David Fuller's view -
In the race for international tech talent and inward investment, the UK ranks third in Europe behind Finland and Sweden for digital inclusion and skills (EC Digital Economy and Society Index – DESI). But the new government should not forget that around half of our most valuable tech workers hail from overseas with some 30pc coming from the EU and 20pc from further afield. To avoid a post-Brexit brain drain, the UK must remain a destination for international talent, with an immigration policy to match.
And to ensure that in the future more of our tech capability is grown at home with jobs filled by British citizens, the next government must do even more to encourage the take up of science, Technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in schools.
Of the 320,000 students in England studying for A-levels last year, the number taking STEM subjects was largely stable, according to Department for Education data. Where it is increasing, it is in tiny increments.
Last year, the number of students entered for A-level computing increased by just 0.3 pc to 1.7 pc. And the 23.8 pc of A-level students entered for mathematics represented an increase of just 0.5 pc. STEM subjects need to move further up the education agenda accompanied by more support for targeted vocational training and apprenticeships.
Continued investment in infrastructure to support an increasingly digitised marketplace is also vital. Applications and productivity gains requiring world-class connectivity can only gather momentum if the physical backbone is there to provide the necessary support.
The last government’s “Universal Service Obligation” aimed to give every business and individual in the country the right to request an affordable high-speed broadband connection. The intention was laudable, but in practice today the UK ranks no higher than sixth for overall European connectivity and just 10th for Next Generation Access. Further investment in digital infrastructure should remain a key priority for the next government.
The UK is the fifth largest global economy and renowned for innovation and our entrepreneurial spirit. We are home to many world class businesses spanning Technology, hi-tech engineering and pharma research, financial services, the professions, education and the creative arts. Government initiatives to cultivate the smartest talent and encourage the right investment will help capitalise on these strengths and accelerate our position at the vanguard of the 4IR.
Thankfully, the long, sad history of the UK surrendering its sovereignty within the EU is now ending. Britain will soon have the freedom to welcome additional talent from all over the globe, not just the EU. A newly competitive economic environment will be ideal for expanding our tech industries.
A PDF of Jeremy Hand’s article is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.
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