British universities are being stripped of artificial intelligence (AI) experts in a brain drain to the private sector that is hampering research and disrupting teaching at some of the country’s leading institutions.
Scores of talented scientists have left or passed up university posts for salaries two to five times higher at major technology firms, where besides getting better pay, new recruits can take on real-world problems with computer power and datasets than academia cannot hope to provide.
The impact of the hiring frenzy is revealed in a confidential Guardian survey of the UK’s elite Russell Group universities, which found that many top institutions were struggling to keep up with the demand from tech firms that are aggressively expanding their AI research groups.
One university executive said AI researchers were courted by industry on a routine basis and that departments regularly missed out on the best talent when companies made better offers. “We need top quality staff to teach and research and the implications of not achieving this don’t need to be spelt out,” the executive told the Guardian. “There are no easy answers, but this is an issue with national implications.”