Vacuum inventor warns UK risks 'third-world' status

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Britain needs to produce more engineers and scientists to avoid becoming a "third-world nation", Sir James Dyson has warned.

The inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, whose Dyson company today releases record full-year profits, called for prospective engineers and scientists to be exempt from tuition fees and given grants to study by the Government as a way to boost the economy.

Claiming the "big problem is that we haven't got enough engineers", Sir James, pictured, told i: "Our future prosperity and wealth depends on being able to export technology products, and if we haven't got the engineers and scientists to create them, we will stop exporting and we'll become a third-world nation".

As well as giving grants to students studying subjects seen as important for the economy, he also called for "proper salaries" to be paid to those staying on at university to carry out further research.

"The problem is that historically we've got away with exporting rather ordinary products because either the world wasn't making them or no one else was pushing technology," he said.

"But now, of course, every country can make anything and a lot of other countries are putting much more emphasis on engineering and technology than we are." Sir James said he had put the ideas – which he claimed were "very do-able and not expensive" – to politicians.

Although they have not been implemented, he did praise the Government for following a number of the proposals from his 2010 report Ingenious Britain – prepared for the Conservatives before the general election – such as increasing tax relief for research and development.

"But we just need to go further, because there's a chronic shortage of engineers and scientists which is our lifeblood if we want to be wealthy," he said.

Buoyed by the success of its cordless "Digital Slim" vacuum cleaner, results released yesterday show Dyson enjoyed record profits in 2011, managing underlying earnings of £306.3m after revenues jumped to £1.06bn.

Sir James Dyson says vacuum cleaner sales in the Bric countries [Brazil, Russia, India and China] will grow as wealthier homes replace hard floors with carpets.