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UK launches fellowship to attract tech talent to government

Programme jointly run by Number 10 and Government Digital Service will see 10 leaders enlisted to address key challenges in the public sector

The UK government has announced the launch of an innovation fellowship programme aimed at attracting technology and digital talent to the public sector, as part of a broader research and development plan.

Run jointly by Number 10 and the Government Digital Service and funded by the Cabinet Office, the initiative was inspired by the US Presidential Fellowship programme and is supported by an advisory board of digital and tech leaders in the public and private sector, as well as academia.

First announced in June 2020 as a way to attract top digital and tech talent from across the UK and from overseas into government, the programme will see 10 fellows join the UK public service each year. Applications from potential fellows are open from 10 March to 28 March 2021.

According to Joanna Davinson, chair of the advisory board and executive director of the Central Digital and Data Office, the government considers it “essential” to have the right technical skills and experience across the digital, data and technology profession to enhance public service delivery.

“We already have a wealth of talent in the civil service and this programme will allow us to harness external expertise in tackling some of the biggest challenges we face,” she said.

Candidates admitted to the programme will be expected to work on the modernisation of public services with adoption of cutting-edge technology, as well as innovative approaches from outside government. The 2021 cohort will work in five central government departments and will work alongside senior leaders in the civil service, while also building relationships with the other fellows in the group.

The pool of projects in which the fellows will be involved includes an initiative using deep reinforcement learning to support planning for military operations at the Ministry of Defence; a project to harness the potential of digital formats in education led by the Department of Education; and a project to look into data as a means to address humanitarian crises conducted by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Data will also be centre stage in a project to be led by a fellow at the Department of Health and Social Care, focusing on the design of high-impact data solutions in tackling the challenges around Covid-19 and beyond, while digital technology to better manage offenders in the community will be the focus at the Ministry of Justice.

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The announcement of the fellowship programme follows a series of initiatives announced last summer under a broader plan to help the UK economy regroup after the Covid-19 pandemic. These include a pledge to increase research and development investment to £22bn a year by 2024-25, with attracting, retaining and developing talent as one of the key pillars of the plan.

To achieve these goals, the government has launched the Office for Talent, which was also tasked with looking into improving the immigration system to help international professionals coming to the UK to “better understand the opportunities on offer and break down any barriers they might face”.

The government’s recent Budget included a commitment to undertake visa reforms to modernise the UK’s highly skilled migration arrangements, focusing on areas such as technology, science, research and academia. This includes the introduction of a points-based visa in March 2022 with a stream aimed at fast-growing startups, whereby professionals with a job offer from UK scaleups can qualify for a fast-track visa.

Other initiatives relating to visas include an intention to review the innovator visa to make it easier for qualified entrepreneurs to set up a business in the UK and obtain a visa.

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