Industry tackling UK food scientist shortage

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

One of Britain's top universities for food science says interest is
growing in the subject, offering the industry hope of beating a
severe shortage of recruits.

Student numbers were up 30 per cent at the University of Reading's prestigious School of Food Biosciences last year, senior tutor Glynis Jodrell said.

The number of applicants for places this coming academic year was also up 12-15 per cent, she added.

The news offers encouragement to the UK food industry, which has suffered increasingly severe shortages of food science recruits in recent years.

Recruiting numbers across the country have halved in the last decade, industry and university figures show, while the Institute of Food Science and Technology warned last year that one in four jobs remained vacant.

Several leading science institutes, including the Royal Society, have criticised the government for failing to act on a shortage of science graduates generally in the UK.

Chancellor Gordon Brown announced this week that public investment in science would rise from £5bn to £6.3bn up to the 2010/2011 financial year, re-iterating the vital role that research and development would play in the national economy.

In food science, Reading's Jodrell said there was a still a long way to go in terms of recruiting young blood.

"Our recruitment has picked up quite considerably, but having said that, there are still not enough people coming out of food courses to service the industry."

She said some in the industry had perhaps "taken their eye off the ball for a little while" when it came to attracting young recruits.

The shortages have raised fears that Britain has begun to lose much of its research and development potential, just as the food industry faces one of its most challenging periods, with issues on climate change, obesity and safety coming to head.

Jodrell said greater publicity for health issues and healthy eating in particular had created more interest in the food industry among some students.

News of Reading's rise in recruits also comes as some in the industry make more effort to attract young people.

Sainsbury's, the UK's third largest supermarket, and Northern Foods, the country's largest food processor, will start sponsorship schemes for food science students this year.

Northern Foods will sponsor 30 students split equally across the universities of Nottingham, Reading and Leeds, while Sainsbury's will help fund three students from each of those universities, plus also Surrey and Queen's, Belfast.

Both firms will pay £1,000 per student every year for three years.

Sainsbury's also begins its Taste the World graduate scheme this year, offering three young hopefuls the chance to travel to the world at the same time as visiting and working with Sainsbury's suppliers.

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