Philip Green, the retail billionaire, is planning to build the country's first fashion and retail academy in an attempt to "produce the next generation of entrepreneurs".
The owner of Bhs, Top Shop and Miss Selfridge has donated £5m to what would be the first specialist college to train 16- to 19-year-olds for a career in fashion retail.
The college will train 200 school-leavers a year in marketing, finance and fashion buying and Mr Green - who recently tried to buy Marks & Spencer - hopes it will open for business in September 2005.
Mr Green, who left school at 16, said he had been driven to invest in the scheme by his difficulties in recruiting good staff for his own business. "We need to do something to produce the next generation of entrepreneurs," he said. Mr Green said it was often difficult to tell the difference between graduates and those who had left school with only A-levels.
"If you ask a lot of these people why they went to university they don't really know. It's either because they think it's what you are supposed to do or because it gives them another three years before they have to go out to work.
"If you get underneath it all some of it really defies logic. We take on A-level people and graduates who are three years older but are only earning £500 more. That's quite scary given that it probably costs them £30,000 or £40,000 to get there."
Mr Green believes that the project could cost up to £10m. He said that he was prepared to pay up to half of the cost himself but was in talks with the Department for Education and Skills about attracting further funding for the venture both from the Government and other retailers.
The unique college, to be built in London, will feature a full-size store inside the campus to enable its students to gain real experience of laying out their own shops.
Mr Green is also pressing the Government's exam watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, to develop an A-level-standard specialist qualification in fashion retail to be offered at the retail academy.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills described the plans as "an exciting new concept" and the relationship with Mr Green as "a unique partnership".
The retail industry is Britain's second largest employer with a total of 1.9 million employees. Mr Green's Arcadia Group, which includes the Top Shop, Miss Selfridge and Burton brands, employs 40,000 people in its 2,300 stores with nearly two thirds of its staff aged under 25.Reuse content