As the Scottish Funding Council moves to begin work on the skills agenda, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce is setting up an education policy group. It will focus on science, technology, maths, languages and management, which the chamber believes are crucial to foster economic prosperity and international competitiveness.
The group met for the first time on Wednesday under the chairmanship of Sandy Paton, former director of the Bank of Scotland's small business banking division and currently depute chairman of Fife's Adam Smith College.
Mr Paton's prime target is small to medium-sized enterprises with 50 to 200 employees. "They are the backbone of the Scottish economy," he said. "But they need the right people coming forward for jobs so Scotland can become smart and successful."
On the back of falling interest in the sciences, as measured by school exam statistics, the latest official figures show a 12 per cent drop in the number of graduates in the physical sciences between 1998-99 and 2003-04 and a decline of 17 per cent in engineering and technology graduates.
The chamber also wants to ensure the infrastructure is there to generate the "people skills" needed in running businesses. "We want people who are creative, imaginative and who can handle people," Mr Paton said.
"Management training can help foster these skills. There are people out there who do have the right subject qualifications but who don't know how to run a business."
Representatives from primary up to university level have been invited to join the policy group. They include Wilson Sibbert, professor of physics and astronomy at St Andrews University and chair of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Scottish science advisory committee. Professor Sibbert said:
"We need to find ways of halting the haemorrhaging of what would appear to be our most able students from the sciences."
Meanwhile the funding council has set up a nine-member skills committee chaired by Janet Lowe, former principal of Lauder College. It includes experts on the labour market as well as college and university representatives.