Graham Mackenzie, director general of the Engineering Employers Federation, has called for a shakeout of engineering courses in universities. He says that there is "certainly overcapacity" in provision.
Speaking at the launch of the federation's pre-election manifesto, aimed at highlighting the importance of engineering and manufacturing industry, Mr Mackenzie said: "While there are certainly departments producing high-quality engineering graduates, there has been a lowering of the quality of output elsewhere."
He said that the plethora of engineering degree courses meant that students were accepted with Ds and Es at A level. He added: "Some institutions are not even requiring mathematics."
Mr Mackenzie agreed with heads of engineering institutions, including Richard Pike, director general of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, that the number of courses needs to be trimmed, and resources concentrated in "fewer, top-class departments".
"I speak for an industry that has had its workforce slashed from 2.4 million ten years ago to 1.7 million now. The forecast for the year 2010 is 1.4 million jobs in the industry. If there have to be cutbacks in higher education engineering to preserve quality so be it. We in the industry do not see why higher education should be exempt from the sort of market pressures that exist outside. We see change and restructuring in the industry almost on a daily basis," he said.
The EEF says that in sharp contrast to competitor countries, the United Kingdom education system does not give "sufficient priority or esteem" to engineering. The manifesto calls for stronger links between industry and education institutions and, through the new national curriculum for teacher training, greater industrial and scientific awareness among teachers. The new curriculum should include work experience or shadowing.
The manifesto also wants the post-16 curriculum broadened to follow more closely the baccalaureate. The federation wants a system of differential funding for national training programmes, such as Modern Apprenticeships, to take account of the higher costs and complexities associated with training in engineering and construction.
It says that engineering accounts for 8 per cent of GDP and that this year engineering sales are likely to total Pounds 160 billion. Nearly 60 per cent of products are exported.