Government announces millions to fund AI skills

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Funding has been allocated to ensure the UK grows its understanding of artificial intelligence and develops an AI talent base to help properly utilise the technology in the future

Clare McDonald

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Published: 01 Nov 2023 10:36

The government has announced it will be providing £118m in funding to improve artificial intelligence (AI) skills in the UK.

The plan outlined by the government for increasing the UK’s AI skills includes investing in Centres for Doctoral Training for the development of AI applications, a grant scheme to help up-and-coming AI talent come to the UK, a number of scholarships and an AI-focused visa scheme.

Secretary of state Michelle Donelan said: “The UK is at the very forefront of the global race to turn AI’s enormous potential into a giant leap forward for people’s quality of life and productivity at work, all while ensuring this technology works safely, ethically and responsibly.

“The plans we are announcing today will future-proof our nation’s skills base, meaning British people can reap the benefits of AI as it continues to develop. At the same time, we are moving further and faster to put the power of this technology to work for good across government and society.”

AI has become one of the most talked about technology topics in recent years, and desperate to keep up with the pace of change it brings many firms are experimenting with AI despite cautious spending behaviour amid the current economic climate.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be allocating £117m of the funds to the development of 12 Centres for Doctoral Training in AI. These will focus on training AI researchers to responsibly develop the UK’s future use of artificial intelligence in areas such as healthcare, agriculture and sustainability, where the UK has the most need.

One of the goals of ongoing investment in AI is to ensure the UK is properly equipped in the future to use AI to improve day-to-day life for UK citizens.

One of the UK’s ongoing problems is a significant technology skills gap, with many complaining about a lack of skilled workers for roles – something that is only going to get worse with AI if the pace of education does not match the pace of change it brings.

Going forward, students will be encouraged to take courses in both AI and data to ensure they gain the skills needed for the future workforce as AI becomes increasingly important in everything we do.

Where talent cannot be found in the UK, it’s not uncommon for skilled workers from other countries to be sought to plug local skills gaps, and the government has put a huge focus on attracting international talent to the UK to further develop their skills and knowledge in AI.

Further funding is also going into developing 15 science and technology scholarships in universities across the UK to support international students to come to the UK to learn about AI – coinciding with a £1m investment in a grants scheme aimed at helping AI researchers and engineers from other countries to come to the UK to expand their work experience and skills, dubbed the Future Grants Scheme.

These aren’t the only initiatives aimed at drawing in external AI talent, with the government also announcing a pilot for a scholarship scheme called Backing Invisible Geniuses (BIG), which it hopes will attract science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) talent to UK universities through its focus on supporting above-average students in the International Science Olympiads.

“With technology rapidly advancing, it’s mission-critical that organisations think strategically about how to upskill workers so that they can use AI tools ethically and productively”
Agata Nowakowska, Skillsoft

A visa scheme will also be created specifically to make it easier for AI researchers and other talent to come to the UK through internships and placements, with the aim of encouraging them to continue and build their careers in the UK.

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, said these changes were “encouraging” in light of new technologies such as generative AI beginning to become part of business and everyday life.

She said: “Schools and universities bear a crucial responsibility in nurturing essential AI skills. They play a vital role in equipping young individuals with the necessary competencies to thrive in a technology-driven workplace. In addition, organisations need to step up and support learners on their upskilling journeys by facilitating AI skills development opportunities, collaborating with schools to further enhance AI literacy.

“Training people for the jobs of tomorrow means aligning skills development with business needs – and considering what those needs will be in the next 12-18 months. With technology rapidly advancing, it’s mission-critical that organisations think strategically about how to upskill workers so that they can use AI tools ethically and productively.” 

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