One of Britain's leading tech entrepreneurs has called for the issuance of special science and engineering visas in order to remedy the UK's lack of STEM-trained professionals.
Sir James Dyson, inventor and eponymous founder of British tech company Dyson, has recommended scrapping the UK’s immigration cap for “the brightest and best” talent from abroad and has called for the government to “make a special science and engineering visa” in order to remedy Britain’s prevailing shortage of STEM expertise.
Dyson made the recommendations in response to the UK government’s announcement this week that it had struck a deal with an international consortium for the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant in nearly a generation.
The agreement has drawn considerable criticism, most notably for the overseas composition of the consortium entrusted with construction of the facilities, which will be led by French utility EDF and include two of China’s largest state-owned power corporations.
Dyson decried Britain’s shortage of engineers and scientists, which he says is evidenced by the fact that the UK government opted for a consortium of foreign companies when building such a landmark project in lieu of indigenous talent.
In an article in The Huffington Post, Dyson pointed to the difficulties experienced by his own company in sourcing engineers domestically, calling it “a continual battle to find the brightest and best people.” This difficulty has in turn stalled efforts to expand the company’s staff numbers and stymied its ambitious growth plans.
Dyson has called for the UK to step up efforts to attract and retain foreign talent via preferential immigration policy.
The inventor points out while a disproportionate number of post-graduate engineers in the UK are foreign nationals, current immigration restrictions renders the presence of all this overseas talent a double-edged sword.
Foreign scientists and engineers are often compelled by regulations to return to home after completing their training in the UK, invariably becoming formidable competitors for British industry.
“The problem is that we are fast approaching a point where 80 per cent of post graduate engineering positions at British universities are taken by students from outside the UK,” Dyson wrote. “Our peculiar visa system mean that these bright engineers and scientists, given a world class education in our universities, can’t stay here when they finish their studies. We are training them up, only to send them packing – to compete with us.”
Dyson also called for the government to raise the prestige and status of STEM subjects in Britain to attract more students domestically, pointing to the meagre number of engineering graduates that the UK produces compared to other countries.
While British universities produce only 12,000 graduate engineers each year, just across the channel France trains up nearly four times this number.
Further abroad the disparities are even more pronounced, with India producing approximately 1.2 million engineers a year and China around one million.