UK names 14 AI doctoral training centres in £370 million PhD plan

Investment will create 2,700 new PhD places in biosciences and AI research

October 24, 2019

Fourteen UK universities have been named as hosts for artificial intelligence doctoral training centres, as it was announced that government and industry spending of £370 million will create 2,700 new PhD places in biosciences and AI research in the country.

Ministers said that there would be £100 million of government funding for AI Centres for Doctoral Training, along with £78 million from industry and £23 million from universities, providing 1,000 new PhD places over the next five years.

Although the funding had been announced in 2018, it has now been confirmed which universities will host the first 200 students through the centres for doctoral training. UCL has secured two centres, while Swansea University is also among the hosts.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in the announcement that the new doctoral students would “study AI which could help diagnose diseases like cancer earlier and make industries, including aviation and automotive, more sustainable”, and would be “working closely with 300 leading businesses, including AstraZeneca, Google, Rolls-Royce and NHS trusts”.

There will also be £170 million of government funding to support “over 1,700 young scientists in cutting edge biology and biotechnology”, said BEIS. These researchers will be aiming “to tackle issues like feeding the world’s growing population and helping people stay healthier for longer,” it added.

Chris Skidmore, the universities and science minister, told Times Higher Education that “investing in people” was a key part of the strategy to raise research and development spending to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product by 2027.

“We’re keen to ensure that we can bring talent to study in this country and to study on some of the core ‘grand challenges’ that we’ve set ourselves, whether it’s feeding the world’s population, [or] whether it’s looking at climate science data for the future,” Mr Skidmore said.

He added that if the Brexit process were not ongoing, “this would be a massive, core announcement…It’s a significant step towards investing in people as part of our research and development strategy.”

The government has also announced five Turing AI fellowships, for individual researchers at the universities of Cambridge, Exeter, Manchester, Oxford and Warwick.

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