DCMS announces new funding to increase diversity in AI

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced today a £23 million fund in artificial intelligence (AI) and data postgraduate courses aimed at underrepresented groups within the industry, including women, Black people and disabled people.

The budget will fund up to two thousand scholarships for masters conversion courses that will allow graduates with undergraduate degrees in any discipline to specialise in AI.

A report by Ipsos MORI commissioned by DCMS on the state of AI in the UK labour market found that over half (53%) of the companies surveyed did not employ any females in AI roles, and two in five (40%) of those firms did not employ any staff from an ethnic minority background in AI roles. (The study does not include figures on disabled people representation.)

The new funding is the continuation of the AI scholarship programme, a series of conversion courses delivered in 2019 by the Office for Students, England’s independent regulator of higher education, and supported by 28 English universities. The £13.5 million scheme was part of the Government’s National AI Strategy launched in October 2021 outlining the plans for turning the UK into a global AI hub within the next decade.

The strategy was built around three core principles, including investment in an AI ecosystem in the UK, supporting an AI-based economy, and the adoption of an approach to AI regulation that balances individual rights with innovation. 

According to government figures, during the first AI conversion programme, 76% of scholarship students were women, 45% Black and 24% disabled.

John Blake, Director for Fair and Access and Participation at the Office for Students, said that during its first year, the scholarships programme contributed to having a more diverse workforce within the tech industry and welcomed the funding for its continuation.

“The postgraduate conversion courses offer a valuable opportunity for students from all backgrounds to contribute fresh perspectives and innovation to data science and artificial intelligence,” Blake said in a statement. “In turn, these courses provide an important opportunity for organisations of all sizes to address the digital skills gap and support the post-pandemic recovery right across the country.”

Obum Ekeke OBE, Head of Education Partnerships at Google-owned AI company DeepMind, said that the scholarships will help to make the AI community in the UK more diverse and bring a wider range of experiences and multidisciplinary expertise to the field.

“The next generation of AI researchers must be representative of the world around us if AI is to benefit the whole of society,” said Ekeke in a release.

An independent organisation will be announced later in the year to encourage industry participation and investment into the AI scholarships scheme and to match-fund the scholarships for the conversion courses. 

(Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash.)


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