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UK Government Announces £18.5 Million AI and Online Learning Grant

By Henry Kronk
June 12, 2019

The United Kingdom is currently in the midst of a huge push to become a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The UK Government announced on Monday, June 10, that it will be allocating £18.5 million in funds to encourage more learners to pursue jobs in data science and AI, along with other initiatives, including talent development. The education scholarships will be deployed primarily through Tech Nation.

Of the total sum, £13.5 million will be used for scholarships for credentialing and ‘Masters conversion courses’ at UK institutions. Tech Nation’s Applied AI six-month program is a part of this effort, and applications for the course also opened on Monday.

Funding AI Education, Along with Talent Development Incentives

The initiative is also designed to spur diversity in tech. According to existing Tech Nation data, women make up just 19% of the country’s workforce in tech. 1,000 of the 2,500 scholarships have been reserved specifically for underrepresented groups.

“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,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark, in a prepared statement.

These funds are intended primarily for individuals who already have some post-secondary education and are looking to retrain for work.

The remaining £5 million of the grant, meanwhile, will be used to encourage companies to create their own tech-based workforce training programs. With collaboration from the foundation Nesta, it will create the Adult Learning Technology Innovation Fund. In that regard, this initiative might be the more creative aspect of the announced funding.

“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,” said Education Secretary Damian Hinds, in a news release. “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. This is an exceptional opportunity for technology firms to work with Government to put their ideas into action to help develop pioneering online training opportunities for adults.”

UK Takes a Different Tack with AI Education

This news follows a bigger funding effort—involving £115 million—that was announced in February. That effort was targeted towards learners who are interested in pursuing PhDs. It will be available to 1,000 students studying at 16 different institutions known as ‘Research and Innovation AI Centres for Doctoral Training.’

According to an October feature from the South China Morning Post, the UK currently sits 3rd in terms of countries with the most AI companies, 3rd in terms of published AI studies, and 5th when it comes to the amount of AI talent. The US and China hold the top two spots in those categories.

At the same time, it can be difficult to directly compare government efforts to generate AI research and development.

Following President Xi Jinping’s 2017 “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan,” the country has risen to the global leader in terms of AI equity investment. Previously in 2016, the country created a $30 billion VC fund to invest specifically in AI.

The US government, meanwhile, has also invested in AI, but at significantly lower levels, and with a focus on national defense. The country has poured $2 billion so far into AI Next.

Featured Image: Ed Robertson, Unsplash.