Leicestershire Institute of Technology bid reaches final stages

Experts in cyber and space technology are bidding to create a £13m ‘skills factory’ in Leicestershire to revitalise the region’s economy.

The Leicester and Leicestershire Institute of Technology (IoT) in Space, Digital, Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering aims to help plug the skills gap in the region and help the area recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw Leicester remain in lockdown for longer than anywhere else in the UK.

Now the joint bid has taken a step closer to reality after the Department for Education (DfE) chose it to go through to the next round of applications for one of eight new IoTs in the UK.

The bid is centred on the themes of space, advanced manufacturing and digital skills and will offer training opportunities for local people, help employers to meet skills needs, create jobs, and boost growth and productivity in the local economy as well as supporting the delivery of specialist skills and education elsewhere in the UK.

It is being backed by delivery partners at the University of Leicester, De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), Leicester College, The SMB Group (Stephenson College & Brooksby Melton College), North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, the National Space Centre and employers including Airbus, Reaction Engines and WSP Engineering.

Each partner will bring their expertise in areas such as digital skills, engineering, space technology, manufacturing and propulsion, supporting the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. 

The LLEP economic recovery plan identifies lack of digital skills and lower than average productivity levels as factors inhibiting the region’s growth. The need for skilled jobs will only increase as plans to open a Freeport in the East Midlands move ahead, creating an estimated 60,000 new skilled jobs for the region, with a focus on industrial strengths such as advanced manufacturing to boost competitiveness and spur local and regional economic growth.    

The IoT would work to address this by supporting learners of all ages to gain qualifications in STEM subjects ranging from T-Levels to postgraduate. 

The IoT would:

  • Use the University of Leicester’s extensive heritage in space missions and delivering skills and training in space science and engineering, to provide the technical training required by the space sector and its supply chain. The University is a member of the Trailblazer group of employers (led by Airbus) responsible for developing these standards, and has played a significant role in their development.
  • Utilise De Montfort University’s expertise in digital skills, computing and cyber-security to deliver training covering an extensive range of digital career pathways including security, space, automotive, aerospace and the digital industries.
  • Apply the expertise of all partners in science, mechanical/electronic engineering and digital/data, to deliver a wide range of training at HNC/HND and apprenticeship level, and across both further education (FE) and higher education (HE) sectors.
  • Use the employers’ experience and understanding of the challenges they face in recruiting the right skills for their business, to guide, inform and enhance the Institute’s training programme.
  • Provide new pathways into exciting and highly-skilled professions for learners who have the ambition and ability to succeed, but who through socio-economic or other challenges may have been left behind in the standard education system.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: “All of us at the University of Leicester are very excited to see this joint bid progress to the final stage for Government funding.

“To reach this stage not only demonstrates the University’s long track record in space science and research, but our commitment to providing skills-based opportunities in Leicester and the surrounding region.

“We look forward to continuing this collaboration with our education and industry partners as we seek to provide further opportunities in our city.” 

Professor Katie Normington, Vice-Chancellor of De Montfort University, said: “To win this bid would mean being able to really use the training expertise we have at DMU as a regional leader in apprenticeship delivery to bolster the development of crucial digital skills throughout the region.

“By working with Leicestershire education partners we will be able to provide a comprehensive, ideal range of experience to ensure this IoT is a catalyst for economic growth and innovation into the future.”

Verity Hancock, Principal and CEO of Leicester College, said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with key partners on this joint bid for a pioneering Institute of Technology in Leicestershire, utilising the combined strengths of local universities, colleges and space-related businesses.

“A successful bid would mean that we can call on a wide range of partner expertise to enable us to develop and deliver new training opportunities at HNC/HND and apprenticeship levels.”

Dawn Whitemore, Principal and CEO of The SMB Group, said: “We are delighted to be working with the University of Leicester and key partners in the IoT joint bid process, and excited to be progressing this to the final stages for Government funding.

“Working closely with employers we will continue to develop key skills and training in engineering and agricultural technology at HNC/HND and apprenticeship level.

“This will ensure an industry-driven, learner-led approach to deliver the workforce of the future.”

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (2020) explicitly recognised space capabilities and the growth of the UK space sector as part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure and a high-priority area for Government support. The Government has stated its ambition to grow the UK space economy to £40 billion by 2030, capturing 10% of the global market.

There are 4,500 people employed within the space sector across the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP), and an anticipation of up to 2,500 new jobs being created by Space Park Leicester, the first phase of which is now complete.

Space Park Leicester is being developed by a number of local, national and international partners including the European Space Agency (ESA), Leicester City Council and the LLEP as part of a regional strategy for growth.