Britain 'will be Third World without more engineers'

Dyson calls for students studying important subjects to be exempt from tuition fees
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The Independent Online

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 told The Independent: "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 doable 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 added.

Buoyed by the success of its cordless "Digital Slim" vacuum cleaners, the accounts show Dyson enjoyed record results in 2011, with underlying profits, or Ebidta, of £306m after revenues jumped to £1.06bn.

While Sir James pointed out the company had seen growth in "establishing or contracting markets" such as Europe and has not "had to rely on new and emerging markets to grow", Dyson is launching in China later this year.

He conceded the vacuum cleaner market there was likely to be one for the future.

"Part of the problem is that the Bric countries [Brazil, Russia, India and China] historically had servants and hard floors with no carpets," he said, but added this will change as wages rise, the middle class grows and there is "a greater emphasis on the home".

In terms of his future plans, Sir James said that while there was "a very good team here and a lot of very bright engineers and scientists and I'm sure they will do very well without me", he would carry on at the company "as long as I enjoy it and am passionate about it".