Funding for high level ICT skills updating slashed

Do you agree with the decision by the new Department for Innovation Universities and Skills to withdraw funding for ICT skills updating programmes, including the MSc conversion programmes that are our main source of high level security skills.

If so, do nothing.

If not read the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) consultation on the Withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower qualfications and reply before the 7th December.

The Conservative Government similarly withdrew funding for MSc Conversion Courses twenty years ago, helping exacerbate the then IT skills crisis and triggering the start of the trend towards offshoring..

The effect of this short-sighted action will be to hasten the demise of what is left – because the “exemptions” for critical skills in short supply do not currently include those needed to produce reliable, secure ICT systems, network or content. Such skills need continual updating – and MSc Conversion courses are one of the main sources.

In my entry on Walking backwards into the future I described how I first learned of this particular problem.

Earlier today I was sent a copy of the consultation that is your opportunity to make your views known. It is short, but not easy reading.

I would not have understood what it meant, had I not been told of its impact by some of those who run highly popular and over-subscribed university-based courses, used by those in the IT industry to update their skills after being made redundant by employers (including Government departments and their “strategic partners”) who prefer to hire from abroad rather than retrain their own.

Given recent ministerial announcements I think it highly unlikely that this particular manifestation of the “laws of unintended consequences” was intentional.

However, given that it is also easier for IT employers to tiptoe offshore than to try to change long standing departmental policy, this is one for readers to raise via their member of parliament, their professional body and their trades union – not leave to “them”.

DIUS and its predecessors have a twenty year track record of ignoring the need to maintain workforce skills and of axing any programme that proved popular with employers or those seeking to retain themselves. The UK is almost unique in expecting those made redundant (or at risk of redundancy) being made to fund their own retraining out of after-tax income. The need to give similar priority to workforce updating and continuous professional development to that which we give to first entry education and training is a subject on which I have written regularly over the years.

Last month the EURIM Council tasked me to organise a meeting to discuss the practicality of bringing employers, professions and unions together in a coherant and practical political campaign to place the need to maintain world-class workforce skills (at all levels) at the centre of the political stage – not as is all to often – at the periphery – after school standards, proportions of teenagers into higher education and adult literacy – alias social inclusion.

In the meantime – to misquote the Irish-American election advice: “write early, write often”.

The “Withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower qualifications” is a consultation that needs robust and well informed inputs from all quarters: employers, professions, unions and individuals – not just the usual suspects.

P.S. The great thing about blogging is the speed with which you receive corrections when you over-simplify. It has just been pointed out to me that the change “only” affects those who already have equivelent qualifications. Therefore a student with a BSc in Physics could still enrol on a conversion MSc and get funded. He/She could not, however, be funded for any part of an undergraduate course, which are also part of re-skilling packages. If a student already has a postgraduate qualification (say an MBA obtained 15 years ago), he/she could not be funded at postgraduate level for re- and up-skilling into Computing/IT, because it is not a SIVS (stratetically Important and vulnerable subject) inside STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathermatics).