UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Evidence Submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 Nov 2014

The House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills

House of Lords Select CommitteThe House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills is seeking answers to the question “how should the UK join up ‘fragmented’ digital skills teaching?

Last month, on Tuesday 14 October 2014, the House of Lords’ Digital Skills Committee quizzed Karen Price OBE, Chief Executive, e-skills UK, Maggie Philbin, UK Digital Skills Taskforce & CEO TeenTech and Rachel Neaman, CEO, Go ON UK about digital skills teaching in the UK. If you missed the live video stream of the meeting  a recording of the meeting is available on the UK Parliament’s web site.

In addition to the oral evidence which has been presented to the Select Committee a significant number of written submissions have also been made, with a total of approximately 125 contributions included in the Oral and written evidence report, a substantial PDF document containing no fewer than 763 pages!

About the Select Committee on Digital Skills

The Select Committee on Digital Skills was announced in the chamber of the House of Lords on Monday 9 June 2014. The Select Committee will consider information and communications technology, competitiveness and skills in the UK. It is expected that the committee will submit its recommendations and publish its report by 5 March 2015.

The Digital Skills Committee published its call for evidence on 11 June. The deadline for submitting written evidence was 5 September 2014.

In addition to the call for written evidence the Select Committee held a number of meeting which sought answers to questions from various sectors:

  •  On Tuesday 22 July the Select Committee asked Google, Microsoft and some of the UK’s leading technology specialists  about the UK’s readiness for technologies of the future.
  • On Tuesday 29 July the Committee heard from campaigners for digital start-ups, the voice of SMEs in the UK and the country’s tech sector and asked them whether rapidly changing technology trends are creating barriers for businesses, whether businesses’ tech skills are falling behind, how the UK’s infrastructure can be improved, and whether the end result of these challenges is damaging to the UK economy.
  • On Monday 1 September the Committee heard from the British Chambers of Commerce, Direct Line, McKinsey & Company, BT, Boston Consulting Group and Virgin Media. Questions that the Committee put to the witnesses included How can UK businesses prepare for the future?; What skills do future workers need for the UK to be globally competitive?; Does the UK have a competitive infrastructure to support a knowledge-driven economy?; How is the change in technology affecting this infrastructure?; How does the UK compare to other countries? and How important is faster Internet speed for businesses and their development?
  • The following day, Tuesday 2 September, the Committee held further evidence sessions, where they heard from the BBC, Ofcom and lifelong learning experts, among others. In these sessions they concentrated on the issues of: boosting levels of digital and media literacy; digital careers; and lifelong learning.
  • On 3 September  the Committee went on a tour of the offices of Guardian Media Group and Google Campus in London. The purpose of the visit was for Committee Members to see both how digital technologies are being produced at Google Campus and to learn about how Guardian Media Group is using digital technology to innovate and grow its global footprint.
  • Finally, as mentioned above, on Tuesday 14 October the Committee asked ‘how should the UK join up ‘fragmented’ digital skills teaching?’ and quizzed witnesses on several aspects of skills delivery, from preparing the workforce, to identifying skills gaps, to reducing inequality between the digitally skilled and the unskilled.

The Oral and Written Evidence Report

As mentioned above the Oral and Written Evidence Report is a substantial PDF document containing 763 pages. I’ve not attempted to read the report. However I have a number of observations after skimming through the list of contributors and reading the evidence provided by organisations I have some knowledge of.

CILIP Response

I was pleased to see that CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, had responded to eight of the fifteen questions in the call for evidence. CILIP pointed out that “Increased mobility within the workforce means the ability to telecommute is more attainable than ever“. CILIP also highlighted two areas which were of particular importance to their organisation:  information which “needs managing well and the skills and expertise of information managers need acknowledging as they will be an essential component to future success in a knowledge driven economy” and information literacy, defined as “knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner“. The CILIP response then went on for 9 pages to provide more detailed responses to points raised by the Select Committee.

Wikimedia UK Response

Wikimedia UK provided 7 pages of evidence. Their submission concluded:

There is an expectation that the fostering of digital skills in the 21st Century will take place in an ‘always on’ open environment. For the potential of such developments to come to fruition, legislative change around the opening of cultural heritage, and innovation around education design both need support. ‘Open’ practices are not simply about copyright reform and open licensing of public materials; they embody the kinds of literacies – informational and digital – required in the digital environment, and as such deserve consideration as important ‘digital skills’.

Other Responses from the Higher Education Sector

Searching the table of contents for submissions from the higher education sector I found:

  • Association for Learning Technology (ALT), on pages 36-39.
  • Bath Spa University on pages 70-71.
  • The Open University (OU) on pages 292-801.

Although there may have been additional submissions from individuals who work in the higher education sector, the limited numbers of responses from higher educational institutions and affiliated organisations seems disappointing, especially in light of the larger numbers of responses from commercial organisations including:

  • Barclays Bank on pages 49-52.
  • British Sky Broadcasting (Sky) on pages 137-143.
  • BT on pages 160-171.
  • Channel 4 on pages 176-179.
  • EE on pages 295-301.
  • Google, Microsoft and UK Forum for Computing Education on pages 364-380.
  • Microsoft, Google and UK Forum for Computing Education on pages 532-534.
  • Samsung Electronics UK on pages 660-676.
  • Virgin Media  on pages 777-786.

There are many other submissions which I have not listed from a variety of sectors. However I find it surprising that a Select Committee which is looking for answers to the question “how should the UK join up ‘fragmented’ digital skills teaching?” seems to have such limited input from the higher education sector. Should we be concerned? Or is the answer to be provided by companies such as Google, Microsoft, Sky and Barclays Bank?!

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