Scotland’s chief entrepreneur Mark Logan has expressed his frustration at working with the public sector and the slow pace of change in education.
Mr Logan, whose appointment last month was greeted as a key to driving the digital agenda, has admitted there are some tough challenges to achieving his goals.
In the summer of 2020 he published a review of the technology ecosystem for the Scottish government.
“It’s still not nearly as easy to get things done as it should be,” he says in an interview with New Statesman. “There’s still not enough focus on the economy.”
A key recommendation of his report was that programming should be taught from the first year of secondary school, and given the same status as maths and physics.
He tells the magazine: “Programming computers is as important as writing in English in the age we’re going into. Estonia is a tiny country that’s producing a lot of unicorns, because they have done exactly what I’m prescribing.”
But his desire to re-focus Scottish education around the digital economy is held up by a wall of organisations with their own agendas.
“Let’s say I want to do something on the front line with teachers – there’s Education Scotland, there’s the SQA, there’s local authorities, the unions, the headteachers, and all of those groups together have to basically agree on doing something.
“Now that has frankly become the big excuse – ‘we’d love to do that, but we have to get those other people convinced’. Education has been, relatively speaking, a more difficult area in which to make progress.”
To get around the bureaucracy, he has involved teachers in his plans and meetings. He is working on a pilot programme to properly train computing teachers, because many are not specialists and are co-opted from other subjects such as business studies. There will also be a new scheme to recruit computing science students from universities into teaching.
“We’re getting some stuff done in education, but it’s way too slow,” he says. “It shouldn’t be this hard. I’m not seeing enough people throwing themselves onto the barbed wire of that task alongside me.”
Follow Daily Business on LinkedIn
He disclosed that a public-private fund providing “Series A” support for businesses ready to scale up, is to be launched by the Scottish government.
The new fund would be run by a private venture capital company, backed by taxpayers’ cash. It will also aim to attract large investors such as pension funds.
Details remain unclear, nor is there any clarity on how it fits with the Scottish National Investment Bank which has a similar remit.
Mr Logan is co-writing a report with businesswoman Ana Stewart on how start-ups founded by women can attract more private investment.
“Pretty much every country finds ways to exclude women from being entrepreneurs,” he says. “By and large, 1 to 2% of VC money in the UK and Europe goes to female founders.
“So if you make an inroad in that then you have a dramatic impact on the talent that we have at a foundational level. It also releases energy in society when we stop practising gender ghettoisation, which is what that really is.”