Digital infrastructureDouble boost for tech growth in Wales

Double boost for tech growth in Wales

Thanks to the UK’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme and free access to Microsoft 365, technology growth in Wales is set to get an upgrade

Technology growth in Wales is set to receive encouragement from two fronts.

For group projects in Wales up to £5,500 is available per business, compared with £2,500 elsewhere in the UK. Up to £800 will now be available per residential property in Wales, compared with £500 elsewhere. The funding is a part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy. It’s aim is to boost productivity by backing businesses to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people. The investment will be used in developing skills, industries and infrastructure.

In a separate development, Wales is about to become one of the first countries in the world to give schools free access to Microsoft 365. This will be a part of the £1.2 million investment. The Welsh government will pay for all 1,521 maintained schools to have access to Microsoft 360. It will include access to programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This is in a bid to boost the use of technology among pupils and reduce costs for families and headteachers.

Improving connectivity in Wales

The enhanced Gigabit Voucher Scheme will replace the Ultrafast Voucher scheme in Wales. Ultrafast Voucher scheme provided an average of £4,300 per scheme.

The UK’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme is to be given a push in Wales’ technology growth. This is owing to a new partnership between the Welsh and UK Governments.

As per the new arrangement, the Welsh government will provide an additional £3,000 for businesses up to a certain size and an additional £300 per residential property. This means that for group projects in Wales up to £5,500 is available per business, compared with £2,500 elsewhere in the UK. Up to £800 will now be available per residential property in Wales, compared with £500 elsewhere.

The Welsh and UK government funded £200 million Superfast Cymru programme has already taken superfast broadband speeds to more than 733,000 Welsh homes. The Welsh government is also investing a further £22.5 million to reach an additional 26,000 premises. The UK government is introducing a Universal Service Obligation that will make fast broadband a legal right for every home and business in Wales by 2020.

Fibre infrastructure deployment is costly as a result of the country’s topography and the location of premises.

Last year, rural broadband received a £45m boost increasing the total pot of funding available to £75m.

Funding to get gigabit speeds

Ministers from both Governments are now urging Welsh businesses and communities to apply for the funding to get gigabit speeds. This funding is going to take the technology growth of Wales to a higher level.

UK Minister for Digital Margot James said: “This exclusive scheme for Welsh businesses and communities is a vital part of our modern Industrial Strategy and build a Britain that is fit for the future. Working with the Welsh Government, together we can make sure that everyone in Wales has the connectivity they need for the digital age.”

Deputy Minister for Economy Lee Waters said: “Although the vast majority of premises in Wales can now access superfast broadband, we are working hard on assisting the remaining five per cent that cannot access it and where commercial companies have no plans to reach. There is no one size fits all solution to reach the final premises, and the Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme is an important part of a suite of measures to achieve this.

“This voucher scheme can provide a vital funding source for group connectivity projects, and could be of great benefit to communities currently without access. I’m pleased we’ve been able to work with the UK Government to provide an enhanced scheme for Wales, taking into account the particular challenges we face here with geography and the location of premises.”

UK Government Minister for Wales Nigel Adams said: “Improved connectivity for homes and businesses in Wales is at the centre of the UK Government’s efforts to strengthen our economy and support our rapidly expanding digital sector.

“This voucher scheme will ensure more people in Wales have access to reliable broadband speeds, marking another significant leap forward in both governments’ efforts to ensure Wales has a broadband network fit for the future.”

Free access to Microsoft 365

As part of the £1.2 million investment, all teachers and students will be able to install the latest version of Office 365 ProPlus. They can install it on up to five personal devices. Around 467,000 young people are expected to benefit from this investment. Pupils can then collaborate and continue learning at home using the same programs as they do in the classroom.

The deal also includes Minecraft: Education Edition, which contains Code Builder. This version of the popular block-building game will allow teachers and students to learn coding using Tynker and MicrosoftMakeCode, and supports the Welsh Government’s Cracking the Code plan to encourage coding in every part of the country.

Users will be able to securely access Office 365 ProPlus in Welsh or English via the government’s Hwb digital learning platform, which is available to all maintained schools and actively used by more than 85%.

Online versions of the software will continue to be available through Hwb for use in public spaces such as libraries. This will overall enhance the technology growth in Wales.

Transformational for teachers and pupils

Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, said: “The introduction of Office 365 will be transformational for both teachers and pupils, empowering them to collaborate more effectively, saving time and generating better learning outcomes. Equally, Office 365 provides students with valuable skills to help them obtain employment following school.

“Additionally, the accessibility tools built into Office 365 will mean all students gain the confidence to contribute to learning discussions. Similarly, with Minecraft: Education Edition, students will develop computational thinking skills in an immersive and classroom-friendly format that sparks creativity and innovation. This agreement ensures Wales retains its position as a world leader in digital education delivery.”

Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, said: “I’m proud to say we’re one of the first countries in the world to take this progressive approach to providing schools with this software. Through our curriculum reforms we want all learners to have relevant high-level digital, literacy and numeracy skills, and access to these applications is an important step towards achieving that.

“This will reduce the burden on schools to pay for their own licensing fees and also ensure all our schools have the same level of access to the digital tools they need to progress these skills in our learners. This is vital as we aim to reduce the attainment gap and increase standards in our schools.”

Digital Competence Framework (DCF)

The move to make Office 365 ProPlus available to schools will support the Welsh Government’s Digital Competence Framework (DCF). DCF was launched in 2016. It aims to help people develop the skills that will help them thrive in an increasingly digital world.

The Office deal comes just days after the Welsh Government announced that Flipgrid, the social and personal learning program used by millions of teachers in more than 180 countries, will also be available to schools in Wales via Hwb.

Flipgrid lets teachers see and hear from every pupil in their class by posting questions to online discussion boards. The discussion boards are called grids. Students answer by creating short videos. They can also practice and perfect their response before posting. This helps to increase confidence and improve public speaking.

Last week, a Mott MacDonald – Microsoft partnership was set up to create a cloud-based smart infrastructure platform on Azure for building owners and governments. This highlighted the technology growth for the country.

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