Digital skills degree scholarships available for underrepresented communities

STEAMHouse at Birmingham City Univeristy - supporting creative and technological industries

Scholarships for students from underrepresented backgrounds to study a postgraduate course in Artificial Intelligence and data science are to be offered by Birmingham City University as part of an £8.1m Office for Students initiative.

38 places worth up to £10,000 each for the 2023/2024 academic year will be made available for students from business, finance, law, social sciences, arts and healthcare - to help to address a critical shortage of workers and digital skills in areas outside science, technology engineering, and maths, and strengthen diversity in the UK’s labour force.

The 2020 government-commissioned survey, Understanding the UK AI Labour Market, reveals that 53% of AI firms reported that they hire no female workers, while 40% had no employees from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The move is aimed at encouraging female, Black, disabled students and those from low socio-economic backgrounds to acquire a Master’s level degree in AI, with an additional focus on Fintech - technology helping to enhance business and finance.

Fintech is recognised as one of the UK’s strongest start-up sectors, with around 1,400 high-growth companies active in a wide range of innovative tech, including chatbots, smart supply chain programmes, autonomous vehicles and peer-to-peer banking apps.

The West Midlands Fintech community is valued at £411m with an estimated 37,250 professionals working in the field and related consultancies. Professor Julian Beer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham City University, said:

"We are delighted to be awarded this funding. It very much builds upon a recognised track record in AI and springboards our rich impactful relationships with employers that are vital for the success of the region.

“Our part in this government-driven initiative will provide the UK’s data science and AI sector with a wider pool of highly skilled graduates, drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines.”

Major global tech companies including Covatic, Amazon Web Services, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft Oxygen Finance and SAS have pledged support to the initiative, offering teaching, practical opportunities, and employability support to students on the Birmingham City University MSc degree course. Nick Pinks, CEO of Covatic, added:

“We have a significant need in our business plan, which is centred around building a diverse and community-based talent base, armed with cutting edge expertise in Data Science and AI.

“The BCU conversion course supports our core technical and overarching business objectives over the next 2 years, where we look to elevate our core platform from 44 million users into significant revenue streams and insights into a new evolving lucrative market opportunity.”

The postgraduate conversion degree funding programme from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) will be delivered by leading computing academics based within the University’s ELAN team and will be used to deliver an AI MSc degree course, incorporating smart technology, natural language processing, intelligent software systems and machine learning.

Birmingham City University is one of thirty English universities to share the £8.1m fund, which is being rolled out in line with the UK’s National AI strategy, addressing expectations that 80% of all jobs in the UK now require digital skills, increasing to 90% within 20 years.

30 universities have been awarded a share of the funding to deliver scholarships to eligible underrepresented groups in the 2023-24 academic year, with further funding for 2024-25 subject to confirmation.

The scholarship eligibility criteria has 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, 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.

"Following a competitive bidding process, we are investing an initial £8.1 million in 30 universities to deliver high-quality conversion courses that lead to positive outcomes for students. This funding will enhance the relationships established between universities and employers that are vital for the success of this industry.

"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."

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.


Add a comment

Rating *


  • Available on the App Store
  • Available on Google Play

Useful Links


Travel News

How To Listen

Latest Podcasts

92.2 / 102.5 FM
'Play Black Country Radio'