The various technologies we use on a daily basis have made us dependent on Cyberspace: we store information in the cloud, share pictures on social media, make digital payments, etc. Now more than ever, there is a need to keep Cyberspace safe, and to do this, the UK government is looking to a generation that grew up with the internet.
The CyberFirst scheme was created as part of the UK government's National Cyber Security Programme. It includes a student bursary, as well as activities that are designed to introduce talented young people to career opportunities in Cyber and to support their education.
The CyberFirst Student Bursary scheme is led by GCHQ. The scheme's goal is to support and prepare students for a career in cyber security. With the help of other government departments and industry, GCHQ offers students a package including an annual bursary of £4,000 for each year of degree study in a STEM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering or Maths) or Social Science degree, paid summer work activities with GCHQ or other areas of government or industry involved in national security, option to work in Cyber Security for three years after graduation, and mentorship and advice from cyber security experts.
A CyberFirst sponsored student says that the programme opened her eyes to many areas she would have never previously considered or knew existed: 'Neither college nor Uni have exposed me to anything to do with security, which for the life of me I cannot understand, because it's without a doubt the "coolest" and most interesting area.'
Applications for the bursary open in the summer, but students can register their interest now. Applicants must be a UK National, have an offer to study an undergraduate degree in STEM or Social Science at a UK university starting autumn 2016, and have three 'A' levels (of which two must be in a STEM subject).
In addition to the bursary, CyberFirst has three different events for 14 to 18 year olds. Women are traditionally under-represented in Cyber, so GCHQ will run a CyberFirst Girls Competition for girls aged 14 and 15. The free programme starts with a series of four 'girls-only' cyber development days hosted by UK universities. This is followed up by a national online challenge held in autumn, which draws from all girls school teams aged 14 and 15. The top teams will then be invited to a 'grand final' held in Spring 2017.
For students aged 16 and 17, GCHQ designed CyberFirst Futures, a free series of four day residential courses. Students will learn essential cyber skills and techniques that are necessary to pursue a career in cyber security, as well as common cyber security threats and protection methods against such threats. The courses will be hosted by various UK universities in July and August.
For students aged 17 and 18, there are CyberFirst Advanced residential courses, held at selected UK universities in July, August, and September. The courses teach students ethics, security, programming, computer networking and teamwork, skills and knowledge necessary for a career in Cyber. The courses are free, although closed now for this summer.
Through a series of programmes and schemes, CyberFirst is raising up the next generation to protect UK society from threats against Cyberspace.