UK ramps up ‘future tech skills’ drive with £1.1 billion investment

A student giving a presentation to the class during a seminar session and using a large monitor as a visual aid.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The UK government had pledged more than £1.1 billion in funding to train millions in high-tech skills as part of a major push to drive more Brits into the technology sector.

As part of the investment scheme, the government said it will pledge funding for engineering and physical science doctoral skills. This will see more than 4,000 students across the country offered support via 65 ‘Centers for Doctoral Training’.

The centers will focus on quantum technologies, AI, engineering biology, semiconductors, and telecoms.

Hundreds of places will be made available for students in Glasgow and Edinburgh, while Manchester, Bristol, and Sheffield-based students will also be able to participate, the government said.

Charlotte Deane, executive chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, said the new centers will play a key role in supporting future skills development for thousands across the UK.

"The Centres for Doctoral Training announced today will help to prepare the next generation of researchers, specialists and industry experts across a wide range of sectors and industries," she said.

"Spanning locations across the UK and a wide range of disciplines, the new centers are a vivid illustration of the UK’s depth of expertise and potential, which will help us to tackle large-scale, complex challenges and benefit society and the economy."

Funding of more than £60 million has also been pledged for new quantum skills programs running until 2034, the government confirmed. This includes £14 million for 100 quantum PhD studentships in universities across the UK, and another £14 million to fund early career researchers.

Similarly, around £4 million will be spent on creating more apprenticeship pathways into the quantum industry.

Science and technology secretary Michelle Donelan said the scheme will enable academic institutions across the country to continue playing a critical role in developing the future tech workforce.

"As innovators across the world break new ground faster than ever, it is vital that government, business and academia invests in ambitious UK talent, giving them the tools to pioneer new discoveries that benefit all our lives while creating new jobs and growing the economy," she said.

"By targeting critical technologies including artificial intelligence, and future telecoms, we are supporting world class universities across the UK to build the skills base we need to unleash the potential of future tech and maintain our country’s reputation as a hub of cutting-edge research and development."

The announcement represents the government's latest effort to boost tech education and training across the country. The Spring Budget, for example, included a £7.4 million AI upskilling fund, aimed at small professional and business services firms.

Last month, the government kicked off a marketing push for its digital skills bootcamps in cloud computing, software development, data analytics, cyber security, and web development, claiming that they could lead to salaries two and half times the UK average.

The UK, like many countries, has been experiencing a skills shortage for some time, with AI a particular problem area.

In a recent survey of IT managers by Red Hat, nearly three quarters cited a lack of AI skills as one of their most pressing problems.

However, there was a sign last month that some government efforts are starting to pay off, with an analysis of government figures by BCS finding a rise in the number of new digital apprentices, and 'encouraging' takeup of a new AI Data Specialist apprenticeship.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.