Government and industry need to plough more into education, training, research and development, trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers said this week.
But Mr Byers, who spoke at the Knowledge 2000 conference in London on Tuesday, said that universities had their part to play by becoming more entrepreneurial.
He said: "The new economy - the knowledge-driven economy - has as its cornerstones learning, skills, innovation and enterprise. We must invest in education and the skills that business needs. Education and training are the key to meeting the economic challenges we face in the 21st century.
"Government must promote competitive markets and encourage long-term research and investment. We must exploit our science base and promote innovation to create world-class ideas, breakthrough technologies and high- value businesses.
"Business must raise its sights, collaborate, compete, share ideas, invest in research and development and also take responsible risks. Universities must become an integral part of the economy, developing stronger links with businesses and commercial applications for their research."
Prime minister Tony Blair also addressed the joint DTI/DFEE conference. He said: "Learning is the key to individuals succeeding in the new economy. At school, in further education, throughout people's working lives. The key capability for people to survive and thrive in the new economy is their capacity to learn, and then to apply that learning."
Mr Blair said he wanted Britain to aim for universal access to the internet by 2005. He also said that Britain should be the best place for e-commerce by 2002. This will be achieved through an existing programme, including connecting schools and libraries to the internet by 2002, opening 1,000 public IT centres by next year and giving an 80 per cent discount on IT courses to holders of individual learning accounts.
Education secretary David Blunkett announced the new internet learning and work bank. The initiative, a public-private venture backed by Pounds 68 million from the government, will be up and running later this year. It will allow unemployed people and others to log on in various outlets to find job vacancies from around the country. It will also give them details of education and training courses through a link to the government's learndirect database.
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