Specialist colleges to teach rock music and nuclear physics

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The Government is to open the first specialist nuclear academy - to train thousands of people for work in the industry.

The Nuclear Skills Academy will be for students over the age of 16 and is one of seven focusing on different areas of the economy announced by Education Secretary Alan Johnson yesterday.

They are designed to offer a vocational alternative to students of sixth-form age - plus help train adults in new skills.

All the academies will be sponsored by the different industries which will devise the courses to meet their needs. Most courses will be delivered in the workplace or through distance learning - although some will take place in designated state-of-the-art centres.

Ministers will be earmarking £90m for the project - and expecting each industry to plough a further £3m into its own academy.

Each academy is designed to represent an industry with at least 500,000 people working in it - leading to speculation that it makes an expansion of the nuclear industry inevitable.

However, Mr Johnson insisted: "Even without any build-up which may or may not happen it is needed for the industry as it is now."

Tony Blair said: "It is vital that we continue to improve skills right across the board and I am very pleased that we are able to launch the first academies today."

Others include the Creative and Cultural Industries Academy, which will focus on "backstage" skills in areas such as lighting, sound and production management.

Feargal Sharkey, the former front man of the Undertones, is a key figure in promoting the academy as the chairman of the Live Music Forum.

He told of one rock band that had been forced to delay a major two-year world tour by three months - because there was no one in the UK with the management skills required.

He said the growth of rock music in China had also led to British companies sending their lighting technicians there to provide back-up for rock tours, leaving a staff shortage here.

In all, ministers are planning to establish 12 national academies by 2008. The first three - in manufacturing, construction and financial services - will be up and running this year.

Those for the nuclear, chemical, hospitality and creative and cultural industries are now working out their individual business plans with a view to starting next year. The five other academies will be announced next year.

Meanwhile, figures published yesterday by admissions service Ucas are the first sign that student numbers will fall again next year, the second year of top-up fees. They reveal a 0.6 per cent drop in applications compared to last year.

The seven new vocational academies

* Construction: Starts this year at sites in London, Norwich, Manchester and Leeds. Sponsors include Balfour Beatty and Costain.

* Chemistry: Designed to train the technicians needed to support scientific research.

* Creative and Cultural: To ensure enough trained backstage staff for the theatre, film and music industries. Open next year.

* Financial Services: Starts this year and aims to tackle staff shortages in areas such as customer service and administration. Sponsors include Norwich Union and Nationwide.

* Hospitality: Will train employees for the catering industry and to staff hotels and leisure centres.

* Manufacturing: Starts this year and aims to recruit 40,000 students by 2012 for courses up to business and management level.

* Nuclear: Expected to attract sponsors from major employers. Planned to start in 2007.