The Big Debate: Skills

Does the IT skills shortage threaten UKplc and if so, what are you going to do about it?

Does the IT skills shortage threaten UKplc and if so, what are you going to do about it?

We have taken some short-term measures, notably the work permit system, which allows skilled IT workers into the country. These have been welcomed by business but we are not going to solve our skills shortages by simply trying to make the global labour market work better.

We have announced that by 2005 we will train up to 10,000 more information and communications technology (ICT) qualified people a year. We are embarking on the creation of two technology institutes in each region, which will be partnerships between the further education sector, a leading edge university department and businesses.

They will develop and run courses, at the technical, graduate and postgraduate levels. Additional money will be made available to allow them to specialise.

We have got a new ICT curriculum for schools, which will have to grow to keep up with changes in technology. We've got practically every secondary school and most primaries connected to the Internet.

We are trying to build much closer business-school partnerships.

The proportion of women IT professionals is dropping and the industry is not recruiting people over 50. We can change that.

Firstly we have got to repeal the IR35 tax legislation. It should be replaced with something that tackles real abuses, but which does not hit IT companies.

Secondly we want a more flexible national curriculum and more specialist schools. The Conservative policy is to
The Conservative policy is to free schools, to allow them to be more selective and more specialist in what they do
Source: William Hague
free schools, to allow them to be more selective and more specialist in what they do. This would allow more schools to emphasise information technology.

Thirdly we would use windfall gains to the Treasury, such as the 3G mobile phone licenses, to give the universities endowments of billions of pounds, while progressively cutting them free from government controls. This would allow them to have however many students they want on whatever course without being subject to legislation.

We will be freeing up the university and schools sector to make the most of the opportunities available, and make their own decisions about what skills are required.

We will increase funding in order to recruit IT and science teachers and provide up-to date equipment. We will abolish university tuition fees to encourage the take-up of higher education.

IT is a basic life skill, like literacy and numeracy, and should be part of the core curriculum. IT is still taught in schools simply as a separate subject, rather than being fully incorporated into other areas.

Funding arrangements relate to hardware costs. Local authorities and individual schools are left to bear the costs of access charges, software, computer maintenance and the hire of specialist staff. Central government should make provision for this. There should be no Internet access charges - but that is an issue for OFTEL to break open the British Telecom stranglehold.

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