Google Offers Free Digital Training to All U.K. Residents

  • Company under pressure after controversy over tax deal
  • Also will provide virtual reality field trips to U.K. students

After being criticized for not paying its fair share of British tax, Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit is trying to show it’s a good corporate citizen by offering five hours of free digital skills training to all U.K. residents.

Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said Tuesday the company also will bring “virtual reality field trips” to 1 million British students and their teachers within the next year.

“Our aim is to make sure that every individual and business in the U.K. has the support they need to make the most of online tools to innovate, compete and have fruitful careers in the digital age,” Pichai said in a statement referring to the digital training efforts.

Google is offering face-to-face instruction in digital skills and personal mentoring in 100 cities and towns across the U.K. as well as online under its Digital Garage initiative, the company said. Under a previous version of the initiative, announced in March 2015, Google said it had trained and coached 250,000 people in 80 British municipalities.

Pichai, who is on his first visit to the U.K. since being named Google’s CEO in August 2015, also will visit a school to highlight the new Google Expeditions virtual reality software.

“Virtual reality can spark students’ imagination and help them learn about topics like how blood flows through the human body or the impact climate change is having on the Great Barrier Reef, in an engaging and immersive way,” he said in the statement.

The program is open, free of charge, to any British school, Google said. It will allow virtual reality expeditions to museums and landmarks, as well as the potential to “travel back in time” to explore different historical eras, or visit outer space to see other planets.

Earlier this year, the company cut a deal with the British government to pay 130 million pounds in back taxes. While then-British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, hailed the deal as a victory for government efforts to force multinationals to pay more, critics lambasted the arrangement, saying Google was getting away with paying a trivial amount compared with the $7 billion in revenue the company generated in the U.K. in 2015.

Over the past year, Google has also implemented similar civic initiatives in Brussels, home base for the European Commission, which has hit the company with a slew of competition charges.

The virtual reality giveaway fits with Google’s broader strategy for the nascent tech: bring it to as many people as possible. Google launched its education initiative in the U.S. in 2015. The program provides the company’s Cardboard headset to classrooms. Google has deployed the same tactic with its inexpensive Chromebook laptops, which are distributed widely to schools.

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