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Grant success cements Bradford’s place as ‘applied AI’ capital of UK


Zahir Irani

The University of Bradford has been awarded a further £800,000 (£400,000 per year) to continue its hugely successful ‘applied AI and data analytics’ course.

It will enable the university to offer a total of 80 £10,000 scholarships over the next two years, with scholarships going to the most disadvantaged students. In addition, all students will receive a paid three-month work placement.

Funding from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) is being awarded by the Office for Students (OfS). 

News of the funding follows data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in March that showed Bradford now has the most applied artificial intelligence and data analytics students in the UK.

Professor Zahir Irani

Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Professor Zahir Irani, who wrote the successful grant application, said: “We asked industry what they wanted from an AI graduate and we designed the programme around their needs. Most AI programmes tend to focus on mathematics and algorithms, whereas our approach focuses on how you define a problem and then use existing technology to solve real world problems. We are now seeking to support these students on into the world of work or to help them set-up their own businesses.”

There will be 40 scholarships in the first year and 40 in the second, subject to the university meeting various key performance indicators for its one-year MSc conversion course in applied AI and data analytics.

The programme, which first launched in 2020 thanks to £600,000 funding from the OfS, has become one of the most popular at the university and has already been praised by those in industry.

Abstract image of AI

Funmi Oshinubi, from the MSc Applied Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics cohort of 2022, who now works as a data scientist for Aviva, said: “I recently graduated as a scholarship student from this course and can honestly say the opportunity has been life changing. It provided me with the programming skills, the confidence, and applied knowledge to secure my new role.”

Joanna Pritchard, Global Academic Programs manager at data analytic firm SAS, whose software is used across multiple industry sectors, Government and sporting organisations, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for students at the University of Bradford, and Bradford as a whole, to develop the data analysis and AI skills that employers need today.

"Employers across all sectors need employees, from entry level to senior management positions, who understand the power and importance of collecting, compiling and crunching the right data. The scholarships that this funding provides now means Bradford represents the top source of AI talent for the UK and beyond.”

Dr Kamran Mahroof

Dr Kamran Mahroof, from the university’s award-winning School of Management, programme leader of the Applied AI and Data Analytics MSc.

He said: “The Applied AI and Data Analytics course at Bradford has been designed specifically to address the challenges faced by industry, from small businesses to large corporations. AI is being used by an increasing number of businesses, so having the ability to essentially step into an organisation and be able to use those skills to make efficiencies and drive progress, is an incredible asset to have.”

The University launched its Applied AI and Data Analytics programme in 2020, thanks to a previous successful bid for funding from the OfS. In addition to offering 20 scholarships a year, it far exceeded expectations with student numbers, so much so that it now has the most AI graduates in the UK.

In addition to the OfS funding, the university will fund almost £600,000 of investment, while 21 industry partners will provide ‘in kind’ contributions worth a total of £2.8, taking the total value to £4.2m.

Prof Sankar Sivarajah

Professor Sankar Sivarajah (pictured above), Dean of the School of Management, said: “ We are one of the few business schools to offer a course in Applied Artificial Intelligence. The purpose of this course is to help students from non-technical backgrounds who are underrepresented in the AI field. It’s about ensuring we can develop managers and leaders who can apply this technology to improve business and society in general.

“We are grateful to the OfS for being selected for further funding. The money will enable us to offer 40 £10,000 scholarships to underrepresented groups in the first year, and subject to meeting certain performance targets, another 40 in the second year.”

Partners include Bradford Council, Bradford Institute for Health Research, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, SAS, AI Tech UK, UK Black Tech, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Region Enterprise Community, Federation of Small Businesses, Go Higher West Yorkshire, West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, The Bradford Foundation Trust, Bradford Breakthrough, Snave UK, Yeme Tech, Produmax, Future Transformation, CompTIA, Space Hub Yorkshire, Pure Imaging Phantoms, Fagborun Limited, and Click Training.

Case studies

Lorna Pearson student

Lorna Pearson (above) has a degree in business management from the University of Bradford and is currently completing an MSc in Applied AI and Data Analysis. She works as projects manager for supermarket giant Morrisons.

She said: “Businesses are increasingly using technology to increase performance and find efficiencies. A lot of the work we have done on the applied AI course has been about the application of technology to drive better results.”

Nyomi Rose MSc AI student

Nyomi Rose (above) who runs her own digital marketing agency ‘What Nyomi Does’, is also on the Applied AI course, said: “the reason I chose Bradford was because I felt I would be supported throughout my journey in what is typically a male dominated subject. The support I received has been amazing. They also show you do not need maths or science subjects in order to expand your skill set into AI. Finally, they are showing this technology is open to everyone and not just a select few people, so in that sense they are increasing opportunities.”

Nyomi Rose and Lorna Pearson

Lorna and Nyomi have also started a support group called ‘Spill the Tech’, which is aimed at breaking down barriers and giving support to women interested in AI.

Bradford graduate Sebastian Obeta (below) managed to land a job as a data analyst with Cambridge University before he even graduated.

Sebastian, originally from Nigeria, enrolled on the MSc applied AI and data analytics in 2021 and graduated in June 2022. But he began working for Cambridge University in March and has now been there almost a year. He said the Bradford applied AI course included several elements that helped him stand out from the crowd.

“I was drawn to the Bradford MSc in Applied AI and Data Analytics because it focuses on making cutting-edge AI applications with a strong understanding of the ethical, social, and corporate responsibility aspects of AI to promote safe AI. 

“Artificial intelligence applications are essential for having impact and autonomy, and the need for people with those skills is only going to increase. I looked at so many courses before choosing Bradford - I think their courses give a superb grounding.”

Graduate Sebastian Obeta

More about the funding

The funding is part of a national £8.1 funding drive to boost AI and data science postgraduate conversion course scholarships and increase diversity.

This funding from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) is being awarded by the Office for Students (OfS) to universities to deliver the AI and data science scholarships.

In 2019 the OfS launched a funding competition that aimed to increase diversity and address digital skills gaps in the workforce, which supported the government’s priority to invest in AI to encourage innovation in every sector and region. The programme funded up to 1,000 scholarships at 28 universities designed to encourage more women, black students and disabled students to study AI and data science. This programme has awarded 888 student scholarships up to 31 December 2022.

The postgraduate conversion course programme has exceeded recruitment targets with 6,317 students enrolled on AI and data science courses until 31 December 2022. Of the 28 universities across England currently offering the courses, over two-thirds (70 per cent) of the total UK-domiciled scholarship students enrolled across the programme are women. Thirty-five per cent are black students and 26 per cent are disabled. This is much higher than the tech workforce as a whole.

Following the success of the initial programme, DSIT has announced a funding package worth up to £17 million between April 2023 and March 2025 for up to 2,000 additional scholarships. The OfS launched a funding competition in September 2022 to invite universities and colleges to bid for funding to deliver scholarships. After a competitive selection process, the OfS will provide £8.1 million funding for up to 817 scholarships, worth £10,000 each for the 2023-24 academic year.

Some 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.

“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.”

Minister for AI at DSIT, Jonathan Camrose said: “AI is increasingly being used to boost productivity and unlock growth in British industries. People from all walks of life should be able to access the exciting job opportunities this transformative technology is creating across the country. We’re investing millions to champion people underrepresented in tech so they get the skills to start a career in AI. I urge businesses to back the talent of tomorrow and offer their support for these important scholarships.”