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A multimillion pound bid to revolutionise digital technology education across the South West has reached the final phase of competition.

The Department for Education (DfE) is awarding £170 million to establish a network of Institutes of Technology across the country.

They will offer top-quality training and apprenticeships in higher-level technical skills and aim to bridge skills gaps in the economy by providing the knowledge and training that employers need. They will also deliver a range of higher level courses across the digital, engineering and manufacturing sectors.

Of 35 original applications, the South West Institute of Technology (SWIoT) bid, which involves the University of Plymouth and is led by the University of Exeter, is one of 16 to progress to the final stage of the competitive process.

The Institute, which could launch in 2021 if funding is granted, is expected to cost £25 million. Of that, £15 million would be provided by the Government, with the remaining £10 million made up by the partnership behind the bid.

The proposal draws on expertise from 12 partner organisations, also including Bridgwater & Taunton College, City College Plymouth, Exeter College, Petroc, and Truro & Penwith College, all part of the University’s existing partner college network.

They are joined by digital experts from Oxygen House and the Met Office, both based in Exeter, and engineering and manufacturing experts from Babcock in Plymouth, TDK Lambda in Ilfracombe and Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group. This bid is also supported by both Heart of the South West and the Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

Catering for up to 1,549 students, ranging from post A-level to degree apprenticeship level, the Institute would help put the region at the forefront of digital technology learning across the UK.

Professor Simon Payne, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and Planning) at the University of Plymouth, said:

“The University of Plymouth is delighted to see this bid proceeding to the final stage. If it is successful, the new Institute of Technology will focus on providing higher level technical education that has been both designed and delivered with employers, and further strengthen the ties between them and the University. This will be especially important for the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector in Plymouth, with the city having the greatest proportion of manufacturing and engineering jobs (in total over 12,000) of any large city in southern England.”

Simon Payne

Professor Janice Kay, Provost of the University of Exeter said:

“We’re really excited to have moved to the final phase of this exciting competitive process. The South West Institute of Technology would play a pivotal role in inspiring people from across the region to be at the forefront of digital technology learning. We’re working with an outstanding set of partners. The Institute would draw upon expertise from world-leading academics and major employers across the three sectors of digital, technology and manufacturing. It will be a real boost for the South West and an exceptional opportunity to provide a new pathway for those with a flair and talent in digital technology to shine.”

Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Steve Hindley, said:

“The LEP welcomes the news that we are a step closer to creating an Institute of Technology in the Heart of the South West, which will provide higher level technical education and training to address the skills gap, meet employer needs and drive productivity. Creating better collaboration between education establishments and business is a key principal of the LEP’s strategies, and I look forward to continuing to work with our partners from the universities, colleges and business community to help further the progress of this important project.”

The SWIoT would establish a range of new buildings and facilities across the region. It would have centres located across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, with state-of-the-art new and refurbished facilities proposed for Exeter, Truro, Plymouth, Barnstaple and the Bridgwater area. These include new buildings to teach a range of digital subjects in Exeter, and a new facility including an electronic laboratory in Truro for engineering and digital teaching.

The full list of the 16 bids invited to move to the final stage of the process is available on the DfE website.

Support for the bid from project partners

Charles Ewen, Director of Technology at the Met Office, said: “The Met Office is delighted to be involved in this initiative that will help to develop critical skills for the region.”

Andy Stittle, Director of Teaching and Learning at Truro and Penwith College, said: “As a lead partner Truro and Penwith College is excited to bring the Institute of Technology to Cornwall with the opportunities its funding will provide to address the skills gap within key employment sectors. This will extend the College’s existing employer engagement and apprenticeship programmes into degree level training, providing economic growth and local career routes into sectors such as engineering, marine, space and aerospace.”

John Laramy, Exeter College Principal and Chief Executive, said: “Exeter College is delighted that our collaborative IoT has been selected to progress to the next stage. Advanced skills are critical to the economy of the greater Exeter area and we hope that with partners we can, through the IoT, help to improve productivity and provide new and existing employers with the skills they need.”

Diane Dimond, Principal and Chief Executive of Petroc, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for inward investment into the South West and a facility in Northern Devon would provide a much needed opportunity to improve further the development and retention of higher level skills in the area, supporting our world-class engineering and advanced manufacturing employers and our rapidly growing digital economy.”

Phil Davies, Principal and Chief Executive of City College Plymouth, said: “We are delighted that the SWIoT has been shortlisted. As one of the region’s leading Colleges in delivering higher level STEM skills, this will enable City College Plymouth to further grow our employer-led provision, responding to local and regional skills gaps and shortages.”

Will Erith, Babcock Programme Performance Director, said: “Babcock is delighted to hear that the SWIOT has got through to Stage two of the selection process. As one of the largest Engineering employers in the region, it is essential that we have access to a healthy pipeline of talent qualified in STEM based subjects. We wish SWIOT all the best as it progresses through the competition.”

Glenn Woodcock, Director of Oxygen House in Exeter, said: Oxygen House is a firm supporter of innovation in education in the greater Exeter region. Winning an Institute of Technology BID would enable young people in the area to gain new skills that will help them to shape a better future.”

In a separate announcement alongside these latest proposals, the Government also confirmed that three of the University's partner colleges (who are all involved in the SWIoT project) have been selected for a pilot programme to teach the new ‘T’ Level qualification.

Bridgwater & Taunton College, Exeter College, and Truro & Penwith College are among 52 colleges nationwide chosen to provide the range of technical courses, equivalent to A Levels, from September 2020.

Announcing the new T Levels, Prime Minister Theresa May said:

“T Levels provide a high-quality, technical alternative to A Levels ensuring thousands of people across the country have the skills we need to compete globally – a vital part of our modern industrial strategy.”

Bridgwater College