Britain’s biggest programme for AI graduates is to help its students translate their university projects into new businesses

The University of Bradford is home to the largest AI student population in the country following the success of its MSc programme in Applied Artificial Intelligence and Data analytics. Delivered by the triple crown-accredited School of Management, this novel course encourages students to focus on defining and solving problems instead of mathematical optimisation to improve the functioning of complex algorithms.

Bradford will open an innovation hub this September to help students with every step in starting and growing a business, from ideation, proof of concept and understanding legal responsibility to delivering pitches and accessing different types of finance. The university is strengthening its ties with local business groups and lenders to support its Accelerated Student Entrepreneurship Programme (ASEP).

Professor Zahir Irani, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “Bradford became a textiles capital in the first Industrial Revolution and now it is emerging as the destination of choice for AI graduates. We want people to bring their great ideas to Bradford and use our ecosystem to study AI and build scalable deep tech businesses.”

The university launched the applied AI and Data Analytics course in 2020 in response to widespread industry skills shortages. It has won £1.4 million in government funding in total to design and progress the course and offer up to 80 scholarships to the most disadvantaged students. The programme has attracted backing from 21 industry partners providing in-kind contributions totalling £2.8 million. Scholarship recipients will all gain valuable paid placement opportunities to help them gain valuable work experience whilst offering placement providers an opportunity to recruit new talent.

According to latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Bradford had 285 postgraduate enrolments for the course in 2021-22. Applications for the September 2023-24 course closed in January 2023 due to very high demand.

Prof Irani said: “Our MSc programme has landed very well with students because we found lots of people who were interested in AI but didn’t have backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and maths.

“Most MSc programmes in AI sit within computer science or engineering departments and tend to be for graduates from those disciplines with a high level of mathematics, and are all about optimising algorithms.

“We take a very different approach at Bradford, as the software for AI is already here and widely available. Our programme sits within our School of Management and is designed to support students to define and scope problems and to use technology to provide solutions to problems.

“It has landed very well with employers with many of our AI students being offered jobs before they finish the course. But we also want to create opportunities for our students to design and develop their own AI start-ups.
“Bradford has long been a disruptor. After King’s College London launched its war studies department in the Sixties, we launched our peace studies department, which has produced some notable alumni, including the Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat.

“It is only a matter of time before AI graduates from the University of Bradford will go on to have a similar national and international impact. We have got the volume and the demand. All the indicators are that our students will go on to do amazing things, I have no doubt at all.”

Programme lead Dr Kamran Mahroof added: “In today’s fast-paced, data-driven, AI-powered world it’s imperative for graduates to understand the potential and limitations of emerging and potentially disruptive technologies. 

“Our Applied AI and Data Analytics course does exactly that. We ensure the focus is not just on the tools and techniques, but also on when they should be applied, in a responsible and results-oriented manner.”

Prof Irani is the institutional lead for AI and was instrumental in securing the external funding for course development and student bursaries, which are aimed at people who are underrepresented across the AI sector.

He said: “AI is here to stay and as a society we need to find the best way to leverage its potential to benefit the world through positive applications. We already have embedded ethics in our programme to ensure we develop conscientious graduates.

“Generally, AI is great for automation because it is a rules-based system. AI struggles with creativity because it is artificial intelligence, not real intelligence. Real intelligence is defined by creativity.”

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