New conversion degree courses in artificial intelligence and data science will help boost diversity in the technology sector and “upskill” adults, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said.
Places for up to 2,500 people on the new courses were announced by Prime Minister Theresa May as part of new investment in the technology sector as she opened the sixth annual London Tech Week.
The conversion courses – intense postgraduate courses that allow participants to pursue a career their initial degree did not prepare them for – will be supported by scholarships for 1,000 people from underrepresented groups as part of £13.5 million in new funding.
Artificial intelligence technology is becoming increasingly prominent in everyday life – it is already widely used on smartphones and in smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo – and is expected to be increasingly used in years to come to help businesses make decisions more efficiently, for example by helping with data analysis and other tasks.
Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright said the investment would help more people improve their skills, as well as retrain, in order to progress or find new employment.
“The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation, world-leading academic institutions and a business-friendly environment and everyone, regardless of their background, should have the opportunity to build a successful career in our world-leading tech sector,” he said.
“Through these new AI and data conversion courses and our modern industrial strategy, we are committed to working with the tech sector and academia to develop and maintain the best AI workforce in the world.”
Business Secretary Greg Clark added: “UK firms continue to build on our heritage as the home of artificial intelligence, and through our modern industrial strategy we’re investing in that strength to ensure we remain world leaders in the field and at the very forefront of the latest technologies.
“These new retraining opportunities and scholarships will ensure people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to move into new and exciting careers, and to shape this innovative industry for years to come.”
According to figures from Tech Nation published in 2018, only 19% of the UK tech sector workforce are women.
DCMS said a further £5 million investment would be used to fund new solutions to improve the quality of online learning for adults.
The department said a new Adult Learning Technology Innovation Fund would provide funding and expertise to incentivise tech firms to develop engaging online training tools to help more people enter skilled employment.
On the launch of the new fund, Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “Artificial intelligence and other new technologies are transforming the way we live and work and have the potential to radically improve online learning and training, so more people can get the skills they need.
“We all have busy lives, juggling work and family commitments, so online courses are a great way for more people to retrain or upskill and secure a rewarding career.
“Investing in cutting-edge technologies such as AI will mean we can future-proof the online learning experience and ensure it better meets students’ needs.”