A Manifesto from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

The 2024 UK General Election is the first where the new Prime Minister must have a plan for AI and other high stakes technologies.

The government will need a vision for how computing will transform the lives of everyone in the UK, as well as the economy.

The crucial role of technology in public services from NHS to taxation to defence means digital leaders have more opportunities to benefit society than ever before.

But the Post Office Horizon IT scandal showed the cost of systemic failure to meet the highest standards of accountability and responsibility in how computing is used.

If the people making decisions about technology are focussed on ethics, education and equity, it will be the key to closing the aspiration gap and realising dreams.

As the professional body for computing, BCS believes that:

  • Anyone with a significant role in information technology should prove their accountability by being professionally registered. This includes leaders who use technology in critical national infrastructure like health, defence and other public services.

In practice, that commitment means becoming Chartered, just as we expect for accountants or engineers.

  • Every child and adult deserves access to a world class computing and digital literacy education. The digital divide is a modern measure of inequality that the next government must address for the UK to remain globally competitive.
  • Closing the gender gap in information technology can solve many of its issues around trust, bias and safety – over 500,000 women are ‘missing’ from the profession. Thousands of people aged 50 and over, and people with disabilities, are also under-represented in the digital sector. This matters because we will only create systems that work for everyone in society if they are created by teams that reflect all of society.

If politicians act on these priorities, the UK will harness the power of emerging technologies like AI and quantum computing, safely, sustainably and responsibly, opening up opportunities for every part of the UK.

The details:

ONE: Technology professionals should be Chartered to build public trust

The UK needs its information technology sector to be responsible to its citizens.

UK information technology professionals (including leaders who makes decisions about technology should):

  • be professionally registered – everyone with the potential to do so should be supported to achieve Chartered IT Professional (CITP) status.
  • That means being held to independent standards of ethics, competence and accountability.

Board level decisions on the deployment of tech, including AI, must be informed by IT professionals. Risks and opportunities are missed when this is not the case.

BCS Presidents Evening
BCS Presidents Evening - with Gillian Arnold, Alastair Revell and Holly Porter

Organisations should be required to publish safe, ethical and inclusive policies on their use of technology (including AI) in any relevant systems.

IT professionals should feel supported to access safe whistleblowing channels to call out unethical practice.

An annual Statement of Ethical IT, similar to current declarations under the Modern Slavery Act, would provide the transparency the public deserves and clarity for industry and international partners.

TWO: Every child deserves a computing and digital literacy qualification

Teaching computing in schools is vital to the UK’s competitiveness on the world stage and to every child’s future. We know parents believe this too.

Yet - most teenagers drop computing aged 14, just when they should be learning the skills for life and work.

Alongside the Computer Science GCSE we need:

  • An applied computing GCSE - this should teach practical ways in which computing can be used safely and responsibly in society and business, rather than focus on theory.
  • A broad digital literacy qualification, equivalent to the GCSE, available to everyone.

An understanding of the principles of AI, its benefits and limitations should be taught to children from the age of 11.

These plans are already backed by the House of Lords 11-16 Education Committee (Dec 2023).

Julia Adamson MBE at the House of Lords
BCS’ Julia Adamson MBE giving evidence to the House of Lords 11-16 Education Committee inquiry

To help teachers deliver this, we need to make sure digital skills including AI are part of their training qualifications and that includes headteachers.

For you

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The next government must also continue to support digital apprenticeships and professional development qualifications for all adults to ensure world-leading skills across the UK workforce.

Computing education is the route to closing the digital divide long-term and forever.

THREE: We can’t wait 300 years to close the gender gap in technology

It could take over 280 years to close the gender gap amongst IT professionals if current trends are not disrupted, according to our analysis of ONS data.

Only 20% of the IT sector is female – in fact over 500,000 women are ‘missing’ from the UK IT workplace who should be there.

And 94% of girls (and most boys) drop computing in school as soon as they are allowed to, as shown in our analysis of government data.

What’s the problem?

  • The gender gap begins very early in schools
  • A long-term lack of understanding of how many careers driven by ‘IT’
  • Flexible working options await the impact of new legislation
  • A prevalent ‘tech-bro’ culture and micro-aggressions, as shown by BCS’ report with Coding Black Females.

But - the gap between men and women in tech is far from the only diversity challenge for technology:

Black women, people with disabilities, and people aged over 50 are also severely under-represented in IT.

Coding Black Females webinar
Screenshot of a Coding Black Females event

We need to bring the talents of all these ‘missing’ people into emerging fields like AI and quantum to ensure we have safe, responsible outcomes for all computing systems that make decisions about our lives.

Why computing matters in the election

We ask the major political parties to put these aspirational goals for computing and digital technologies in their programmes for government - Not just to ensure the competitiveness of 'UK plc' on the world stage but to improve the lives of every person in the UK.

About the BCS Manifesto

The policy priorities and themes in this manifesto were reviewed and shaped by BCS’ Fellows Technical Advisory Group (F-TAG) and BCS’ Influence Board, alongside members of BCS’ Executive team and the Policy and PR team. The research underpinning this work is based on long-term consultations and analysis including: insight from BCS specialist groups, existing data sets, BCS members surveys, YouGov polling and working with external stakeholders.

For more information please email policyhub@bcs.uk