More young people would take science degrees if they were given a financial incentive, claim industry experts.
Scientists of the future need encouragement, the CBI says
It stems from an emerging UK-wide skills shortage because young people are shying away from science subjects.
Britain will struggle to compete in the global market unless the trend is reversed, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) suggests.
Government-funded bursaries of £1,000 for science students could play a key role in this task, says the CBI.
Many companies already sponsor talented students pursuing science courses at university, but this system needs to be expanded, says the CBI.
At a time when science and engineering companies are struggling to fill posts, the CBI suggests a "golden carrot" bursary of £1,000 a year should be given to all science and engineering graduates to help pay tuition fees.
The initiative forms part of a five-point plan to double the proportion of students taking science, technology, engineering and maths courses - the so-called Stem subjects.
The CBI calculates bursaries would cost the government around £200m a year, but this would be an investment in the country's economic future.
CBI director general Richard Lambert said: "Some employers are already finding it difficult to get the right talent and the problem is set to get worse.
"The UK cannot compete with the developing world on low-skilled jobs, to thrive in the global market we must excel in the higher-skilled roles that demand expertise and innovation.
"Bursaries towards the cost of degrees which are most useful to the economy could kick-start thousands of young people into reconsidering a future in science."
Since 1984, the number of people studying A-level physics has slumped by 57% and take-up of chemistry has dropped by 28%.
This has had a knock-on effect on science and engineering companies.
Eighty per cent of engineering and industrial companies and 67% of energy, water or utility companies are expecting a shortfall in overall graduate recruits this year.
Energy firm RWE npower chief executive Andrew Duff believes an increase in science graduates is essential to the future of the planet if we are to tackle climate change and energy efficiency.
"We have just announced a £1.7bn investment programme in new cleaner gas and wind power, including offshore wind and we need a flow of scientists, mathematicians and engineers to continue to deliver these projects," he added.
The chief executive of global defence technology and security firm Qinetiq, Graham Love, has seen at first hand how difficult it is to recruit high calibre Stem staff.
He said there were 30 applicants for each of 150 new jobs at his company this year, compared with 75 five years ago.
He said: "Some companies are recruiting from abroad and that's fine, but these people tend to go back to their own countries eventually."
The CBI's five-point plan also includes:
- £120m of new funding to pay for one-to-one careers advice at ages 14, 16 and 18
- The brightest 40% of 14-year-olds automatically opted into separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSE courses
- Better-equipped school science labs
- More specialist science teachers in secondary schools
The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) has welcomed the CBI's recognition of the importance of Stem skills.
Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Bill Rammell said: "We are already spending £5bn a year of taxpayers' money on promoting Stem, and that will rise by more than inflation between now and 2011.
"This investment is already paying off. The government's ambition is to create an education and training environment that delivers the best in science teaching and learning at every stage."