Indian students are flocking to universities across the United States and Europe to acquire a master's degree in artificial intelligence (AI) at a time when the discipline of computer science aimed at creating machines that work and react like human beings is finding increasing applications.
The number of applications from prospective Indian students has doubled and even trebled in some cases in the past one year alone, according to officials at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon, KU Leuven, Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Radboud University, University of Amsterdam, University of Edinburgh and University of Georgia.
Talent is in short supply in the AI industry, which is why specialists are in high demand, consultants said. They said there has been a nearly 30% increase over the past year in the number of students opting for a specialised master's in AI instead of a general master's in business administration or MBA.
Around 20-30% students want a master's specialisation over a pure-play MBA, said Arun Jagganath, who runs consultancy CrackVerbal in Bengaluru. "I think this trend is emerging because professionals are learning that they need to pick a niche for them to be employable, and AI is where the action is," he said.
A master's in AI helps make sense of data and connect numbers to business decisions, skills which are expected to find increasing use in the future.
At the University of Amsterdam, Indian students in the master's in AI have gone up threefold to 13. Total number of students pursuing this course in the current academic year is 279.
The University of Sheffield, in the United Kingdom, has seen a 55% surge in applications in a year from Indian students for its master's programme in AI.
The Utrecht University, also in the Netherlands, said that the number of Indian students went up to 80 from about 30 and is expected to grow to more than 100 in the next academic year.
At the Radboud University in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, there were 39 applicants from India for the programme in AI starting from July 2017, higher than that last year.
At Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, AI is a central component of nine of its 20 programmes. The AI-centric master's degrees saw the highest increase in applications in the past year, said David Garlan, the associate dean for master's education at the school. In 2018-19, he told ET, the school got more than 10,000 applications from India for about 650 places.
At KU Leuven in Belgium, the one-year advanced master's programme saw a 44% overall increase in applications over the past year, with Indian students following this trend as well, said Danny De Schreye, study advisor for the programme. "AI has been taken up considerably in industry and companies need to recruit AI specialists," he said.
Spanish university BarcelonaTech or UPC's AI programme is similarly attracting an increasing number of Indian students
There is a sudden rush for a master's in AI also because it has come to be considered "cool", said Richard Watson, senior lecturer and programme coordinator at the University of Southampton.
"Successes in machine learning, in particular deep learning, and other areas of AI have been big news recently, for example with investment and jobs in enterprises such as Google DeepMind and the success of AlphaGo. High-profile applications on the horizon, such as driver-less vehicles, also fuel interest," Watson said.
Adarsh Khandelwal, who heads college admission consultants Collegify, attributed the growth in demand for a master's in AI to companies hiring more people with this specialisation. "What colleges offer is directly connected to how the job market and requirements are evolving. A couple of years ago such a specialisation did not exist," he said.
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