The study, Rethinking Construction Education, notes that if the trend continues, the "last ever UK building and construction student will enter university" in 2012.
The draft report, compiled by the University of Central England, concludes that this would lead to the "inevitable" collapse of the industry.
I have seen the steady decline in applications for undergraduate courses with great concern
Sir Michael Latham
"Not only will we not have sufficient skills to maintain the UK's infrastructure," the report says, "but the cost of importing those skills from foreign-owned construction enterprises will be so prohibitive as to seriously impact the economy. Failure to find the skills will degrade the standards of living and social equity of the UK as a whole."
The report highlights other statistics such as:
- A 45% decline in building and construction course applications from 1994 to 2000.
- A decline in the standard of applicants for courses (only 13% had more than 21 GCSE points in 2000, the equivalent of three A grades or seven E grades).
- A decline in women students applying for industry course (down to 8% in 2000).
The report has led to calls for action. Sir Michael Latham, chairman of the Construction Industry Training Board, which is sponsoring the report, said he witnessed the crisis at first hand when he was a visiting professor at Northumbria University.
Latham said: "I have seen the steady decline in applications for undergraduate courses with great concern."
he added that an advertising campaign similar to the CITB's initiative to encourage school leavers to join the industry was required. This time, however, it should target potential undergraduates.
Construction students account for 5% of British undergraduates – of those, only 3% are architects. It’s a tiny proportion
Peter Rogers, chairman of the strategic forum, said the industry needed to move fast to deal with the crisis. "We have got to make some quick wins out of this. There are some frightening figures out there [on higher education]."
Leading construction lecturers were, however, more optimistic about the future. Professor Colin Gray, head of construction management at Reading University, said: "It seems that the quality of applicants is better this year than it has been for a while."
Stephen Barthorpe, the University of Glamorgan's head of construction management, was also upbeat. He said: "We have been very encouraged as our September 2002 intake has been well above target."
"There is definitely a perception problem but hopefully we can change mindsets and promote a diverse range of career opportunities. We keep trying."