A new technology course will boast a scholarship programme for women and ethnic minority applicants to help diversify Scotland’s digital workforce.

Abertay University’s masters in applied artificial intelligence (AI) and user experience (UX) will run this September for the first time and is the UK’s first postgraduate degree to combine AI, UX research and psychology.

The institution will offer five scholarship opportunities providing funding for the programme as part of its commitment to work towards reducing the sector’s diversity gap.

Statistics consistently highlight diversity as an ongoing issue for the UK tech industry, with the Tech Nation 2021 report showing just 25 per cent of workers in the industry are female and 15 per cent ethnic minorities.

And recent Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) data revealed that the number of females studying computing-related subjects in Scottish schools has plummeted from nearly 10,000 in 2001 to just under 1,900 last year.

Professor Ruth Falconer, head of Abertay University’s division of games technology and mathematics and a board member of Women In Games, says the scholarships represent “a positive step forward”.

She said: “There is much work to be done if we want to make progress on diversifying the tech sector workforce, and we see these scholarships as a positive step towards encouraging women and people from ethnic minorities into university and the creative and tech industries. We will create the next generation of AI talent and our graduates from this new course will recognise the vitally important role of human behaviour in technology use and the use of AI in delivering innovative products and services.”

Using data and AI to acquire deeper insights into human behaviour and psychology, the new programme will focus on the ethical responsibilities of developing AI applications.

Students will learn to design and interrogate AI systems, as well as gain a thorough understanding of data techniques and explore how psychology and AI principles can be applied to the design of new prototypes.

Dr Andrea Szymkowiak, programme leader on the new course, said: “This exciting new programme will enable students to look at today’s challenges emerging from the use and development of AI and put a human perspective on it. Now, more than ever, technology programmes should consider how technology can be used for the benefit of our societies, educate users how to interpret data meaningfully, but also raise awareness of the misuse of the technology.”

The scholarships are co-funded by The Data Lab – Scotland’s innovation centre for AI and data science – the Scottish Funding Council and the European Social Fund and Developing Scotland’s Workforce (DSW) joint programme.

Marian Dunbar of The Data Lab said: “In addition to a funded scholarship to cover tuition fees, students join a year-long The Data Lab MSc Programme of events, training and workshops designed to support and prepare them for their next career steps. These include an opportunity to apply for a paid industrial placement; an industry-sponsored innovation challenge; sector-specific communication and employability training sessions and access to a network of expertise through The Data Lab MSc Alumni and events such as Data Talent.”

Karen Watt, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “Scotland’s future technology economy depends on developing talent from every part of society. I am delighted that SFC is a joint funder of a scholarship programme designed to make this ground-breaking course more accessible to female and ethnic minority students.”