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News Staffordshire University tackles the digital divide and wins praise from former Education Secretary

Staffordshire University has received the backing of a former Cabinet minister for its work to improve people’s life chances

Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL and Rt Hon Justine Greening
Image: Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL and Rt Hon Justine Greening

It’s great to be working with Staffordshire University. Levelling up is ultimately about change on the ground in communities up and down this country and they are playing a crucial role in progressing talent and levelling up Britain.

Rt Hon Justine Greening

Staffordshire University has received the backing of a former Cabinet minister for its work to improve people’s life chances and help them overcome the barriers to opportunity worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well implementing an action plan to ensure more people from a diverse range of backgrounds have access to job opportunities and progression, the University is committed to taking steps to address the digital divide.

With ambitions to become the UK’s foremost digital university, and with social mobility at the heart of its purpose, Staffordshire University has been a key partner in the development of a new set of Levelling Up Goals that have been published by former Education Secretary and Social Mobility Pledge founder, Rt Hon Justine Greening.

The work is part of a national effort to ensure that the UK recovers from the levelling-down effects of COVID-19 by addressing long running inequality of opportunity that prevents many young people from reaching their full potential.

The Goals draw on academic and business expertise and are designed to focus on key life stages, from early years through to adulthood, and to provide a benchmark to track progress.

Staffordshire University hosted ‘Closing the Digital Divide’, the first in a series of seminars championed by partner universities throughout the year focusing on specific Goals.

The seminar, which can be viewed on the Levelling Up Goals website, included a panel discussion featuring Rt Hon Justine Greening; Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University; Carol Shanahan OBE, Port Vale FC’s co-owner and chair, co-owner and chair of Synectics Solutions, co-chair of the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area Board; Danny Flynn, CEO of YMCA North Staffordshire; Katie Stanley, Principal of Charnwood Primary Academy, Lichfield; Keith Hollins, Chief Executive Officer of Staffordshire University Academies Trust; Natasha Dillon, Chief People Officer of Inmarsat and Daniel Harrison, Chief Executive of True Potential. The discussion was hosted by Iain Dale, one of Britain’s leading political commentators, broadcasters and writers.

Rt Hon Justine Greening said: “Time is of the essence. COVID-19 has levelled down our country and therefore made levelling up not only more urgent, but even harder. Whilst the solutions may vary, I believe that these Levelling Up Goals can transcend party politics and set clear objectives for the recovery we need to achieve in our communities.

“It’s great to be working with Staffordshire University. Levelling up is ultimately about change on the ground in communities up and down this country and they are playing a crucial role in progressing talent and levelling up Britain. Staffordshire University’s support will be absolutely vital. From mental health to supporting our young people to get their schooling back on track, we can work together to make real progress in the recovery from COVID-19.”

Vice Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL, who is also co-chair of the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area Board, said: “While the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation – it has also sharpened the urgency to help people acquire the skills they need to open doors to opportunity.

“The prospect of retraining for a new digital era might seem daunting for some, but with the right support, those who wish to pursue greater opportunities can do so by building on their existing skills and knowledge.

“Closing the skills gap means providing routes into education to allow people to pursue digital roles and opportunities within different sectors.

“Higher education has a vital role to play in this and it is the responsibility of universities to think about how we can help develop students’ skill sets to make them ultra-employable.

“This means starting wider conversations about different paths into education and how people who might write themselves off from the careers of the future can be encouraged to raise their aspirations.”

Justine Greening has campaigned to level up Britain - by spreading opportunities more evenly across the country - for years and in 2018 she co-founded the national Social Mobility Pledge with entrepreneur and philanthropist, David Harrison.

For more on the Levelling Up Goals, please visit: www.levellingupgoals.org or watch the ‘Closing the Digital Divide’ seminar below.

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