The Brexit vote has been perceived as a backlash to globalization, but one thing is clear: globalisation is not going away. If developed countries are going to weather the current populist storm, they need to start creating policies that respond to the downsides of globalization. Education policy is one place to start.
The globalised economy screams out for two key skills, technological literacy and foreign language proficiency. However, certainly in the UK, there is plenty of evidence that these skill sets are not being adequately produced under the current education system.
A 2015 report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) showed that employers found 43% of vacancies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles difficult to fill, citing a shortage of qualified applicants. In the language space, a 2016 survey by the British Council and the Education Development Trust found an overall year-on-year drop in the number of modern foreign language exams being taken in 2015. French fell by 6.2%, German by 9.8% and Spanish 2.4%. This latter statistic provoked Mark Herbert, head of schools programmes at the British Council, to warn that ‘if the UK is to remain competitive on the international stage, we need far more young people, not fewer, to be learning languages in schools’. It is estimated that these skills shortages could be costing the UK tens of billions of pounds in missed trade and business opportunities each year.
These limitations, crossed with the clear demographic and geographical divide in the referendum vote, offers the new UK government a huge opportunity to be trend-setters on the global stage through progressive education policies which seek to bridge this divide. Examples could include increasing the number of traineeships in the tech space; improved funding for initiatives such as Tech City UK and Innovate UK, and returning modern languages as a mandatory GCSE option. Finally, on an international level, the UK can look to investment in initiatives which enhance technical/language trainings for young people across the developing world. In the tech space, initiatives such as Code.org’s Hour of Code offer strong examples. The fact that coding was only placed on the national curriculum as recently as 2014 illustrates how integrating digital skills are at an early stage of development.
The fruits of these educational reforms will not be immediate. However, if implemented correctly, they can position the post-Brexit UK not only as open for business, but as a global policy trend setter which seeks to address the underlying inequalities of the globalization phenomenon.