What the Open University’s new online cyber security course means for UK Business

Fixing the IT skills gap begins in schools

Open University

By Dr. Guy Bunker @guybunker

It was announced this week that the government is partnering with the Open University to launch a cyber security course that will enable 200,000 people to study this subject online. I see this as a long-awaited step towards educating the next generation on a core skills needed in all areas of business in the UK. One of the best aspects of the OU is that it is a way for the current generation to re-educate themselves, not just the traditional ‘next generation’ school leavers. Opening up serious education in cyber for all interested individuals is fantastic.

Cyber security threats are an increasing risk to businesses in the UK. As my colleague Maksym Shipka mentions in a recent blog following the British Bankers Association summit, a company is valued on its ability to handle all manner of risks, and that includes cyber risks. Cyber security breaches can lead to devastating losses for companies across all sectors – both reputationally and financially: from loss of valuable data during an M&A, to loss of clients (through fear of cyber security risks) as well as the potential for large fines from the ICO and other bodies for failure to adhere to data protection regulation; all factors that can have a serious and direct impact on the company’s future.

Cyber attacks cost the UK economy an estimated £27 billion a year and UK cyber crime victims are losing about £3 million each a year. With such huge costs at stake, the government’s investment of £860 million into cyber-security, over the course of the next five years, seems a promising start to enabling companies to prepare themselves against inevitable cyber-attacks.

The European Commission published a cyber security strategy to design and enforce a harmonious standard of network and information security across the European Union, in February last year, including shared policies and improved communications within organisations. But this is only effective if steered at board level by cyber security experts. And it’s the role of these cyber security experts to advise education departments on the changing core IT skills to prepare their successors.

According to an official government report last year, UK manufacturing is about to enter a “dynamic new phase” because of emerging technologies such as 3D printing, but it will need 800,000 extra skilled people by 2020 to replace those retiring. It’s not just manufacturing that risks suffering however; as cyber-attacks are revealed as an organisation’s biggest threat, following EY's 16th annual Global Information Security Survey 2013, the shortage of cyber security professionals becomes even more evident.

The introduction of a higher level specific cyber security course is a step forward, as is the introduction of coding in the curriculum in primary schools this September. One of the challenges will be to keep the course ‘current’. Cyber-risks and the solutions available to mitigate them are constantly changing. The course needs to accept and reflect this – or its usefulness will diminish very quickly. All too often we have seen initiatives start but never achieve their potential, before they disappear. In this particular instance, cyber security really is a key to the long term success of UK PLC – we cannot allow this project to fail.