BCU spearheads AI scholarship drive to tackle digital skills crisis


Black, female and disabled students could receive £10,000 in scholarship money from Birmingham City University (BCU) as part of a project that seeks to address a growing digital skills crisis in the UK.

Artificial Intelligence

Birmingham City University

Financial support is also available to applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds enrolled on BCU’s MSc in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and FinTech - or financial technology - pathway.

The new commitment has been made possible by a £320,000 grant from the Office for Students (OfS) after a Parliamentary report showed that the UK is failing to meet industry demand for AI skills.

“AI is fast becoming a baseline technology, transforming modern life in a cross-sectoral fashion,” said Professor Atif Azad, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at BCU.

“Democratising the uptake of such a fundamental technology is critical for a culturally diverse and rich Britain to ensure robust and responsible future developments.”

BCU has already distributed £760,000 in AI degree funding after receiving Government praise for its work to encourage students from underrepresented groups to take up opportunities in the sector.

The university has now secured further financial support after the OfS invited higher education providers to create innovative postgraduate conversion courses that upskill non-STEM students in AI and incentivise uptake from underrepresented demographics.

By 2025, there are expected to be three million new tech jobs in the UK - and 60% of employers expect their reliance on advanced digital skills to grow in the next five years.

A recent Microsoft study revealed that 82% of UK jobs already require digital skills, but that 69% off leaders feel their organisation suffers from a digital skills gap.

That means the UK needs to build a workforce that is equipped to fill these roles, especially in the world of FinTech, which is growing increasingly important to the UK economy.

BCU is partnering with Covatic, a Birmingham-based high technology startup, to deliver Project ELAN (Elevating Artificial Intelligence into Non-STEM).

Nick Pinks, Managing Director at Covatic, said: "Building a diverse and community-based talent base armed with cutting-edge expertise in Data Science and AI is a critical part of our growth plan.

“As a company rooted in Birmingham, we see a massive opportunity to connect and provide opportunities for people from under-represented groups through this programme.”

Dr Umar Daraz, Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at BCU, said: “The additional OfS funding is a testament to how we link BCU expertise with industry in an open and inclusive way.

“Our five-year growth plan centres on driving regional and national recruitment initiatives to build a more diverse tech industry.

“We bring together startups, corporate, civic society and academics to create real-world impact.”

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