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Brian Cox: Millions heading for skills black hole

Links to top universities and businesses should become the norm for UK schools, Professor Brian Cox has said.

The physicist and TV presenter told Tech City News the skills gap is becoming a major issue that needs solving in order to stop British companies from needing to seek talent from elsewhere.

Speaking exclusively to Tech City News ahead of a talk at Canary Wharf Group’s Level39 accelerator, he said around 50% of UK growth comes from knowledge-intensive services, highlighting the dangers of failing to bring young talent into such industries.

The numbers are frightening. When you start having a skills gap which is measured in the millions by 2020 then you see that there’s a problem.

‘Engines for social change’

Professor Cox called on the government to support a framework for schools to integrate visits and training from universities and businesses, citing his St Paul’s Way Trust Summer School as an example.

The Tower Hamlets-based school, which rose from almost shutting down seven years ago to getting every single STEM sixth-former an offer in a Russell Group university, now offers a summer school of TED style seminars, hands-on experiments and networking.

The professor said most of the school’s pupils haven’t had parents who went to university, and so both inspiration from academics and experience with businesses are vital to raise aspirations.

He said universities “can be engines for social change”, but it has to come from a partnership with government.

Universities training teachers

Professor Cox said the new computing curriculum beginning in September was “obviously a good idea”, but he said he’d like to see universities involved in training teachers, especially when it comes to technologies that are fast-moving.

When I talk to physics teachers… one of the things I think they’d like to have access to is current research so they can bring it into the classroom.

And he also echoed warning against the “non-productive agenda” fuelling the government’s attitude to immigration, saying there should be “different kinds” of immigration when it comes to setting targets.

There’s a vast need for highly-educated people in this country. That’s brilliant – that’s what our economy is increasingly based on.