Tehc city UK has launched what is claims is the world’s first government-funded online learning platform, the Digital Skills Academy.

The platform, which offers free learning resources over a 3-6 week period, aims to provide digital and business skills to members of the general public that want to work in tech or launch a tech startup of their own.

The courses, which feature videos, reading and hands-on practical exercises, aim to equip people with skills in: business development, marketing, branding and finance. They will be delivered by educational institutions and industry experts from Cambridge University Judge Business School, UCL and Founder Centric, a grassroots startup school that works with the likes of Seedcamp and Oxford University. 

Over 1,000 people have already pre-registered. 

Tech City UK, the government quango tasked with supporting UK tech startups, developed the project in partnership with University College London (UCL) to “meet demand for a more digitally skilled workforce.”

The organisation pointed to statistics from O2 and Development Economics which suggest Britain will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to meet the rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017.

“Almost a third of all job growth in the past three years have come from digital businesses. The way the economy is moving, you’re going to have to dip in and out of education your whole life to stay relevant and keep your skills up. Gone are the days where you could get one degree and that’s it,” said Baroness Shields, chair of Tech City UK and digital adviser to prime minister David Cameron.

The programme has the support of more than 30 other partners, including the BBC, Twitter, O2 and accelerators such as Microsoft Ventures. 

Tech City UK said the partners “offer tangible opportunities to course participants in the form of paid internships, mentorship, specialist content, and free startup support such as access to loans and free co-working space.”

The taxpayer-funded organisation, which recently saw its budget increase from £1.7 million a year to £2.4 million a year, was launched four years ago by the UK government in a bid to support the tech startup scene in East London. Since then, its remit has been expanded to support tech startups across the whole of the UK. 

Cynics

Headed by former Blackberry executive Gerard Grech, Tech City UK has come under fire from startups and entrepreneurs who have questioned whether it delivers any tangible value or whether it is a case of government latching onto the success of already-flourishing tech companies. For example, Huddle, a UK software company that has expanded to Silicon Valley, said Tech City UK's Future Fifty scheme was "little to no use"

Further, the organisation refused to reveal how many overseas individuals it has attracted to the UK after it was given permission to endorse entrepreneurs/developers through the Tier 1: Exceptional Talent Visa, suggesting that it has had limited success. 

Another cause for concern for the agecny came in September when a parliamentary survery revealed that half of MPs are unaware that Tech City UK even exists. A number of sources familiar with Tech City UK have suggested that the next government might not fund the organisation, meaning that it will be forced to either seek private investment or close down. 

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