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USW Leading Nationwide Cyber Skills Education Project

The University of South Wales (USW) is leading a nationwide project to develop the skills of future cyber security experts.

A leader in cyber education, USW is recognised as Gold standard by The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is a part of GCHQ.  In addition, having been named Cyber University of the Year for four consecutive years between 2019 and 2022, USW is leading the NCSC’s CyberFirst Schools and Colleges programme in Wales, in partnership with the universities of Bangor and Swansea.

The programme is also supported by two bodies which deliver computing and cyber outreach in Wales – Technocamps and the Ebbw Vale-based National Digital Exploitation Centre (NDEC), which was co-developed by the Welsh Government, USW, and technology company Thales.

CyberFirst is a programme created by the NCSC to help young people explore their passion for tech by introducing them to the fast-paced world of cyber security.

As part of this, the CyberFirst schools and colleges award will commend those who have shown an  excellent approach to cyber and computing education. In Wales, upon gaining the award, the schools and colleges are partnered with a cyber or technology business to work on a cyber themed ‘engagement framework’ designed to support the school or college to achieve its cyber and computing education strategy.

The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said:

“CyberFirst is an amazing opportunity for learners to develop important cyber skills and knowledge from an early age.

“This project will not only enhance the learning experiences of students in Wales but will also keep our people, businesses and public services safe, now and in the future.”

“I encourage all schools and colleges in Wales to take part.”

Sharan Johnstone, who is Director of the Academic Centre of Excellence at USW, the University’s Head of Subject for Cyber Security and Digital Forensics, and was named Wales’ STEM Woman of the Year last autumn, said:

“Leading on this project in Wales is a fantastic opportunity for USW, and shows how the major players in the industry recognise our excellence and trust us to educate the next generation of cyber security experts.

“We’re really excited to be able to support CyberFirst and help Wales further enhance its reputation as a world leader in this vital industry.”

Holly Marie-Lidbury, who is Cyber First Project Lead at USW, added:

“To become a CyberFirst school or college, the organisation needs to submit an application with commentary and evidence against 10 requirements that show excellence in its approach to computing and cyber education.

“This does not mean it has to be perfect at doing this right now – that's why there are three levels: Gold, Silver, and Bronze – but shows an understanding of why it is important that it takes computing and cyber education seriously, and is committed to the strategic development of the subject.

“We just want to see that if we give a school or college an award and apply our efforts to working with them, they will receive this with enthusiasm and have the appropriate support in place to make it a successful partnership.”

As part of the efforts to develop schools and colleges under the CyberFirst scheme in Wales, they are also enrolled onto the CyberFirst school and industry partnership scheme, through which they work alongside a “cyber” business to deliver an annual engagement framework of cyber-themed activities.

“According to a 2022 Ipsos report, around 697,000 businesses have a basic cyber security skills gap, which makes the work of CyberFirst more important than ever,” Miss Lidbury added.

“That’s why we are already partnering schools and colleges in Wales with large technology and cyber companies such as PWC, Thales, Airbus, and smaller local cyber firms. We are also in conversation with fintech companies, banks, power suppliers, and data handlers who are interested in being involved in the scheme.

“All these companies have one vital thing in common when it comes to supporting CyberFirst – they can help demonstrate to learners the multitude of ways in which technology touches everyone’s lives, and the varied and fascinating roles available in the sector.”

CyberFirst will be opening up applications for more schools and colleges to join in June 2023 and is asking for expressions of interest to be sent to The team is happy to discuss the application and award process with any interested school or college staff.


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