Empowering the regional economy through technology education
By Nick Wilson, Managing Director, Hewlett Packard UK and Ireland
Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is crucial to the development of students and economic opportunities in the UK. As a nation, we struggle to keep our young people interested in science, technology and mathematics and these subjects are absolutely vital for growing innovation and economic opportunities in the UK.
We believe that universities can use their relationship with local communities and businesses, teamed with the new technologies that they have at their disposal, to lead economic growth.
When young people finish their GCSEs, nearly half opt out of studying STEM subjects. This is having a dramatic effect in the employment market as only 5.3% of all working women are employed in STEM occupations, compared to 31.3% of men. In the recent UK Graduates Career Survey 2011, just 3.9% of final year students applied for IT¬related positions.
HP recognises the importance of technology education to businesses. Technology education will help develop students of all ages with the necessary and relevant skills for roles in the IT, science and engineering industries. For many years, HP has worked with the higher education sector to provide the highest quality recruits for its own growth, innovation and business success.
We believe we are in a unique position to provide a balanced view, both as a global business with a strong requirement for good quality graduates and also as a strategic partner to a number of universities.
Courses – relevant to business needs
Businesses are increasingly looking for highly skilled graduates who can make a real difference and hit the ground running. University courses should be designed so that they are relevant to tomorrow’s business needs. This will enable graduates to develop the right skills before entering the workplace. Too many technology degrees fail both graduates and employers in that employment rates among IT graduates are some of the poorest despite the skills shortages in these areas.
Our partnership with the University of the West of England (UWE) has resulted in the development of a four year enterprise computing degree course that contains course collateral from both UWE and HP. During the course students undertake a one year internship with HP gaining real life business and technology experience. At the end of the degree course, students will gain industry recognised professional qualification, providing them with an excellent career starting point and making them highly sought after by prospective employers.
Gateway to higher and further education
There are many social groups under¬represented within higher education and further education either through low aspiration, lack of opportunity or lack of a ‘personal support network’. This is a pool of great potential talent that could be harnessed for regional businesses to drive economic growth. Universities need to have a widening participation agenda that reaches out to regional communities to encourage members of these groups into the education system.
An example of one recent UWE initiative involved the crew of Space Shuttle Mission STS-133 delivering a presentation to hundreds of school pupils in Bristol. The event was aimed to inspire young secondary school pupils to consider studying STEM subjects, but more importantly to explain there is no limit to what they can achieve.
Making a difference
Getting involved in local community programmes run by universities in partnership with IT companies can deliver huge benefits to the quality of life for people at a local, national and international level. Interestingly, these social innovation programmes provide other benefits too. University student volunteers gain additional skills and experience, which is often seen as a positive differentiator when applying for employment. Industry partners supplying resources such as staff delivering courses at local universities notice enhanced employee engagement within their own company. HP is one example where staff dedicate their time to teaching courses at local universities. The success of these social innovation activities enhances the standing and status of the university within the community. Universities together with technology partners have the potential to bring some very compelling local initiatives into these communities and can make a considerable impact, especially in the areas of education and healthcare.
Supporting regional business
We believe that universities can use their relationships with local communities and businesses, teamed with the new technologies that they have at their disposal, to lead regional economic growth. With this universities and companies with a global presence such as HP can help regional small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to operate in the global market.
Universities are increasingly becoming the cradle of much new business creation as they encourage spin-off businesses through their incubator operations. Technology plays an important part in this process and the latest evolutions of networking, communications and converged infrastructure make it possible for universities to offer their incubators high levels of individual technology services to get their business off the ground. Regional start-up or pre-start-up business entrepreneurs are not only provided with the latest technology but also office accommodation, hands¬on advice and guidance, together with professional mentoring.
Through innovation and collaboration between universities and IT partners, cloud computing solutions can be deployed to regional SMEs providing the type of service and solutions that until recently were only available to larger organisations. This is an initiative that we are currently exploring with UWE by providing enterprise level IT capability to some 350 SMEs in the South West.
We believe that universities can play a leadership role in building new regional economic models that can enable the UK to rebalance its economy and return to a track of sustainable growth. Our aim is to be at the centre of this regeneration and see partnerships with universities as a key part of this strategy.
Nick Wilson is Managing Director of Hewlett Packard (UK&I) leading the UK and Ireland operations of the world’s largest technology company.