities to deliver the AI and data science scholarships to increase diversity.

Through specialist teaching and opportunities to engage with industry, the conversion courses will allow graduates from non-STEM subjects to significantly boost their digital skills – helping to address the shortage of AI and data specialists joining the UK workforce.

In 2019 the OfS launched a funding competition that aimed to increase diversity and address digital skills gaps in the workforce, which supported the government’s priority to invest in AI to encourage innovation in every sector and region.

The programme funded up to 1,000 scholarships at 28 universities – including Essex – designed to encourage more women, Black students and students with disabilities to study AI and data science. This programme has awarded 888 student scholarships up to 31 December 2022.

The postgraduate conversion course programme has exceeded recruitment targets with 6,317 students enrolled on AI and data science courses until 31 December 2022. Over two-thirds of the total UK-domiciled scholarship students enrolled across the programme are women, 35% are Black students and 26% are people with disabilities. This is much higher than the tech workforce as a whole.

Following the success of the initial programme, the OfS will provide £8.1 million funding for up to 817 scholarships to eligible underrepresented groups in the 2023-24 academic year, with further funding for 2024-25 subject to confirmation.

Welcoming the announcement, Professor Maria Fasli, UNESCO Chair in Analytics and Data Science and Executive Dean (Science and Health) at Essex, said: “We were delighted to have been part of the first phase of this successful programme so we are really proud to be part of the next phase.

“AI and data science are key areas of expertise at Essex, where we are dedicated to delivering ground-breaking data-driven research as well as passing on this expertise to the next generation of data scientists and analysts.

“We are pleased to continue to be part of this important programme to support underrepresented students to undertake their studies. There is huge demand for skilled and qualified graduates and these courses will educate and prepare graduates to take positions in a range of sectors.”

The scholarship eligibility criteria has been widened to include students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to provide further opportunities for students from this underrepresented group.

Engineering and tech companies have pledged investment in the programme with funding leveraged through an OfS-commissioned employer engagement partner, Group GTI. Employers are encouraged to take part in the programme and co-fund the scholarships to benefit from the opportunity to upskill their workforce, source and support diverse talent in their local community and address the digital skills gap.

John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said: “This funding provides opportunities for students underrepresented in these industries to achieve their career aspirations. This funding builds on the successes of the programme’s recent students, and provides the UK’s data science and AI sector with a wider pool of highly skilled graduates.”

Minister for AI at DSIT, Jonathan Camrose added: “AI is increasingly being used to boost productivity and unlock growth in British industries. People from all walks of life should be able to access the exciting job opportunities this transformative technology is creating across the country.”