Tax breaks may tempt firms to offset cost of science top-ups

February 6, 2004

A captain of industry has called on the government to introduce tax incentives for employers to help science and technology students cover the cost of top-up fees.

Ian Smith, managing director of the information technology business Oracle, said he was worried that without such support the number of science and technology graduates would continue to fall.

His comments followed the release of application figures for 2003 from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which show a 13.3 per cent drop in the number of students hoping to study IT compared with 2002.

Electronic and electrical engineering applications fell 10.2 per cent and computer science applications by 5.9 per cent.

Mr Smith said he recognised that the introduction of top-up fees was likely to lead to charges for such courses at the top rate of £3,000 a year - they were expensive to run and the government might find it politically impossible to subsidise them.

He hoped chancellor Gordon Brown's summer spending review would include proposals for tax incentives for employers to fund science and technology scholarships and bursaries.

Mr Brown told an Advancing Enterprise conference in London last week that the government was committed to making a long-term plan for science funding over the next decade a "central feature" of its spending review. Mr Smith said employers should be part of that plan.

He agreed with the conclusions of the Lambert report that it was time for business and industry to take a more active role in higher education. He said his own company was beginning to do that, with initiatives such as a £1 million "internet academy" to help teachers train 16-to-19 year-olds in IT skills.

But he added that employers needed more government support if they were to address the impact of top-up fees on recruitment to science and technology degrees.

He said: "I would have a real concern if young people ended up choosing more affordable courses such as media studies instead of science and technology.

"The government should be encouraging industry to do something to help, through tax breaks or other financial incentives, to provide sponsorship, bursaries, or maybe work experience. That will encourage industry to put its money where its mouth is."

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