From education to employment


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Sara Prowse, CEO at Greater Manchester higher education institution, University Academy 92 (UA92), has called for a greater focus on digital poverty as part of the Government’s Levelling Up pledge, amid fears that young people from underprivileged backgrounds are at risk of being priced out of higher education.   

As reports show that one fifth of students homeschooled during the Covid-19 pandemic did not have access to laptops or digital devices, and one in six are considering leaving University studies due to the cost of living crisis, Prowse, whose facility works to support disadvantaged pupils into higher education, says the situation is ‘unsustainable’.

Prowse, CEO at UA92, founded by Gary Neville, the Class of 92 and Lancaster University, said,

“Eliminating digital poverty should be one of our greatest priorities and we need more haste in digital upskilling as part of the Government’s Levelling Up programme.

“Qualifications and access still remain key to life chances and digital inclusion is a necessity in terms of young people feeling able to progress with further education. This progression is made infinitely more difficult if they are priced out due to a lack of financial support and accessibility.

“Last year, despite calls from multiple vice-chancellors and higher education bodies, the Government only provided an extra £20m to support students in digital poverty difficulties in England, which did little to reduce the social inequalities and digital divisions we are seeing. In today’s economic crisis, we need much greater support to ensure young people have equal access to education, wherever they live and whatever their background.”

According to the Digital Poverty Alliance, around 11 million people in the UK lack the digital skills needed for everyday life, and only 36 per cent of those with no formal educational qualifications use the internet, compared to 95 per cent of those with higher education qualifications. Furthermore, 20% of young people aged 8-24 lack the ability to get online.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, also revealed that over 1.2 million people – 42% of the city-region – are digitally excluded, while their estimates report over 100,000 children in Greater Manchester (around one in five) are without digital access.

Prowse continued, “From an education perspective, young people from poorer households in Greater Manchester are increasingly less likely than more affluent peers to attend university.

“Through having less disposable income, we know there is a struggle to afford basic essentials including digital devices and connectivity, putting them at a much higher risk of becoming digitally excluded. In today’s online world, this lack of device accessibility then leads to greater disclination to train or learn.  

“All combined, we have a recipe which is simply unsustainable. We must ensure that children and students not only have access to devices and connectivity but also to the training and learning opportunities they deserve, and we encourage the Government to refocus efforts on digital poverty within the Levelling Up Agenda to counter the divisions currently being experienced in the North West.”

The call comes as University Academy 92 today opens its multi-million pound Digital Academy at its Old Trafford campus, a move funded by the independent regulator for higher education, the Office for Students (OfS), earlier this year. 

The space, which will include robotics labs and AR capabilities will create an extra 380 places for students, and will be open to Greater Manchester residents offering apprenticeships, digital short courses and training bootcamps to aid employment chances. 

Prowse continued, 

“By opening venues such as our Digital Academy, we can act as a catalyst for digitally upskilling across the North West region, raising aspirations and helping to plug the skills gap.

“We know that access to high quality and industry-led education within a digitally-enabled learning environment is proven to boost employability and open opportunities. Degrees that aren’t including digital skills are unusable in the workforce of the future.”

University Academy 92 (UA92) was co-founded by Lancaster University and the Class of ‘92 in 2019, offering a portfolio of degree and higher education courses across business, sport, media and digital disciplines.

It currently serves over 400 students, over 70% of whom are from the Greater Manchester region. 15 percent of students at UA92 were on Free School Meals at school or college, compared to just 8 percent of higher education starters across the UK as a whole. 

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