Universities unveil City Region Deal plan to tackle digital skills gap

The University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University will work together to train 100,000 people in data skills and help 1,000 organisations

The University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University have launched a major initiative that includes plans to improve digital skills across South East Scotland. The new venture aims “to transform Edinburgh and its surrounding area into the data capital of Europe”.

The £661m Data-Driven Innovation initiative is a key part of the recently-announced Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. It aims to train 100,000 people in data skills over the next decade, from computer science specialists to traditional jobs that will increasingly use data.

It is estimated that Scotland annually needs around 13,000 extra workers with data skills as the workplace is transformed. The Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy, published in 2017, included plans to tackle this digital skills gap while growing the Scottish economy.

Together, the two universities will increase the provision of data science teaching for their students, and support schools and colleges across the region in providing digital skills teaching and training. The region’s supercomputing capabilities will also be strengthened with investment in a data analysis facility, which will help 1,000 organisations use data to innovate within their sectors.

Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said: “This exciting project – backed by £270m of UK Government investment – will ensure that the UK leads the world in technologies of the future and benefits from the economic growth opportunities this brings.

“Data is the new soil, and collaboration the seeds.”

Professor Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice Principal, University of Edinburgh, said: “Perhaps the most important part of the deal is our commitment to ensure people in the region can build the skills to flourish in the data-driven economy.

“So we are working not just in our universities, but also with schools, colleges and businesses, so people have the opportunities to develop data skills across their life-course. This could include young people about to enter the workforce, women returning after career breaks, or people looking to reskill in mid-career. We know that data-driven innovation will bring economic growth – we want that growth to be inclusive and open to all.”

Jarmo Eskelinen has been appointed to lead the Data-Driven Innovation initiative. He comes to Edinburgh from his previous role as Chief Innovation and Technology Officer of the London-based Future Cities Catapult initiative. He said: “Data is the new soil, and collaboration the seeds. The Data-Driven Innovation initiative is unique in its ambition and scale. It’s been designed to reach out to the whole City Region, so we can develop and test new services to meet the needs of our citizens.”

The £1.3bn Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal was announced by the Prime Minister and First Minister at the University of Edinburgh on 7 August. It aims to drive growth for everyone across the area, and includes investment in transport, housing, culture and skills and employability.