Institute of Coding releases £5 million to developing UK digital skills projects

The fund will support courses targeting underrepresented women in the North, and the UK's cultural backbone

The Institute of Coding (IoC) has chosen six university-led consortiums to benefit from 5 million of investment, half of which is government-backed, to launch localised digital skills initiatives across the UK.

The University of Leeds, Durham University and Birkbeck University are among the six institutions heading up the winning collectives, and will use fresh funding to develop courses targeting specific areas of need.

The government's Office for Students (OfS) will provide 2.4 million in funding, matched pound for pound by the winning consortiums themselves, as part of the IoC's Future Projects Fund.

The initiative, announced in August, sought up to ten university-led groups to hand grants to develop initiatives geared towards tackling the UK's digital skills crisis. The bidding groups, if successful, would then have to equally match the IoC's grants with self-generated funding.

The successful projects were chosen by the IoC's industry advisory board, appointed in September 2018 and comprising a host of huge players in the tech industry including Microsoft, Google, Cisco and IBM.

The University of the Arts London's (UAL) Creative Computing Institute, one of the chosen beneficiaries, will use 581,000 to advance "creative digital solutions" in manufacturing, engineering and creative industries, with a portfolio of online courses addressing key questions. These include how creative technologists are transformation modern firms, and how workers can tap into creative technology skills to change career direction or avoid losing out to automation.

A consortium led by Birkbeck, similarly, will offer a course in Computing for the Cultural Heritage sector which aims to give professionals across galleries, libraries, archives and museums the skills digitally transform Britain's cultural backbone.

"These courses will give thousands of people access to high-quality learning opportunities and practical support at a time when employers need it most," said chair of the IoC industry advisory board Sheila Flavell.

"Our extensive programmes, built in partnership with industry leaders, will widen access to the technology industry, spreading opportunity to people from a range of diverse backgrounds and strengthen our digital economy at a crucial time."

The announcement marks the first set of concrete measures the IoC has taken to fulfil its remit of tackling the skills gap since its launch in June last year.

The consortium of universities, academics and industry representatives, backed by government, was set up forge closer ties between key stakeholders in the UK's digital economy and impart digital skills onto a wider number of people and marginalised groups especially.

It's an ambition manifesting in the chosen projects, with Durham University, for example, using 517,846 with its more than 16 partners to launch a 'TechUp' course to retrain underrepresented women from the Midlands and the North of England.

The University of Chester, meanwhile, has devised a fresh conversion course to combining data science and machine learning with entrepreneurial skills that can be undertaken by graduates without any computer science experience.

The Universities of Coventry and Leeds will benefit from close to 500,000 each to design an online platform for resources as well as career opportunities, and develop 15 short online courses centring on employability, respectively.

"This funding is a key part of our work to address skills gaps and improve graduate employability, particularly for students from groups who are under-represented or disadvantaged," said the OfS' director for fair access and participation Chris Millward.

"Digital skills are vital for the economy, now and in the future, which is why we are backing this important initiative to boost equality and diversity in STEM education, develop the workforce that employers will need to meet future digital challenges, and open up the jobs of the future to graduates from all backgrounds."

The IoC estimates that the newly-funded courses will train tens of thousands of learners when they are implemented in full during the next 12 to 18 months.

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