Despite the UK banking on post-Brexit technology to keep the country’s economy buoyant, experts are sounding the alarm over inadequate education leading to a “brain drain”.

In an article in Verdict’s artificial intelligence magazine Verdict AI, experts in AI and wider technology argued that more needs to be done to ensure school leavers are adequately prepared for the skills demands of tomorrow.

“I’ve always believed that if you look 20 years from now every business is, in essence, a software business, because consumers will interact with it in a digital way, so it is impossible not to be a software platform,” said Pepijn Rijvers, CMO of Booking.com.

“That in itself requires such a different educational orientation from how we groom people now.”

Brain drain risks undermining post-Brexit technology lead

There are fears that talented students will leave the UK to continue their studies due to a lack of quality education is complex technological subjects such as AI.

“STEM is something I don’t think we invest enough in. So it is a brain-drain concern of mine,” said Alex McMullan, CTO of EMEA at Pure Storage.

“My daughter is saying the same thing: Dad, I want to go to university in the States because they’re doing more things than we are. And I can’t say no because I’m sitting there observing the same thing from the other side.”

McMullan fears that if action isn’t taken, the problem will only get worse.

“I don’t want that brain drain to pick up speed, but I do want us to be technology leaders as we were in the forties and fifties,” he said.

“If you think about the things we did from jet engines to steam catapults to telecoms, television, all those things came from us here but I think we’ve become complacent. I wish we did spend more on STEM generally.”

Rethinking technology education

While the UK government has taken some action to improve STEM education, notably with the introduction of coding to the curriculum from primary school, experts feel this is not enough to compete when it comes to our post-Brexit technology position.

For McMullan, we instead need a change in mindset about technology and the role it plays.

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“I think at a primary or secondary level we don’t instil enough of the world view in terms of how much technology is part of your existence and your future too, and how you have to be either a part of that or a passenger wondering what on earth is going on around you,” he said.

“So that doesn’t mean you have to teach an eight year old Java programming, it just means you have to be aware of the world, the internet. I think our teachers do good to do a good job of explaining the dangers of the internet, for example, but not how technology is a part of that future for them.”