Construction Sector Skills Council to call for exemptions for students on civil and ground engineering courses.
The industry's skills body is to lobby the government to exempt ground and civil engineering courses from "top-up" fees.

The Construction Skills Sector Council, which is due to be launched this autumn and will be jointly run by the Construction Industry Council and the Construction Industry Training Board, claimed this was necessary because of the acute shortage of graduates in both professions.

Reacting to the last week's white paper on higher education funding, Graham Watts, chief executive of the CIC, said: "We are really struggling to get applicants on to certain courses. Ground and civil engineering degrees have been particularly badly hit."

Watts slammed the idea of top-up fees, under which universities would be allowed to charge students more for their courses than the normal £1100 annual flat-rate fee.

The industry must now invest in potential employees and help students with fees

Louis Armstrong, chief executive, RICS

He said: "The effect is that even fewer young people will be signing up for these courses – I am strongly against the concept and think Labour's policy is very distasteful."

The white paper intensified industry concern raised last week over the decline in applications for construction-related courses. As Building revealed last week, a report entitled Rethinking Construction Education has claimed that construction degrees face extinction in 10 years if the fall continues at its current rate.

The RIBA said architecture graduates would face debts of up to £35,000 for fees and living costs when the measures are introduced. Vice president Jack Pringle said: "When the RIBA is trying to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to enter architecture, this comes as a big blow."

The RICS, however, claimed that top-up fees could improve the quality of construction students. Chief executive Louis Armstrong suggested the fees could lead to more industry sponsorship, increasing competition for places.