Dyson spots a creative vacuum

14th July 2006 at 01:00
Engineer bypasses skills bodies to set up his new college

James Dyson, the engineer and designer, has pledged more than pound;12 million to build an engineering college to help rescue Britain's manufacturing industry.

The Dyson School of Design Innovation is expected to open in two years, taking only engineering students aged 14 to 19.

The Government will pay pound;11 million of the starting costs of the college, to be based in Bath, with the rest being met by the inventor's charitable trust and other sponsors. Mr Dyson, whose bagless vacuum cleaner became a design icon, said Britain needed to "radically increase" the number of engineering graduates to compete with India and China.

He shrugged off charges of hypocrisy for trying to save UK manufacturing when his own firm moved its plant to Malaysia. The number of jobs at Dyson in the UK was as high as ever, he said, with more engineers and support staff.

To realise his vision, the 59-year-old bypassed the struggling National Skills Academy programme. One reason was that the academy model does not include 14 to 16-year-olds - something he considers essential to drum up interest before children settle on A-level choices. He said a survey of 12,000 pupils in the Bath area had revealed huge demand for an engineering option.

It also meant he has ignored the sector skills councils, which have struggled to find sponsors for four academies they have planned. One council, Semta, said its plans for a manufacturing academy may be delayed.

Mr Dyson said engineering in FE was not meeting demand for creativity and schools suffered from a lack of facilities. "Equipment is expensive and a lot of schools don't have the facilities," he said. "The curriculum is getting more paper-based and less about producing prototypes and testing them."

Mr Dyson produced 5,000 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner and considers this practical process a vital part of design. "It's through failures that you learn," he said.

All students will be working towards the new vocational diploma in engineering.

The college, designed by Chris Wilkson of the Gateshead Millenium Bridge, is based around an atrium to showcase inspiring engineering successes.

Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and the Williams Formula 1 racing team, have donated a jet engine, an aircraft wing and a racing car. With them, of course, will be the vacuum cleaner that earned Mr Dyson his pound;600 million fortune.

Mr Dyson, a classics graduate, said: "I was put off science and engineering at school and don't want that to happen to other people. If I had been shown a Williams racing car and spoken to their engineers, it would have been harder to give it up."

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