Students in China are showing great interest in studying artificial intelligence in college, the latest hot ticket career, university recruiters told the Global Times.

The rising interest comes as AI industries flourish around the world and presents bright career prospects, particularly as the US and China’s current contest for technology supremacy provokes China to speed up development in the high-tech sector, one expert said.

A recruiter from Anhui Polytechnic University in East China’s Anhui Province said that their new AI major is very popular this year.

“Many students or their parents have called and inquired about the score needed, the curriculum and the employment prospects of the new major,” the recruiter, surnamed Zhang, told the Global Times.

Fang Yongchun, dean of the AI College under Nankai University in Tianjin, also said that based on his observations during a college admission fair in Central China’s Henan Province, high school students were “very passionate” about entering smart tech-related majors.

“Our AI College’s admission quota was originally 100 students. But considering the high demand from domestic students, we’re now in discussions about increasing the number of places with Nankai’s admissions office.”

China’s high school graduates are currently completing their college admission applications after receiving the results of the nationwide college entrance examinations.

Both Anhui Polytechnic University and Nankai University are among the 35 Chinese universities granted permission to offer a bachelor’s degree program in AI.

The eagerness to study AI comes at a time when the development of AI-related industries in China is flourishing, which has caused a severe lack of skilled engineers.

“Nowadays, the gap for talents in the domestic AI industry is massive. The demand for AI engineers far exceeds supply,” Zhao Zhiqiang, chief technology officer of the Harbin Institute of Technology Big Data Group, told the Global Times on Monday.

This imbalance has led to high entry-level salaries, which is very attractive to younger people, he said.

“A graduate with a master’s degree in an AI-related major from the Harbin Institute of Technology can command an annual starting salary of 250,000 yuan ($36,325) to 300,000 yuan,” he said.

In 2017, graduates with a master’s degree earned an average annual starting salary of 70,800 yuan, according to data from hiring platform xiangcaozhaopin.com and online education platform koolearn.com.

According to Nikkei, IT giants such as Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu rely on big data analysts to improve customer experience and develop new services. AI is also crucial in developing self-driving cars, a sector that many automakers are eager to enter.

China is not the only place where companies are spending more to secure AI talent, Nikkei said.

Salaries in India and Vietnam are expected to grow roughly 10% each year, according to Toshihiro Kurozawa, principal analyst at JAC. Pay in Malaysia and Indonesia is seen growing around 5%, while the rise in Singapore will be about 3% per year, he added.