Indian students are gathering to obtain a master’s qualification in artificial intelligence (AI) at a time when the development of computer science aimed at building machines that work and react like human beings is finding accelerating applications.
The number of applications for master’s qualification in artificial intelligence (AI) has more than doubled in universities across the United States and Europe. This is according to officials at schools such as Carnegie Mellon, Polytechnic University of Catalonia, KU Leuven, Radboud University, University of Edinburgh, University of Amsterdam, and the University of Georgia.
Currently, advanced talent in the AI industry is rare, which is why experts are in high demand. This is starting to change, however, as AI master programs have attracted an increase of students in the last couple of years.
About 20 to 30 percent of university students are opting for AI instead of a general master’s in business administration (MBA), said Arun Jagganath, who runs consultancy CrackVerbal in Bengaluru. “I think this trend is rising because professionals are discovering that they need to pick a niche for them to be employable, and AI is where the work is,” he shared.
The majority of master’s programs in AI focus on data management, autonomous system design, multi-agent systems, machine learning, and cognitive robotics. These are skills that will be required in several future applications in various fields including medicine, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, education, and business management.
At Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, AI is the central component of nine of the school’s 20 programs. The AI-centric master’s degrees received the highest rise in applications in the last year, according to David Garlan, the associate dean for master’s education at the school. In 2018-19, he told a famous media publication, the school got more than 10,000 letters from India alone for about 650 positions.
At KU Leuven in Belgium, a one-year advanced master’s program saw a 44 percent overall rise in applications in the last year, with Indian students pursuing this trend as well, said Danny De Schreye, study advisor for the calendar. “AI has been taken up considerably and businesses need to recruit AI specialists,” he added.
There is a sudden race for a master’s in AI because it has come to be considered “cool,” stated Richard Watson, program coordinator and senior lecturer at the University of Southampton.
“Successes in machine learning, in precise, deep learning, and other areas of AI have been big news lately,” he said. “Ffor example with investment and jobs in companies such as Google DeepMind and the success of AlphaGo. High-profile applications on the boundary, such as driverless transportations, also fuel interest.”
Adarsh Khandelwal, who leads college admission consultants Collegify, attributed the increase in demand for a master’s in AI to companies hiring more students with such a specialization. “What colleges offer is directly correlated to how the job market and requirements are emerging. A couple of years ago such a specialization did not exist,” he said.
AI is attracting many students from India primarily because the topic is expected to offer a promising future. Here are a few other stats:
- The University of Sheffield, UK, has witnessed a 55% surge in applications in a year from Indian pupils for its master’s program in AI.
- At the University of Amsterdam, Indian scholars in the master’s AI program have recently tripled in number. The total quantity of students pursuing this course in the prevailing academic year is 279.
- The Utrecht University in the Netherlands said that the number of Indian students is up to 80 from about 30. This number is expected to increase to more than 100 in the next academic year.
- At the Radboud University in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, there were 39 candidates from India for the program in AI starting from July 2017, more important than that last year.
A growing demand
The increasing number of research labs and global technology companies in India are a major reason students in the country are pursuing tech and engineering programs (such as AI) as part of their secondary education.
“If I look at my area of electrical engineering and computer science, Intel, Samsung, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Google — they all hire PhDs,” explained Prof Abhay Karandikar, director at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). he transferred to lead IIT Kanpur a little over a year since after 22 years with IIT Bombay.
She said that most of the students at IIT today are pursuing MTech and PhD plans. This is a change from 20 to 30 years ago when 80 to 90 percent of the students pursued a more general business technology master’s degree.
“India today has R&D areas [representing nearly] every multi-national company…Cisco, Apple, and Huawei,” he said. This means there are jobs available for graduates.
IIT Kanpur plans to open a medical school soon, added Karandikar. “We believe the next contemporaries of research in healthcare will come from materials science, computer science, chemistry, AI, robotics, etc.” IIT believes offering a medical program that’s unlike traditional medical colleges will strongly benefit students, thanks to its advanced engineering departments. The two departments could form a synergy that’s not currently available in other medical programs.
The latest fields of study quickly become part of the IIT curriculum, according to Karandikar. “For example, we have courses on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science. We are contemplating starting an MTech in data science at IIT Kanpur.”
“Before most businesses would outsource software development, but now they do core analysis here,” he said, which is why gaining a master’s degree is so valuable. “Those with MTech have significant [opportunities],” he said, adding that the pay is typically very good for such graduates.
There’s also a need for qualified instructors for such programs. “There are so many establishments that need quality teachers. The IITs themselves, NITs, the IIITs, others,” said Karandikar. Electrical engineering and computer science are the most common courses but there are also opportunities in fields such as mechanical, materials science, and chemical engineering.
“We are also starting an e-Masters, an online program for industry experts,” he said. “It could be an e-Masters in data science or an e-Masters in cybersecurity. There will be four to six classes online, offered by IIT. It won’t be an MTech, because MTech includes a thesis.”
Another change for India is that students are choosing to attend universities at home rather than go abroad. “Today, 90% of the students are choosing to stay back in India because there are a lot more opportunities here. A large number of them are then joining or beginning their own startups,” said Karandikar.