UK Government backs next generation of scientists to transform healthcare and tackle climate change

The next generation of UK scientists have been backed by government today (Thursday 24 October) to develop the latest AI technologies that will transform how people live and work and help tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

A combined Government and industry investment of £370 million will deliver 2,700 new PhD places in biosciences and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Of this, £200 million will fund 1,000 new PhD places over the next five years to study AI which could help diagnose diseases like cancer earlier and make industries, including aviation and automotive, more sustainable.  The first 200 students will be studying at 14 universities across the country, working closely with 300 leading businesses, including AstraZeneca, Google, Rolls-Royce and NHS Trusts. 

The students’ projects include:

  • Working closely with the NHS to transform healthcare systems – helping address the world’s ageing society. This could improve diagnosis of life-threatening illnesses like cancer, accelerate the development and access to new drugs, design personalised medicine and improve care.
  • Helping to make buildings more energy-efficient, create new low-carbon materials, improve monitoring of climate temperatures and design greener transport, like planes, trains and cars.

A further £170 million will fund 1,700 places to study PhDs in biosciences helping to tackle issues like feeding the world’s growing population and helping people stay healthier for longer.

The new PhD researchers will be working towards:

  • Finding innovative ways to feed 9 billion people by 2050, and secure sustainable food production
  • Developing renewable, low carbon sources of energy, transport fuels and chemicals to reduce dependency on fossil fuels
  • Helping people stay healthier for longer as life spans increase and society ages.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“The UK has educated, trained and developed some of the best scientists in the world – and we must continue to lead the world in AI and technology with our incredible talent and innovative breakthroughs.

“That’s why we’re investing millions of pounds to create hundreds of new AI and bioscience PhDs, so new research and development can thrive here in the UK and solve the biggest challenges that face us – from climate change to better healthcare.”

Digital Minister Matt Warman said:

“The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation. We are the birthplace of artificial intelligence and home to technology pioneers such as Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace. We are determined to see this continue. 

“Today we are announcing a bumper investment in skills training to strengthen our workforce and attract, nurture and retain the best talent so we can lead the world in research and development.

“AI is already being used to improve lives by helping detect fraud quicker and diagnose diseases more accurately. With the brightest minds at the helm we will be able to explore this cutting-edge technology further.”

The investment in AI innovation builds on the UK’s ongoing success as a global leader in AI technology. Today Science Minister Chris Skidmore also announced the first five AI Turing Fellowships, the UK’s national institute for AI and data science, designed to ensure the UK has the skills needed to make the most of artificial intelligence, and called for further top, international academic talent to join these researchers, with £37.5 million in further funding available.

The Fellows’ projects range from determining the impact of digital technologies such as social media on mental health; and building a sustainable aviation industry by helping the sector build faster, lighter and more environmentally friendly aircraft.

Sue Daley, associate director, technology and policy at techUK: 

“Creating a steady pipeline of tech talent is imperative to remaining a leader in the AI and data revolution. Government-Industry collaboration is crucial to addressing the UK’s current digital skills gap and we are proud to see industry demonstrating its commitment to developing the next generation of AI talent.

“This is a brilliant step towards securing the UK’s AI future and we look forward to continuing to work with DCMS and the Office for AI to support their work in this area.” 

The Government is investing £13 million in innovative Postgraduate programmes, so more people can develop fruitful careers in AI. The new AI conversion courses will allow 2,500 more people to study AI from backgrounds other than science or maths at undergraduate level. This also includes 1,000 new scholarships for people from underrepresented backgrounds, including women, ethnic minorities and low-income families.

Leading technology companies like Accenture, DeepMind, QuantumBlack and Amplyfi, are already sponsoring AI Masters students. The new courses will help build-up a highly skilled workforce in the UK and provide new opportunities for industry and universities to collaborate, ensuring new innovations are transforming industries.

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