The basis of the knowledge economy is threatened by the lack of physics and maths teachers and graduates, the heads of 37 research-intensive universities worldwide agreed this week.
Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial College, London, said: "Physics, chemistry and biology underpin much of the wealth-generating industry of the 21st century. If universities such as Imperial cannot find adequately prepared students for its science and engineering courses, then we will not be able to provide the graduates and postgraduates needed to support and develop wealth generating industries."
Sir Richard was speaking at the International Universities Presidents' Forum, which includes the Russell Group of research-led institutions.
Science minister Lord Sainsbury said: "We have seen a fall in the number of people going into physics teaching but no rise in the number of vacancies for physics teachers, and that cannot lead to good teaching."
Sir Howard Newby, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, suggested that school teachers could become adjunct professors, boosting their status and strengthening links between schools and universities.
But a survey by the Institute of Physics this week showed that two-thirds of physics undergraduates thought their school maths had prepared them sufficiently for their courses.