The UK government has announced a Cyber First programme designed to find and train the next generation of security professionals, continuing its efforts to bolster the nation's digital defences.
Cyber First is a pilot sponsorship scheme designed to identify, recruit and train people with the necessary skills for cyber security roles, using initiatives such as the Cyber Security Challenge Schools Programme and national maths competitions.
The initiative will offer funding to study science, technology, engineering and maths courses at undergraduate level, as well as the chance to gain work experience with the government or "private sector firms involved in national security".
The opening pilot will aim to recruit 20 "talented individuals" and provide £4,000 worth of funding per person. The full programme is expected to launch sometime next year.
GCHQ director Robert Hannigan described Cyber First as a vital step in the department's work to plug the cyber skills gap.
"The world leading young people we support through Cyber First will help protect the UK from the growing tide of cyber attacks and cybercrime," he said.
"They will also play a part in GCHQ's role of keeping the UK at the forefront of the multi-billion pound global cyber security industry."
Several government departments and businesses have reported difficulty recruiting skilled cyber security professionals in recent years.
Julian David, chief executive at TechUK, described the shortage as one of the biggest problems facing the UK technology industry.
Education has been a constant focus in the government's efforts to plug the skills gap.
GCHQ also announced that it will accredit the University of Kent and the University of Surrey as Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research alongside the launch of Cyber First.
The accreditation lasts two years, during which time GCHQ will "encourage" and "aid" the centres' cyber security research efforts.
The accreditation is part of a programme run by GCHQ in partnership with the Research Councils' Global Uncertainties Programme and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.
The two universities bring the number of higher education research centres accredited by GCHQ to 13.
The news comes less than a day after the UK government announced a £5m investment to help researchers create new cyber security solutions at Queen's University Belfast.
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