The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has warned that the UK needs to double the number of science and engineering graduates leaving university by 2014, or risk losing skilled jobs overseas.
The announcement comes on a day when more than 100 scientists will attend a reception held by Prime Minister Tony Blair as part of National Science and Engineering Week 2007, which runs from 9-18 March.
With the current rate of growth in the engineering and technology sectors, the number of graduates currently leaving university with a science, engineering and technology degree needs to increase from its current level of around 12 per cent to at least 25 per cent in order to keep up.
At the moment around 45,000 graduates emerge from UK universities with a degree in science, engineering or technology (SET) each year.
Based on figures from the Institute of Employment Research on expected growth in SET jobs by 2014, the CBI has calculated that this would need to jump to 97,000 a year just to fill new positions.
The CBI has identified four areas as holding back the flow of students into the study of science and engineering.
The first is poor science laboratories in schools, with one in four unsafe or inadequate, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Second is a lack of teachers with specialist knowledge to teach GCSE and A level science. For example, a quarter of secondary schools do not have a specialist physics teacher.
Third, the CBI is worried about a stripped-down curriculum which does not devote sufficient time to science. Only one in five state schools offers separate GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biology.
Finally, poor careers advice is failing to stimulate young people's interest in the careers available in science and engineering.
According to the CBI, although the government pledged to spend £200m improving science facilities in schools in 2005, the money has been allocated but remains unspent.
"Britain has a world class science base and many world-beating companies but we must build on these strengths, not allow them to wither on the vine," said John Cridland, deputy director-general at the CBI.
Cridland added that the UK's future success is dependent on competing with traditional international rivals and new ones like India and China.
"If we are to meet their challenge head-on, and take advantage of the opportunities their growing economies provide, we need to ensure our education system can give young people the skills they need," he said.
"If we don't step up to the plate then the companies which have helped build up the UK's science base will be faced with no alternative but to go overseas.
"They are increasingly recruiting from abroad and the danger is they may relocate altogether."
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