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Threat to pull plug on science scheme

An electronics firm has warned ministers it will withdraw from its A-level bursary programme. Neil Levis reports.

AN ELECTRONICS company that has spent pound;500,000 encouraging A-level students to study science is on the brink of withdrawing from the scheme because of "a poor response" from ministers.

Filtronic, based in Bradford, has been paying up to 60 sixth-formers annual bursaries of pound;1,000 to induce them to take further maths and physics. It introduced the scheme four years ago because it was dissatisfied with the qualifications and aptitude of the graduates it recruited.

Twice-a-term the company's scientists hold specialist workshops for sixth-formers from nine schools. The pupils are also paid pound;100-a-week for holiday work.

In addition Filtronic gives four schools pound;8,000 a year each to

enable them to run classes in the subjects where there would normally be insufficient numbers. The brightest students are virtually guaranteed jobs after they graduate from university.

But now that could all end because the Government will only grant the scheme pilot status under its pound;350 million Excellence in Cities initiative. This means it will receive only matched funding at a time when Filtronic was hoping to extend the scheme to cover the whole of West Yorkshire.

"We've had schools from all over the country asking to be included," said Keith Ferguson, Filtronic's marketing director. "Unless the Government is prepared to finance a susainable scheme, then we will have to consider our commitment to the idea."

The chairman of Filtronic, which makes parts for mobile phones and electronic weapons, is Professor David Rhodes, a professor of electronics and electrical engineering at Leeds University. He became frustrated by what he describes as a worldwide shortage of engineers and scientists.

"There has been a gradual decrease over the past two decades in the number of people doing double maths and physics," said Professor Rhodes.

"The standard of A-level maths and physics today is nothing like it was 20 years ago and this has had a knock-on effect into degree courses."

Filtronic, which employs 1,200 people in Bradford and 1,800 in Finland, Australia, the US and China, was hoping to extend the scheme to another 10 schools but ministers' lukewarm response has made them think again.

"We have better things to do with our time than to waste them on discussions that are not meaningful," said Mr Ferguson. "If the UK doesn't want to help, then we shall concentrate our efforts on other parts of the company."

Phil Green, Bradford's assistant director of education, said: "We have worked closely with Filtronic since it set up the bursaries. We are doing all we can to find other partners to provide additional funding for this excellent scheme. We value the support the company has given to local schools over the past three years - they have made a great difference."

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