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Clifford Chance launches tech bursary scheme and partnership with Oxford University to support AI ethics research

29 September 2020

Clifford Chance launches tech bursary scheme and partnership with Oxford University to support AI ethics research

Leading international law firm, Clifford Chance, today announced that it has launched a bursary scheme with Hertford College, University of Oxford, to encourage greater diversity in those studying Computer Science. The aim is to inspire young people from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers involving technology, and in doing so reduce the tech bias and prejudice that over the summer has seen stories about faulty A-level algorithms and biased AI hit the headlines. Hertford College, Oxford is one of the world's leading centres for the study of Tech Ethics.

Leaders in Computer Science have not traditionally reflected the societies they work within. This year's events have further accelerated the urgency of the firm's move. The social inequalities that technology can create or perpetuate without meaningful intervention is becoming clearer every day. Clifford Chance has decided that it must take positive action to contribute to a long-term solution.

Clifford Chance will provide three means-tested bursaries for undergraduate students to study Computer Science at the Oxford University college. The first three bursary recipients begin their courses this year. The firm is offering this support to the best candidates, to ensure access to education regardless of their background, because tech ethics is extremely important and urgent.

The firm is also part funding the research of a leading author and data ethicist, Dr. Carissa Véliz, who this month joined the academic team of Oxford's newly created Ethics in AI Institute. The award supports Dr. Véliz's independent, pioneering research exploring the positive and negative implications of AI for society. Independent research into digital ethics, free from external interests or strings, is critical to well-informed policy and practical implementation of digital laws.

Jonathan Kewley, partner and co-head of the Tech Group at Clifford Chance, comments: "Ethics in tech can't just be an aim, it requires positive action from each of us. This has to start with education. It is vital that those studying and teaching Computer Science represent the views and experiences of the society we live in. Through providing bursaries for underrepresented and less privileged students to study Computer Science, we aim to help ensure that the best candidates are placed at the core of tech development and research. This is about democratising tech education and ensuring it works for all our communities. Not just a privileged sub-section. This is bold step which we hope will set a standard for our industry."

Dr. Véliz said: "I’m very grateful for Clifford Chance’s support and look forward to doing rigorous and independent research that can contribute towards the development of digital ethics. It is urgent to improve current practices so that we can avoid future tech-related debacles. The practices and rules that we set out for tech today will determine the shape of our lives for decades to come."

Dr. Véliz will participate in a number of events with Clifford Chance as a speaker, following the publication of her new Penguin book, Privacy Is Power.

Jonathan Kewley, adds: "Carissa is a shining light in tech. Dr. Véliz's contributions are practical and rooted in rigorous research, avoiding navel-gazing philosophy whilst inspiring us all to really think about how our decisions can positively or negatively impact society. Independent research allows for varied perspectives to inform and challenge policy decision-making, which is critical to practical implementation of tech ethics."
Over the past few years Clifford Chance has supported and engaged with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) students by hosting an exclusive event for students studying STEM degrees, working with STEM Future Lawyers and most recently the launch of the firm's IGNITE programme, which provides talented candidates from STEM backgrounds the opportunity to pursue a legal career. The IGNITE programme empowers trainees to focus on the development and application of new technologies alongside their usual work.