Brexit an opportunity for global collaboration on edtech, says universities minister

Universities minister Chris Skidmore tells 2020 BETT education show that forming global partnerships in the edtech space will spur innovation

Brexit will present an opportunity for the UK to develop “global collaboration” around areas such as education technology (edtech), according to universities minister Chris Skidmore.

The minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation told the 2020 BETT education show that forming global partnerships in the edtech space will spur innovation and help the UK tackle global challenges such as teachers’ workload and cheating by students.

“For us, Brexit represents an opportunity – a new era of global collaboration,” said Skidmore. “We’ll be looking to forge even closer ties with partners across the world in all areas. But especially in edtech, so that we can learn from each other and drive innovation forward everywhere.”

Proclaiming the UK a “world leader” in edtech, Skidmore said the government intends to ensure that leaving the European Union (EU) will not change that, as was set out in the UK’s International Education Strategy, published last spring.

To ensure the UK remains at the forefront of education technology going forward, the government is focused on two key areas, he said – developing both the “next generation of digital innovators” and existing businesses or startups in the UK tech sector.

As regards future innovation, Skidmore cited the launch of the National Centre for Computing Education, backed by £80m funding, which is aimed at improving the standard of teaching in the UK as well as encouraging more girls to pursue computing subjects.

Skidmore also said education providers such as Ada, the National College for Digital Skills, several institutes of technology across the UK and the Institute of Coding are all aimed at tackling digital skills gaps across all educational levels.

“Together, those measures should help create an army of new digital innovators and entrepreneurs,” he said.

The government will continue to support existing businesses and startups through loans and grants through Innovate UK and the government’s partnership with the British Business Bank, said Skidmore.

The government has also made a commitment that, by 2027, 2.4% of public and private GDP will be spent on research and development.

Focusing on some of the “global challenges” of education that can be solved using technology and international partnerships, Skidmore said problems such as cheating by students have started to be tackled through partnerships between higher education providers and international tech firms such as Turnitin to develop tools that can spot possible plagiarism.

Skidmore also cited programmes such as Educate from University College London, which has supported almost 300 edtech companies in the UK, and will begin franchising its mentoring and consultancy programme to international universities over the next year.

Edtech testbed programme

He also mentioned the government’s edtech testbed programme, which has worked with innovation foundation Nesta over the past year, as well as a partner university, to connect schools and colleges with providers of edtech products designed to tackle challenges such as marking and engaging parents.

Based on this model, Skidmore announced the introduction of an assistive technology testbed for technologies designed to help pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Harnessing the power of modern technology can help us change and transform lives and unlock the potential of every child,” he said.

“With technological advances happening at increasingly breakneck speed, it is only right that we ride the wave, so pupils in our classrooms with special educational needs are given all the support they need and deserve.”

In June 2019, the government announced a £20m fund to be used over eight years to support education in developing countries through a global “what works” edtech hub, which has been developed in partnership with the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, universities, researchers and worldwide education experts. It will be launched later this year.

Skidmore said investing in developing the UK’s edtech scene will help raise the profile of UK education overseas to encourage people to study in the UK.

The £10m education strategy launched by the government in 2019 listed 10 challenges and strategies aimed at solving common problems in the education sector, such as reducing teacher workloads, making teacher training more accessible, introducing anti-cheating measures, and helping students with special educational needs.

Skidmore said many of those goals for edtech are the same this year, including using technology to give better support to teachers with admin tasks, as well as use technology to help teachers, education providers and pupils, where possible.

Read more about education and tech

The minister said the government aims to help more schools have a full-fibre connection, and to ensure all have a gigabit-capable internet connection by 2025.

He said the government is currently working with local authorities, trusts and schools to install full-fibre to about 1,700 UK schools, many of which are in rural areas where internet connection is more difficult.      

Skidmore also pointed out that one of the government’s goals is to help give teachers skills. Teachers are stretched when it comes to delivering the computing curriculum, with many claiming they do not have the skills to teach concepts such as coding, and in 2017 the government failed to hit its target for recruiting computing teachers.

The government has tried to address this through its education technology strategy, said Skidmore, and in 2019, 4,500 teachers were given access to free online resources through the Chartered College of Teaching.

Making the case for collaboration between schools and tech providers to reduce teacher workload, former education secretary Damian Hinds mentioned that several education providers were already using technology in an efficient way, and at the end of 2019, the Department for Education began a selection process to seek out education providers that were already using technology to enhance education to share best practice and knowledge through a “demonstrator network”.

At BETT 2020, Skidmore announced the launch of a new consortium to lead this network, including organisations such as the London Grid for Learning, the Education Foundation and the Sheffield Institute of Education, which will help schools in technology use to support other schools in adopting tech to help reduce teacher workload and support pupils in their learning.

The government is also working in partnership with Nesta to fund competitions for tech in areas such as assessment, essay marking, timetabling and parental engagement in an effort to “support and nourish innovators” in the edtech space, he said.

“The future looks bright, then, both for the UK and the edtech industry as a whole,” said Skidmore. “And, as I have outlined, it will be even brighter if we can work together in partnership to serve the teachers, the school leaders, but above all to serve students, who must be at the heart of our schools.”

Concern over drop in talent

However, many in the tech sector are concerned about a drop in talent after Brexit. Skills from outside the UK have become harder to find as Brexit approaches and 60% of tech entrepreneurs have said it has been more difficult to find international talent since Brexit negotiations began.

The UK government has been working to ensure people with specific technical skills are able to work in the UK more easily, initially choosing to exclude skilled doctors and nurses from Tier 2 skilled visa caps to allow spaces for more people skilled in other disciplines, and then extending the Tier 2 general salary exemption to nurses and paramedics, medical radiographers and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) secondary school teachers.

Many believe there should be a focus on the UK talent pipeline to fill any gaps, including a shift in attitude towards lifelong learning.

Brexit will present an opportunity for the UK to develop “global collaboration” around areas such as education technology (edtech), according to universities minister Chris Skidmore.

The minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation told the 2020 BETT education show that forming global partnerships in the edtech space will spur innovation and help the UK tackle global challenges such as teachers’ workload and cheating by students.

“For us, Brexit represents an opportunity – a new era of global collaboration,” said Skidmore. “We’ll be looking to forge even closer ties with partners across the world in all areas. But especially in edtech, so that we can learn from each other and drive innovation forward everywhere.”

Proclaiming the UK a “world leader” in edtech, Skidmore said the government intends to ensure that leaving the European Union (EU) will not change that, as was set out in the UK’s International Education Strategy, published last spring.

To ensure the UK remains at the forefront of education technology going forward, the government is focused on two key areas, he said – developing both the “next generation of digital innovators” and existing businesses or startups in the UK tech sector.

As regards future innovation, Skidmore cited the launch of the National Centre for Computing Education, backed by £80m funding, which is aimed at improving the standard of teaching in the UK as well as encouraging more girls to pursue computing subjects.

Tackling digital skills gaps

Skidmore also said education providers such as Ada, the National College for Digital Skills, several institutes of technology across the UK and the Institute of Coding are all aimed at tackling digital skills gaps across all educational levels.

“Together, those measures should help create an army of new digital innovators and entrepreneurs,” he said.

The government will continue to support existing businesses and startups through loans and grants through Innovate UK and the government’s partnership with the British Business Bank, said Skidmore.

The government has also made a commitment that, by 2027, 2.4% of public and private GDP will be spent on research and development.

Focusing on some of the “global challenges” of education that can be solved using technology and international partnerships, Skidmore said problems such as cheating by students have started to be tackled through partnerships between higher education providers and international tech firms such as Turnitin to develop tools that can spot possible plagiarism.

Skidmore also cited programmes such as Educate from University College London, which has supported almost 300 edtech companies in the UK, and will begin franchising its mentoring and consultancy programme to international universities over the next year.

He also mentioned the government’s edtech testbed programme, which has worked with innovation foundation Nesta over the past year, as well as a partner university, to connect schools and colleges with providers of edtech products designed to tackle challenges such as marking and engaging parents.

Based on this model, Skidmore announced the introduction of an assistive technology testbed for technologies designed to help pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Harnessing the power of modern technology can help us change and transform lives and unlock the potential of every child,” he said.

“With technological advances happening at increasingly breakneck speed, it is only right that we ride the wave, so pupils in our classrooms with special educational needs are given all the support they need and deserve.”

“Harnessing the power of modern technology can help us change and transform lives and unlock the potential of every child”
Chris Skidmore, universities minister

In June 2019, the government announced a £20m fund to be used over eight years to support education in developing countries through a global “what works” edtech hub, which has been developed in partnership with the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, universities, researchers and worldwide education experts. It will be launched later this year.

Skidmore said investing in developing the UK’s edtech scene will help raise the profile of UK education overseas to encourage people to study in the UK.

The £10m education strategy launched by the government in 2019 listed 10 challenges and strategies aimed at solving common problems in the education sector, such as reducing teacher workloads, making teacher training more accessible, introducing anti-cheating measures, and helping students with special educational needs.

Skidmore said many of those goals for edtech are the same this year, including using technology to give better support to teachers with admin tasks, as well as use technology to help teachers, education providers and pupils, where possible.

The minister said the government aims to help more schools have a full-fibre connection, and to ensure all have a gigabit-capable internet connection by 2025.

He said the government is currently working with local authorities, trusts and schools to install full-fibre to about 1,700 UK schools, many of which are in rural areas where internet connection is more difficult.      

Skidmore also pointed out that one of the government’s goals is to help give teachers skills. Teachers are stretched when it comes to delivering the computing curriculum, with many claiming they do not have the skills to teach concepts such as coding, and in 2017 the government failed to hit its target for recruiting computing teachers.

The government has tried to address this through its education technology strategy, said Skidmore, and in 2019, 4,500 teachers were given access to free online resources through the Chartered College of Teaching.

Demonstrator network

Making the case for collaboration between schools and tech providers to reduce teacher workload, former education secretary Damian Hinds mentioned that several education providers were already using technology in an efficient way, and at the end of 2019, the Department for Education began a selection process to seek out education providers that were already using technology to enhance education to share best practice and knowledge through a “demonstrator network”.

At BETT 2020, Skidmore announced the launch of a new consortium to lead this network, including organisations such as the London Grid for Learning, the Education Foundation and the Sheffield Institute of Education, which will help schools in technology use to support other schools in adopting tech to help reduce teacher workload and support pupils in their learning.

The government is also working in partnership with Nesta to fund competitions for tech in areas such as assessment, essay marking, timetabling and parental engagement in an effort to “support and nourish innovators” in the edtech space, he said.

“The future looks bright, then, both for the UK and the edtech industry as a whole,” said Skidmore. “And, as I have outlined, it will be even brighter if we can work together in partnership to serve the teachers, the school leaders, but above all to serve students, who must be at the heart of our schools.”

However, many in the tech sector are concerned about a drop in talent after Brexit. Skills from outside the UK have become harder to find as Brexit approaches and 60% of tech entrepreneurs have said it has been more difficult to find international talent since Brexit negotiations began.

The UK government has been working to ensure people with specific technical skills are able to work in the UK more easily, initially choosing to exclude skilled doctors and nurses from Tier 2 skilled visa caps to allow spaces for more people skilled in other disciplines, and then extending the Tier 2 general salary exemption to nurses and paramedics, medical radiographers and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) secondary school teachers.

Many believe there should be a focus on the UK talent pipeline to fill any gaps, including a shift in attitude towards lifelong learning.

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