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Solent University is one of 30 English universities chosen to share an £8.1 million fund to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science scholarships.

30th March 2023
Computing and gamesHomepage - News - Featured

Solent University, Southampton is one of 30 English universities chosen to share an £8.1 million fund to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science scholarships.

The funding from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) is being awarded by the Office for Students (OfS) to support the delivery of AI and data science postgraduate conversion course scholarships to eligible underrepresented groups, in order to increase diversity.

Solent’s MSc Applied AI and Data Science course has been awarded £270k, which will fund 27 scholarships of £10k each for the academic year 2023-24 with further funding for 2024-25 subject to confirmation. Taught on campus, students can decide to study full or part-time, to help support those with other work or caring responsibilities.

Dr Shakeel Ahmad, Associate Professor of Computing at Solent University is leading the project, having previously been awarded £500,000 to launch the Post Graduate conversion course in AI and Data Science.

He says: “I am very pleased to see another successful bid from OfS, and I would like to thank the Solent staff and our industrial partners - IBM, Barter4Things, UHS-NHS, and Motion Robotics - for their continued support, and the University for providing an additional six scholarships on top of the 27 OfS scholarships this funding will provide.

“This is a great initiative from OfS and will help to increase the number and diversity of the skilled workforce in the AI and Data Science sector. The project will enable eligible underrepresented students from any academic background to join our inclusive and industry-informed MSc Applied AI and Data Science conversion course and start an exciting and rewarding career in this area.”

After a competitive selection process, the OfS is providing the £8.1m funding for up to 817 scholarships for the 2023-24 academic year, with further funding for 2024-25 subject to confirmation.

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

John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, says: “This funding provides opportunities for students underrepresented in these industries to achieve their career aspirations.

“Universities have responded to the various needs of these students, such as offering flexible learning for mature students and for those with caring responsibilities.

“Early evidence suggests students from the priority groups are successfully completing their courses and connecting with employers. We encourage more employers to get involved to nurture this talent and help train the digital workforce of tomorrow.”

Notes to editor

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 postgraduate conversion course programme has exceeded recruitment targets with 6,317 students enrolled on AI and data science courses until 31 December 2022. Of the 28 universities across England currently offering the courses, over two-thirds (70 per cent) of the total UK-domiciled scholarship students enrolled across the programme are women. Thirty-five per cent are Black students and 26 per cent are disabled.

Following the success of the initial programme, DSIT has announced a funding package worth up to £17 million between April 2023 and March 2025 for up to 2,000 additional scholarships. The OfS launched a funding competition in September 2022 to invite universities and colleges to bid for funding to deliver scholarships.

Students can study at a range of courses across England which cover topics such as practical AI and data science skills, coding, programming, machine learning, health data science and AI ethics. Courses are delivered flexibly in a variety of ways including full-time, part-time and online learning options to support students with other work or caring responsibilities. 58 new courses have been awarded funding through the competition.

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.