North East universities to play key role in training next generation of digital specialists

University of Sunderland is part of a new £20m Institute of Coding

Published on 25 January 2018

Sunderland alongside Newcastle and Northumbria universities are part of a new £20m Institute of Coding announced today by the Prime Minister.

The region will benefit from £2m of the budget and bring together the three universities with key industry partners including Accenture, Sage, P&G and Nissan.

The next generation of digital specialists will be created through the new Institute of Coding, a consortium of universities, businesses and industry experts, set up to tackle the UK’s digital skills gap.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined how the Institute of Coding will create new degree level courses to equip people of all ages with the digital skills they need.

The consortium includes industry giants such as IBM, Cisco, BT and Microsoft, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), 25 UK universities, and professional bodies such as the British Computer Society and CREST.

The 25 universities involved, led by the University of Bath, range from sector leaders in business and computer science (UCL and Newcastle University) to experts in arts and design (University of the Arts) to specialists in widening participation and outreach (Open University and Birkbeck College).

Professor Alastair Irons, Academic Dean for the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of Sunderland, said: “We are delighted to be part of the successful consortium for the Institute of Coding and look forward to working with the group nationally and partner universities in the North East to deliver the objectives of the project.

“The Institute of Coding provides a real opportunity to address the digital skills gap and utilise the expertise in the University sector to work with employers, to ensure a flow of highly skilled digital graduates for business and industry.”

Newcastle University’s Professor Aad van Moorsel, who will co-lead the North-East arm of the Institute, said: “The computing industry is crying out for more computer scientists equipped with the right skills for the future.  Through the new Institute, we will be able to involve industry much more closely, through apprenticeships and teaching, and help fill the digital skills gap we currently face.

“The North East’s digital sector is one of the fastest growing in the country.  Together with our world-leading experts in academia and industry we are well-placed to play a key role in this exciting new project.”

Professor Andrew Wathey CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, said: “The digital skills shortage is a main concern for the North East so we are delighted to be a part of this exciting and innovative collaboration, working with other universities and industry partners in the region and across the UK to help address this challenge.

“The Institute of Coding will focus on key priorities which Northumbria is well-placed to contribute; such as the need for high-quality programmes to educate students and teachers, and to upskill staff working in the sector, especially in areas such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, cyber security, business and interpersonal skills.”

The award follows a nationwide competition, run by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), to improve the way universities train people for digital careers.

The government’s £20 million investment will be matched by a further £20 million from industry, including in-kind contributions such as training and equipment. 

The Institute of Coding is centred around five core themes:

  1. University learners (led by the Open University) – To boost graduate employability through a new industry standard targeted at degree level qualifications. IoC programmes will incorporate learning which solves real-world business problems and develops business, technical and interpersonal skills in equal measure.
  1. The digital workforce (led by Aston University) – To develop specialist skills training in areas of strategic importance.
  1. Digitalising the professions (led by Coventry University) – To transform professions undergoing digital transformation (e.g. helping learners retrain via new digital training programmes provided through online and face-to-face learning)
  1. Widening participation (led by Queen Mary University London) – To boost equality and diversity in technology-related education and careers (e.g. tailored workshops, bootcamps, innovative learning facilities and other outreach activities). In 2017, female programmers and software developers made up just 3.9 per cent of tech and telco professionals in the UK.[1]
  1. Knowledge sharing and sustainability (led by the University of Bath) – To share outcomes and good practice, ensuring long-term sustainability of the IoC. This will include building up an evidence base of research, analysis and intelligence to anticipate future skills gaps.


Dr Rachid Hourizi, Director of the Institute of Coding, said: “The strength of the Institute of Coding lies in the fact that it brings together educators, employers and outreach groups to co-develop digital skills education at undergraduate and masters level for learners in universities, at work and in previously under-supported groups across the country.

 “In addition, we’ll work with our partners to target underrepresented talent through outreach activities, tailored and inclusive curricula, flexible delivery and removal of barriers to working in the industry.”

 BT, among others, will provide staff and training for the Institute of Coding’s undergraduate and masters programmes.

Rachel Higham, Managing Director of IT at BT (Technology, Service and Operations), said:  “Digital skills are crucial to BT’s current and future success, but no company can fix the UK’s digital skills shortage on its own. By working together across industry and academia, the Institute of Coding will unlock access to a bigger and more diverse workforce, and support skills development for people at different stages of their careers.

“We are particularly pleased that industry will have the opportunity to build on its work within the Tech Partnership and our existing degree apprenticeship schemes, setting standards and promoting degrees that are aligned to employer needs.”

Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said: “The benefits to students from the Institute of Coding are clear: exciting courses designed to meet the needs of employers; exposure to leading research; and increased work experience to support the development of their employability skills and transition to work.

“I am delighted that the Institute also aims to encourage more women into the digital sector.”

Kathryn Parsons, Founder of Decoded and Chair of the DfE Advisory Board, said: “I strongly believe the UK can be the best place for technology education in the world. This month London was named the top European city for tech investment and the UK’s digital sector is creating jobs twice as fast as the rest of the economy.

“We are a nation of entrepreneurs, problem-solvers; of collaborators, and the Institute of Coding marks a further investment in this heritage. It has the power to bring together education and business to ensure we have the skills to drive innovation and be a global leader in the fourth industrial revolution.”

[1] ONS Dataset EMP04: Employment by occupation