James Dyson, the multimillionaire inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, launched his own school for budding engineers, entrepreneurs and designers yesterday to try to hit back at the "inverse snobbery" that saw young people turn their backs on careers in these subjects.
The £25m Dyson School of Design Innovation will open in Bath in September, 2008 for 2,500 students who will study new national diplomas in engineering.
Mr Dyson said he hoped the school would help to change the national prejudice against engineering which had seen the numbers of British engineering graduates plummet.
He told the central London launch that Britain must reclaim its place as a world leader in engineering which has been eroded since Brunel's day, in the 19th century, through various problems such as unions, strikes, having a bad image and poor graduate uptake.
But he admitted that he had deliberately left the word "engineering" out of the new school's title because he feared that it would put young people off.
Recalling how his own teachers tried to put him off engineering, he said: "That infrastructure, that made manufacturing in the UK possible, is all but gone. Why? Well, unions and strikes played a part but there's also an image problem. At school, I was repeatedly admonished: 'If you don't work harder, you will end up in a factory.' Well I have - and I rather enjoy it."
Mr Dyson said that parents and teachers still tried to dissuade young people from pursuing careers in engineering.
"The stigma of being an engineer which puts people off today is one of Einstein hair, white lab coats and very few women. They have the image of people who repair things and they are people involved in an industry where creativity does not play a part. But what could be more creative than helping to create an F1 racing car?
"I also want to get the parents in there [the school] to see that engineering is more exciting than the stigma that surrounds it, which exists among educationalists and government to some degree.
"We have a meagre 24,000 graduates in engineering compared with 300,000 in China and 450,000 in India," Mr Dyson said. "If we want to follow in the footsteps of Isambard Kingdom Brunel to innovate exciting products, we need to start with education. This is about reinventing the spirit of Brunel in the 21st-century context."
Mr Dyson's charity, the James Dyson Foundation, has invested £12.5m in the school. A further £11mwill come from the taxpayer: £6m has come from the Learning and Skills Council along with £5m from the Department for Education. Mr Dyson also hopes to involve engineering firms and charitable trusts among the school's sponsors.
Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Williams F1 are donating prototypes and taking part in the school's industry mentoring programme.
The students will include full-time 16-18-year-olds and 14-16-year-olds who can attend for one day a week. Adults considering a career change will also be able to attend courses.Reuse content