Press release

Cyber First: improving cyber skills in the UK

Francis Maude, Minister for Cabinet Office, announced the new Cyber First scheme to enhance the UK’s cyber security skills base.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office with responsibility for Cyber Security, today (24 March 2015) announced a new Cyber First scheme to enhance the UK’s cyber security skills base and meet the increasing demand of this rapidly growing sector.

Speaking in Parliament, the minister launched a pilot student sponsorship programme called Cyber First. This is aimed at identifying the individuals who have the aptitude to become the next generation of UK cyber security experts. Cyber First will draw on talent from the broadest range of backgrounds to meet the UK’s future national security needs in government or companies involved in national security. It will find those already showing potential for a top career in cyber security through school competitions such as the Cyber Security Challenge Schools Programme and national maths competitions.

Cyber First will offer both financial assistance for those studying relevant science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses at undergraduate level and include work experience with government or UK private sector firms within the field of national security. There is a guarantee of employment upon graduation. GCHQ will run this as a pilot scheme which will provide funding of £4,000 for each of up to 20 student places. It is intended that a full scheme across participating departments, agencies and industry will be implemented in 2016, building on the pilot and lessons learned.

The scheme is based on the Israeli Talpiot scheme which identifies exceptional cyber promise to create a cyber elite force who go on to great careers in government and the private sector. Israel has more high-tech start-ups and a larger venture capital industry per capita than any other country.

Francis Maude said:

Our aspiration is simple – we want the UK to be one of the safest places to do business and use services online. Cyber security is a core part of our long-term economic plan and so we have secured strong cyber funding despite the deficit we inherited. The new Cyber First scheme will help ensure we recruit and nurture talent and that the UK has the best possible skills to protect itself for the future.

Robert Hannigan, Director of GCHQ said:

The world-leading young people we support through Cyber First will help protect the UK from the growing tide of cyber attacks and cyber crime. They will also play a part in GCHQ’s key role of keeping the UK at the forefront of the multi-billion pound global cyber security industry.

The minister also announced that 2 additional UK universities now conducting world class research have been recognised as an ‘Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research’ by GCHQ in partnership with the Research Councils’ (RCUK) Global Uncertainties Programme and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The 2 universities, the University of Kent and the University of Surrey, join 11 across the UK bringing the total number centres to 13.

Notes to editors

Cyber First

The scheme is aimed at developing the cross-cutting skills that are essential for the UK to meet the needs of the fast growing cyber security industry, reportedly worth over £6 billion and employing over 40,000 people.

It builds on GCHQ’s recently announced Cyber Summer Schools programme and other existing national initiatives, such as the Cyber Security Challenge and the National Maths Challenge, that have a proven track record in identifying exceptional talent.

Eligibility for this prestigious scheme is confined to successful participants in UK national competitions that are relevant to cyber, who are entering their first or second year at university in autumn 2015.

Sponsorship in the pilot scheme will be £4,000 per year of study and a salary determined by the organisations for the work placement year.

Information on the pilot scheme can be found on the GCHQ careers website.

Academic Centres of Excellence

The scheme to recognise Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research is the first in a number of initiatives outlined in ‘Protecting and Promoting the UK in a Digital World’, the government’s National Cyber Security Strategy. The strategy describes how government is working with academia and industry to make the UK more resilient to cyber attacks.

In other areas, GCHQ, BIS and RCUK are working together to advance the level of cyber education at all levels from GCSE through to postgraduate research. Leading edge research initiatives are also being set up and funded by GCHQ and RCUK to strengthen capability in key areas.

Other developments in this area include:

National Cyber Security Programme and UK Cyber Security Strategy

The UK Cyber Security Strategy, published in November 2011, provided government with a framework and objectives in tackling cyber threats, promoting awareness and providing a growing platform of strong private sector partnership. The strategy is supported by £860 million of funding from the National Cyber Security Programme which has helped put in place new initiatives and structures as part of the government’s response to growing threats in cyberspace.

In December 2014, government published the third annual report on progress against the strategy, achievements and spend on the National Cyber Security Programme as well as forward plans.

The announcements today enhance the government’s existing work to improve cyber security skills at all levels, including:

  • embedding cyber security teaching and learning in schools, further education and higher education
  • raising awareness of career opportunities in cyber security
  • supporting alternative routes into the profession through cyber security apprenticeships and helping graduates into the sector

The range of work on cyber security skills and learning by government and partners is outlined in the following publications and press notice:

Published 24 March 2015