Published On: June 15, 2021

Sir Ian Andrews CBE TD looks at the history to, and prospect for, a national college that helps students and staff to build and develop effective relationships across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

The path trodden

The concept of a College for National Security first surfaced publicly in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. It was then envisaged as a virtual entity (a ‘virtual National Security Academy’), acting as a ‘hub’ for a number of existing colleges and training establishments across government and the wider public sector (such as the UK Defence Academy, the Diplomatic Academy, the Emergency Planning College, and the College of Policing). Despite efforts by the Cabinet Office and others, including the then National Security Adviser (now the Lord Sedwill), and the Director General of the UK Defence Academy, Peter Watkins, to develop this model, it did not gain traction and was not taken further.

A residential, two-module Collaborative Strategic Leadership Programme (CSLP), sponsored by the National Security Secretariat, had been offered by the UK Defence Academy to the defence, security, intelligence and law-enforcement community since 2011. Focused upon enhancing collaboration and building relationships across the national security community, the CSLP was originally intended to take place up to three times a year. The programme was well received by all those who attended it for the invaluable insight it provided into the capabilities and concerns of other organisations operating in the same space and the nature of the challenges they face, and for the experience of joint working that it offered.

Although recognised by some for its value, including as a development vehicle for future senior national security leaders, it proved difficult to persuade all potential beneficiary departments and agencies to send delegates. Instead, as is often the case, what even the most enthusiastic proponents of closer collaboration really mean is everyone doing things their way; they tended to prioritise attendance at their own specialist institutions. As a result, the CSLP withered through lack of support. The final programme was delivered in 2018.

Meanwhile, the 2018 National Security Capability Review promoted the Fusion Doctrine as the vehicle for improving co-operation between all those involved in defence and security. The idea of a College for National Security resurfaced after it was championed by one of the government’s Chief Scientific Advisers, Anthony Finkelstein, who saw it as a potential vehicle to inject science and technology into core national security thinking.

The Integrated Review

The 2021 Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, identified explicitly, for the first time, the need to build resilience at home and overseas as a vital component of deterrence and a way of improving the UK’s ability to anticipate, prevent, prepare for, and respond to, the materialisation of risks ranging from extreme weather, through pandemics to cyber-attacks. The Integrated Review (IR) committed the government to develop a comprehensive National Resilience Strategy as a key component of national security. It was also recognised that this would require people with the right skills, experience, and security clearances to form flexible, diverse, and multi-disciplinary teams. To this end, building in part on the experience of joint working during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic: ‘In preparation for the next Spending Review, we will review the case for a dedicated College for National Security as part of the new Curriculum and Campus for Government Skills. This could upgrade our workforce and the tools available to it, driving culture change, providing a platform for international collaboration, and establishing Science and & Technology as a core skill.’

A new ambition

Such an institution could provide training up to post-graduate level and enable students and staff to build and develop effective relationships across national and local government, the NHS, emergency services and law-enforcement agencies, and even selected private companies and voluntary organisations. The ambition would be to develop a depth of mutual understanding and trust between all those entities likely to be involved in a response to a future crisis, to ensure that the UK is better prepared for whatever it might experience, from whatever source. This would facilitate the development of the full range of skills that would be required across an ever more diverse national security community, create networks of excellence, and promote expert discussion of national security and resilience outcomes for the public good.

The new College should be able to draw upon national security experts and practitioners from academia, business and industry, as well as international allies and partners, thereby transforming the culture of the wider UK national security community. This would align with the New Curriculum and Campus for Government Skills that was published in January 2021, particularly if the development of a vibrant alumni network forms part of the construct. It would promote a stronger appreciation of the importance of an understanding of science, data and technology, and their application; it could provide a platform for engagement with allies in training, and in the development of national security and resilience doctrine and planning. In partnership with the FCDO, it might also offer a programme of International Security and Strategy Fellowships.

The College for National Security, which might explicitly be extended to embrace ‘Resilience’, has the potential to help attract, develop, and retain, diverse and highly capable staff for the UK national security community with the skills and experience to enable the delivery of national security ambitions and policy. It could also provide: a source of professional skills accreditation focused on real-world applications; deliver the community of skilled and experienced practitioners needed to form the diverse multi-disciplinary teams able to operate across physical and digital platforms envisaged by the IR; and represent a recognised source of professional authority in the field of national security and resilience.

From the perspective of national preparedness, a dedicated College for National Security represents an invaluable, and perhaps overdue, investment in delivering the ambition for greater resilience at home and overseas which is at the heart of the IR. In my experience of involvement with leadership programmes across the national security community over more than 20 years, the right level of visible, committed, and pro-active engagement and support from senior leaders across the sector is vital to the effective delivery of genuinely transformational outcomes. By signalling the importance that they attach to the resilience agenda as a component of national security, they would ensure that the College is able to realise its potential to transform the capability of citizens and communities to absorb, and recover from, future shocks, in whatever form, and from whatever source. It deserves to be supported, and the opportunity embraced.

Author: Sir Ian Andrews CBE TD is Vice-Chair of the National Preparedness Commission and former Non-executive Director of NHS Digital. He is a former MoD Second Permanent Secretary, and Chair of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The article was written in association with Peter Watkins, former Director General of the UK Defence Academy.

See also the speech by Rt Hon Michael Gove MP on ‘The Skills Challenge: What is the problem statement? Why is government now focused on skills?’ at the RUSI conference on ‘National Security Skills and the Integrated Review’ on 3 June. See YouTube link here.  

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