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The Digital Skills Partnership is an ambitious ScotlandIS initiative*, connecting colleges and universities with digital technology companies to meet the rapidly growing and changing skills requirements of the digital industry.  This is an opportunity to share current working practices and help shape curriculum and teaching methods.

What is ‘Critical Friends’?

Critical Friends is a matching programme between industry and academia to strengthen the relationship on both sides of the sector and give industry the opportunity to feed into curriculum development. 

We’ve been piloting Critical Friends for the past year;   as Jim McCumesty, Head of Core Technologies at SAS,  one of the pilot ‘friends’ puts it

“As an industry, we have a responsibility to shape what is being taught in colleges and universities to ensure that the graduates that we get are equipped with the skills and knowledge we need. The pace of change in our industry is massive and it’s difficult for lecturers, who are already overstretched, to keep up. The Critical Friends Programme provides us with the opportunity to do that. 

The Programme is designed to help industry shape curriculum but it hasn’t been about reviewing or marking the curriculum. Our discussions looked at getting the right balance of technical and human skills in a new module that was being developed.

Being a Critical Friend has given me the chance to see what is happening in the college sector and what the talent pool is like. It’s also given me the opportunity to shape the skills that students gain and think about how we can attract more of them into software engineering, computing science and cyber.  There is no big time commitment and it has proven to be of great value to both myself and my matched lecturer.”

How does it work?

We match you, or one of your colleagues (known as the Critical Friend), with a college or university lecturer for 12 months based on both your skillsets. 

It is up to you both on how to make the most of the programme.  Within the first two weeks we expect your initial, face to face meeting to have taken place which we would suggest was in person, however this can also be via Skype, Zoom etc.

You can then connect flexibly, over coffee, by email and, or phone. You might want to invite your lecturer on site visits to your workplace, allowing them to observe your team(s) and provide an insight into the type of projects you’re engaged in. You may also find a visit to their institution valuable, finding out more about how classes are taught, the materials available to lecturers and students and gain a deeper understanding of how computing science is taught to students today. (At least two of these further meetings should be face-to-face.) 

These meetings are your opportunity to find out the challenges and opportunities your partnership represents and engage in discussions about the current curriculum and industry practices, which can then feed directly into the teaching and learning within the college or university. 

Our Critical Friends Coordinator, Nicole Johnston, will check in with you both every two months to see how you are getting on, get a progress report and find out if there is anything Digital Skills Partnership can do to help you both.

When the twelve months is over, we will ask you both to complete a short evaluation of your experience of the programme, tell us about the impact it has had on your work and let us know what you would change about the experience.

Find our more and become a Critical Friend

If you’re interested in taking part, or just want to find out a bit more, please contact Nicole Johnston on 01506 472200 or

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