Government to invest £20m in new Cyber Schools Programme for students

SUMMARY:

The announcement follows the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s commitment to invest £1.9 billion in cyber security over the next parliament.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has announced a £20 million Cyber Security programme to train almost 6,000 teenagers, in an attempt to help combat and anticipated shortfall in cyber skills.

The government is hoping that the programme will help the UK build up its cyber defences over the coming years, with SANS, BT, FutureLearn and Cyber Security Challenge UK named as delivery partners.

The news comes as £500,000 has also been allocated for GCHQ-accredited cyber security master’s bursaries. Earlier this year Chancellor for the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, also launched the National Cyber Security Strategy, committing £1.9 billion worth of investment – almost double what was invested over the pervious parliament.

At the time, Hammond indicated that more would be done to build up the UK’s cyber defence capabilities. He said:

We will deter those that seek to steal from us, threaten us or otherwise harm our interests in cyber space. We are strengthening our law enforcement capabilities to raise the cost and reduce the rewards of cyber criminality. Ensuring we can track, apprehend and prosecute those who commit cyber crimes. We will continue to invest in our offensive cyber capabilities, because the ability to detect, trace and retaliate in kind is likely to be the best deterrent.

Attracting talent

Today’s announcement from DCMS aims to attract thousands of the best and brightest young minds to the Cyber Schools Programme, where the successful applicants will be given the opportunity to learn cyber security skills alongside their secondary school studies through a nationwide network of extracurricular clubs, activities and an online game.

A new website has been launched where students, teachers and industry can register their interest.

The department has said that the new programme is specifically designed to encourage schoolchildren to develop some of the key skills they need to work in the growing cyber security sector and to help defend the nation’s businesses against online threats.

The UK, and countries globally, have seen an increased threat from online cyber attacks. Most recently huge parts of the National Health Service were targeted by some ransomware that took advantage of un-patched Windows XP systems, resulting in hospitals having to cancel treatments and divert patient care.

Minister of State for Digital Matt Hancock said:

Our Cyber Schools Programme aims to inspire the talent of tomorrow and give thousands of the brightest young minds the chance to learn cutting-edge cyber security skills alongside their secondary school studies.

I encourage all those with the aptitude, enthusiasm and passion for a cyber security career to register for what will be a challenging and rewarding scheme.

The £20 million programme will see students take a comprehensive cyber curriculum, which will mix expert, instructor-led classroom and online teaching with real-world challenges, online games and hands-on experience.

Students will be selected for the programme via a pre-entry assessment, and the scheme will provide them with pathways into the cyber security industry via direct contact with industry experts.

Applications are open to students aged 14 to 18, with the government stating that “hundreds of house of extra curricular content” will be made available to fill a four-year programme. The target is for at least 5,700 teenagers to be trained by 2021.

DCMS has also confirmed £500,000 funding to continue a pilot to help adults who want to retrain for a job in cyber security, but taking a GCHQ-accredited master’s degree. The funding will be distributed between participating universities to help those who want to use their skills to move into a cyber security career.

Response

Claire Stead, online safety expert at Smoothwall, an internet security company that is present in over 7,000 schools across the country, is pleased to see that the government is taking a proactive approach to plugging the cyber skills gap. She said:

The new Cyber Schools Programme from the DCMS is a great opportunity to get children involved in the complex – but increasingly important and relevant world – of cyber security. According to a report recently, Europe is due to face a shortage of cyber security experts by 2022 – this new injection of £20m by the government is a real chance for the children of the UK to be at the vanguard of protecting hospitals, governments, businesses and indeed the whole country.

Unless we take a look at the grass roots, this gap won’t be plugged any time soon. As coding was introduced in the national curriculum only relatively recently, it’s reassuring to see the government taking cyber issues even more seriously and we would actively encourage all students, teachers and industry members to shore up their digital skills and knowledge of cyber-related issues. As the security world is constantly shifting and IT becomes embedded in most of what we do, we cannot afford to be a nation of laggards in what is sure to be one of the most competitive and important industries for years to come.

Rob Norris, VP Head of Enterprise & Cyber Security EMEIA at Fujitsu, echoed Stead’s comments and said:

It is evident that there is a shortage of talent in security at the moment, and we can’t circumvent this. In fact, by 2022, it is expected that Europe will see a shortage of 350,000 IT security staff, and we can’t afford to continue to spiral in this way. This latest programme from the DCMS is a welcomed step in helping tackle the problem, giving 6,000 students the skills and capabilities they need to fill a role that is an essential part of the digital age we now live in.

The need to nurture and grow this talent is imperative, as 71% of businesses stated that a skills shortage has been directly responsible for measurable damage. It cannot all be left to government programmes, however. Companies too need to realise that they need to invest in young talent through apprenticeships and graduate schemes, for example. That way they can bring on talent that has an aptitude for security and then nurture their skills in a way that works for the company.

It’s also critical for experts in the industry to share their own stories and insights as to what security is really like as a profession, so students can start to see it as an accessible profession that brings significant career choices and opportunities. Casting the industry in this light starts brings to life the purpose of cyber security, inspiring next generation of experts to join the industry.

My take

The government needs to be doing more of this if it wants to address the skills gap. It’s important to note that the money and the recruitment figures are just targets at this stage, so we will be following the progress closely to see if its ambitions live up to the reality.

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