Postgraduate study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

Data and Artificial Intelligence Ethics Subject to approval

Awards: Subject to approval

A new, interdisciplinary degree with Edinburgh Futures Institute

This programme meets the urgent demand for interdisciplinary skills and knowledge in the ethical design, use and governance of artificial intelligence and other data-intensive technologies.

Today, many organisations and sectors that work with artificial intelligence (AI) and data-intensive applications are missing the distinctive expertise in their technical and policy/governance workforce needed to answer society’s ethical demands for responsible technology use, which increasingly goes beyond mere legal compliance.

Faced with rising public expectations and regulatory demands that new technologies will be applied not just legally, but ethically, all sectors require skilled graduates armed with critical, creative and higher-order data skills. Graduates of this programme will help their future employers to navigate complex new technical systems and roles with transparency, accountability, fairness, justice, and respect for individual and human rights, and in ways aligned with genuine human and social needs.

Our interdisciplinary degree is designed with the University of Edinburgh’s world-leading academic expertise in this area, drawing on philosophy, law, informatics, and science and technology innovation studies (STIS). It leverages the research power and mission of the Futures Institute’s Centre for Technomoral Futures, which promotes sustainable, just and ethical outcomes for artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven technology.

You will:

  • Build the complex cognitive and collaborative skills needed to become knowledgeable and competent in responsible and ethical data and AI development, use and governance.
  • Develop an understanding of the ethical, legal, policy and design values, principles and practices that enable responsible use of data and AI.
  • Gain practical experience working and communicating about AI and data ethics with other stakeholders and practitioners across sectors, disciplines and publics.

Students will learn how ethical norms and principles map onto the distinctive technical affordances of AI and data science; how ethics intersects with other forms of technology governance such as law, policy, design and professional standards; and how ethics relates to broader political and cultural contestations of algorithmic, corporate and state power and influence.

Postgraduate study at the Edinburgh Futures Institute

This programme is part of an interconnected portfolio of postgraduate study in the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI). EFI supports interdisciplinary teaching, learning and research focused on complex global and social challenges.

Our programmes are all taught by academic experts from many different subject areas. As an EFI student, you will develop creative, critical and data-informed thinking that cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries. You will have the space to think deeply about questions linked to your own passions and professional goals, and will develop a project based on an issue that you care about.

As well as knowledge specific to your area of study, studying at EFI will give you the skills and understanding you need to become a creative, confident and critical citizen in a fast-changing world. These will include:

  • core data skills
  • data ethics
  • the ability to interrogate issues of global scope
  • the creative and analytic approaches to knowledge that are vital for building better futures

You can join us regardless of whether you already have skills in the use and application of digital data.

Students on this programme study the following:

  • Core courses (20 credits) specific to your programme.
  • Edinburgh Futures Institute core courses (40 credits) which teach the essential, critical and hands-on data skills, enquiry methods, ethical and creative capacities needed to underpin your programme-based studies.
  • A wide choice of short 10-credit optional courses (60 credits), at least two of which must be on topics related to your programme, with scope to study across the entire portfolio.
  • A project (taking the form of a 20-credit ‘knowledge integration and project planning’ course, and a 40-credit final project).

Core courses

You will take the following core courses for your programme:

  • Data Ethics as a Practice
  • Data and AI Ethics, Law and Governance

Edinburgh Futures Institute core courses

On our core courses you will work in cross-disciplinary teams with students from other Futures Institute programmes. You will learn to collect, manage and analyse computational datasets, and to use emerging methodologies for mapping and designing the future. You will also learn the fundamentals of data ethics, and how to use creative skills in the analysis and representation of data-informed and qualitative inquiry.

Optional courses

Edinburgh Futures Institute offers a wide range of more than 40 optional courses taught by academic staff from many different discipline areas, including those associated with your programme. The exact courses offered vary from year to year. In 2024-25 the courses associated with your programme may include:

  • Democracy, Rights and the Rule of Law in the Data-Driven Society
  • Translational AI and Data Ethics
  • Algorithmic Bias, Fairness and Justice
  • Ethics of Robotics and Autonomous Systems
  • Ethics and Sustainable AI

Optional courses from across the wider portfolio will cover a range of themes and topics, such as:

  • Critical perspectives on how new technologies are changing society
  • Data, programming and research skills that advance the skills taught in the EFI shared core
  • How new and rapidly changing technologies and data sources are transforming the future of democracy
  • What the future of education might look like
  • How narratives drive the way we understand the world
  • Bringing service design and service management together to build change in a data-driven society
  • Current challenges and futures for the creative industries

The project

In your final project, you will apply your learning in depth to a domain, issue or concern which drives you. Your final project can be based on your own personal or professional interests, defined by your employer, sponsored by one of the Futures Institute’s industry, government or community partners, or aligned to one of our research programmes.

You will submit your final project as a written piece of work or combine text with other forms – for example, video, visualisation, a digital artefact, performance, or code.

You will identify your project topic relatively early on in the programme, and work on it in parallel with the taught courses. We expect you to take an interdisciplinary approach to your project in order to connect with the creative, data and future-orientated nature of the Futures Institute.

Part-time and full-time options

Full-time students on the programme complete their full credit requirements in one year. Part-time students take the same number of courses as full-time students, over two or three years:

  • For two-year part-time study, students take 80 credits in year one and 100 credits (including the project) in year two.
  • For three-year part-time study, students take 120 credits over years one and two (with up to 80 credits per year in each year), and then take the project (60 credits) in year three.

Students can also study towards a Postgraduate Certificate or Postgraduate Diploma:

  • Students have two years to undertake the Postgraduate Diploma, taking the same taught courses as students on the MSc, but not the project. They will take a total of 120 credits of courses – between 40 and 80 in each year.
  • Students have one year to undertake the Postgraduate Certificate, taking 60 credits of courses, including between 10 and 40 credits of the ‘shared core’ courses, between 20 and 50 credits of programme-specific courses (either the programme core courses or optional courses), and up to 30 credits from the broader suite of Edinburgh Futures Institute optional courses.

On successful completion of this programme, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of:

  • Current challenges for the ethical design and use of data-intensive and artificial intelligence technologies.
  • Common principles, practices and methods of applied ethics and how they relate to technology governance tools such as law, policy, and design.
  • How to identify, analyse, propose and evaluate a range of design and governance interventions that can align AI and data-intensive tools with ethical norms.
  • How to translate and clearly articulate ethical concepts and framings for multiple audiences and across different domains of data/AI application.
  • How to lead and work collaboratively with others to produce clear, accessible, and actionable guidance and tools for ethical design and governance of AI and data-intensive technologies.

This programme has the potential to fill a substantial skills gap in the existing labour market that is increasingly recognised by institutions; namely, the need for skills in ethical design, development and governance of emerging AI and data-intensive technologies. Many organisations struggle to manage the ethical risks associated with these technologies, which call for new expertise and skillsets beyond legal compliance or business risk management in the conventional sense.

Depending on their other skillsets (for example in data science, machine learning, health, finance, law, policy or business), students who have acquired this degree are likely to find expanded career opportunities across the public, private and third sectors, in areas such as policy, compliance, privacy, trust and safety, information services and security, responsible innovation, product management, regulatory oversight and non-profit research and advocacy.

What does interdisciplinary study mean?

Interdisciplinary study is at the heart of Edinburgh Futures Institute programmes. It means the ability to synthesise and apply knowledge and skills from across different disciplines and is crucial to addressing many current complex challenges and planetary-scale issues.

We support you to develop interdisciplinary perspectives in different ways. For example, our shared core courses draw on diverse disciplines to support you to work creatively and ethically with all kinds of data. Each programme develops interdisciplinary perspectives in the ways most appropriate to their specific domain and focus. And finally – because you have such wide choice in the optional courses you choose to take with us – you will have the flexibility to design your own disciplinary pathway through your studies, integrating your insights and reflecting on their interdisciplinary power through your project-related work.

Flexible study choices

You have a lot of flexibility in how you choose to study at the Edinburgh Futures Institute.

All the core and optional courses offered for this programme, and almost all the broader portfolio of optional courses, are taught in ‘fusion’ mode: a distinctive approach which allows you to combine on-campus with online study and teaches on-campus and online students together as a single cohort employing a range of collaborative and creative synchronous and asynchronous activities.

Which mode of study should you apply for?

At Edinburgh Futures Institute you can choose to study full-time, part-time and different levels of flexibility between online learning and on-campus. However, this flexibility may be dependent on your visa requirements. It is important to understand your situation and visa requirements before you apply. Please contact us to discuss your options if you have any questions.

If you are an international student, you may require a Student Visa to study in person in Edinburgh. If this applies to you and you wish to apply for a Student Visa, you must apply for the full-time, on-campus programme. Please note that as a full-time student on a study visa you are required to study entirely on-site.

  • Student Visa sponsorship is not available for part-time on-site or any online programme and any CAS requests in support of a Student Visa application will not be considered.
  • As a full-time, on-site student you will study most of your courses on-campus, but you will have some freedom to choose to study some courses online if you do not require a Student Visa.
  • Full-time or part-time online students may also choose to come to Edinburgh for some courses, subject to course availability and visa requirements – for instance, you may be eligible for a Standard Visitor visa for short study periods, up to a maximum of one course per semester. Please contact our Student Immigration Service to confirm your personal visa requirements, and contact Edinburgh Futures Institute to confirm course availability, before booking any travel to Edinburgh.
  • If you are considering full-time online study, please note that all courses require significant synchronous engagement in the classroom and significant asynchronous engagement online. Get in touch with us with questions before applying.
  • You can choose to study on a full-time basis over one year, or part-time over two or three years. You can register for a full MSc, or for a Postgraduate Diploma or Postgraduate Certificate. Part-time students can choose to study either entirely on-campus, online or via a combination of the two.

How you will learn at the Futures Institute

Our approach to teaching puts student experience and choice at its heart and connects global cohorts in new ways.

You will study in teaching spaces and digital learning environments designed to enable shared on-site and online teaching and learning activity. Your classes and contributions will be recorded and livestreamed so that they can be shared – and so you can build a learning community – across modes and time zones.

Students studying online have a presence in our on-site classrooms (via video, audio and text), and students studying on-campus are able to work with diverse teams located across the globe. All of your courses require significant synchronous engagement in the classroom and significant asynchronous engagement online. While there will be opportunities to engage in some activities asynchronously from different time zones, applicants should be aware of the requirement to join live classes at particular times. Please get in touch with us to discuss your particular circumstances before applying.

All students have a presence in the digital spaces where teaching happens – video-based classes, real-time collaboration spaces, live chats, asynchronous forums, shared exhibition and blogging spaces and more.

Teaching methods include:

  • group work
  • expert lectures, both live and livestreamed
  • data skills and programming workshops online and on-campus
  • on-site and virtual drop-ins
  • hybrid seminars
  • interactive journal clubs
  • external stakeholder challenges and code-alongs
  • data visualisation exercises
  • creative and collaborative whiteboard activities
  • online discussion
  • blogging

Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) uses a distinctive timetabling model in which the programme core and options courses are delivered over five weeks. Four of these weeks involve asynchronous activities, interactions and tasks. In the middle of the course, an intensive two-day block of synchronous activity is held, building on the early weeks of the course and enabling the class to work together intensively to develop knowledge and skills that support the final weeks of course activity. Shared core courses are taught alternate weeks throughout the semester.

(Revised 26 October 2023 to update online learning and on-campus study options)

These entry requirements are for the 2024/25 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2025/26 academic year will be published on 1 Oct 2024.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in any discipline.

We will also consider your application if you have other professional qualifications or experience; please contact us to check before you apply. In particular, we welcome applications from professionals with experience (e.g. working in companies, government, or third sector organisations) designing or implementing projects, programmes, or policies that aim to diminish inequalities.

Students from China

This degree is Band C.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 with at least 6.5 in each component. We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 100 with at least 23 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 185 with at least 176 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with passes in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 70 with at least 62 in each component.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, Trinity ISE or PTE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries (non-MESC).

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than five years old* at the beginning of your programme of study. (*Revised 05 March 2024 to extend degree validity to five years.)

Find out more about our language requirements:

Read our general information on tuition fees and studying costs:

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • Edinburgh Futures Institute
  • 1 Lauriston Place
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9JU

We operate a number of selection deadlines. We may make a small number of offers on an ongoing basis, but we will hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline before deciding which applicants to make offers to. If we have not made you an offer by a specific selection deadline this means one of two things:

  • your application has been unsuccessful, in which case we will contact you to let you know, or
  • your application is still being considered and will be carried forward for consideration in the next selection deadline and we’ll be in touch once a decision is made

If you are applying for funding or will require a visa then we strongly recommend you apply as early as possible.

Deadlines for applicants applying for study in 2024-25 are:

Round Application deadline Places awarded by
1 16 November 2023 31 January 2024
2 18 January 2024 28 March 2024
3 04 April 2024 13 June 2024
4 11 July 2024 30 July 2024

You must submit one reference with your application.

We will decide which applications to offer places to on the basis of:

  • Educational achievement
  • Professional experience (where relevant)
  • Quality of personal statement

Your personal statement should include why you are interested in studying this particular programme and – if relevant – how it will support your career development. The Edinburgh Futures Institute provides a space where students can pursue projects on issues they care about, so it would also be helpful (though not essential) if you could indicate the area on which you would most like to focus during your time in EFI.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • Edinburgh Futures Institute
  • 1 Lauriston Place
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9JU