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School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science

New analysis shows big boost in numbers of women enrolling on AI and data science courses

New findings from an external evaluation of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science postgraduate conversion courses funded by the Office for Students (OfS) shows a high proportion of enrolments from women, black and disabled students.



Queen Mary University of London is one of 28 universities across England that are offering MSc conversion courses in Data Science and AI, which aim to respond to a skills shortage and a lack of diversity in the tech sector. The shortage is estimated to cost businesses £2 billion a year. 

The data gathered from an evaluation of these courses shows that nearly half (46 per cent) of the total UK students are women, compared with 27 per cent on computing postgraduate taught masters courses previously 23 per cent are black students (12 per cent) and 20 per cent are disabled (16 per cent). This is much higher than the tech workforce as a whole. Compared to data by TechNationExternal link highlighted in the government’s AI Sector DealExternal link, women represent 49 per cent of the workforce but hold less than 19 per cent of all available technology jobs.

In partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI), £13.5 million funding was allocated to the programme, consisting of £3.5 million to assist with course costs and £10 million to deliver 1,000 scholarships worth £10,000 each, aimed at women, black students and disabled students, among other groups considered to be underrepresented in higher education.

The programme aims to enrol at least 2,500 students by autumn 2023. At the end of the first year, the programme is over halfway to achieving that target with 1,315 students enrolled on courses. Of the 170 scholarship students who were from the UK, nearly three quarters (74 per cent) were women, a quarter (25 per cent) were disabled and 40 per cent were black.

At Queen Mary, our numbers on the conversion programme are comparable with the national picture as almost half the students on our programme are female, almost half are from BAME backgrounds and a third are disabled.

The postgraduate courses are designed as conversion courses, so graduates of all ages who are looking to retrain, gain new skills or return to work after a career break can apply without needing a background in a STEM subject. Applications are welcomed from students with undergraduate degrees in subjects other than STEM, as well as for new graduates yet to enter the labour market.

Findings from an external evaluation show almost half (46 per cent) of the first year’s cohort had undergraduate degrees in either non-STEM or other far-STEM subjects (such as biology, geology, psychology, medicine). In the survey, 61 per cent reported that they had applied for the courses following employment with 37 per cent of the total stated their prior role was long-term and considered it to be a career-job.

The new figures were announced by Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden this week during a panel discussion at tech industry event Founders Forum, discussing how the government and businesses can work together to boost people's digital skills and build a tech savvy nation.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

'Our £13.5 million investment in training courses and scholarships is paying off with these fantastic new figures showing positive results to combat the lack of diversity in the tech sector.

'Our new National AI Strategy will also put diversity at the heart of our plans to develop and maintain the best AI workforce in the world and will be vital in helping build a fairer, stronger and more diverse industry.'

The OfS’s Director for Fair Access and Participation, Chris Millward said:

'This enrolment data shows early and promising indications of a change within the tech industry, which will help to meet skills shortages, whilst enabling the industry to look more like society as a whole.

'The courses provide exciting opportunities for students to fit their studies around other commitments through flexible learning and scholarship support. This is enabling graduates at different points of their careers to gain the advanced skills they and their employers will need for the future.'

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