From education to employment

Universities must offer more innovative courses to close the digital skills gap

Matt Brindley-Sadler, Director of Staffordshire University London

The pandemic has catalysed a global recession, but despite this, many parts of the tech and digital ecosystem are burgeoning. From cyber to fintech to esports – some industries have grown monumentally in the last 14 months. Last year can be considered a record year for the cyber industry with the crisis prompting a wave of cybercrimes people needed protection from. In the UK the sector now employs almost 50,000 people and contributes billions to the UK economy whilst the FinTech sector which allowed people to bank from the comfort of their own home in lockdown, contributes more than £6 billion to the UK economy annually.

Whilst it is good to see the tech sector flourishing as we start to build back our economy, we’re going to need a pipeline of talent with strong digital skills to keep up with the demand for jobs. 

According to The Learning and Work Institute since 2015, the number of students opting to take a GCSE in IT has fallen by 40% demonstrating that long before the pandemic the digital skills gap was present. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated this, so it is more important than ever before that we implement solutions to educate the next generation with the skills to meet industry demand.

To fully embrace this shift, the World Economic Forum report determines that 54% of large company employees must upskill. Universities will play a role in making this possible, by providing courses specifically targeted at ensuring people have the skills required for the tech careers of the future. 

It is really important for us at Staffordshire University London to provide our students with the skills needed for a successful career. That’s why we’ve expanded our London campus and are investing £3.5m to double its space to 31,133 square foot at Here East so we can expand the range of courses we have available to students in London. Our new space will pave the way for courses in Artificial Intelligence, Data Science & Informatics and Financial Technologies to name a few with further expansion of games, entertainment and professional technologies coming on board in 2023. 

Yet the problem is bigger than just expanding the number of courses on offer. We also need to make higher education accessible to people from a range of different backgrounds. This will be achieved by ensuring as many people as possible have access to the resources required to develop the skills needed for careers of the future. 

We are dedicated to ensuring this at Staffordshire University London. We have our new Step Up to Higher Education (Digital) programme in development – a 10-week free course for anyone to develop the skills needed to begin higher education. Through courses such as these, we’re providing people with the chance to improve their digital capabilities. 

We’ve also partnered with Here East to implement a scholarship programme, enabling three students local to East London to study a course at the University fully funded by Here East. The scholarship is for students based in the boroughs surrounding the Olympic Park and is especially targeted at students facing financial difficulties, first generation university students or students who are leaving care or who are also carers.

Providing such opportunities for young people enables them to overcome the financial barriers that might be preventing them from accessing higher education. As we work to close the digital skills gap, we must always consider how we include a diverse range of people and implement practical solutions to do so. 

The world is changing and digitalising at a rapid pace, and Covid-19 has made it crystal clear that right now is the time to implement tangible solutions to close our digital skills gap. We must work to do this in a way that includes as many people as possible so we build back our economy in a way that embraces people from a plethora of backgrounds. 

Matt Brindley-Sadler is Director of Staffordshire University London

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