Forty per cent of building-related degrees still have vacancies as interest in construction dips.

construction’s recruitment crisis is deepening as degree courses remain unfilled and universities report a downturn in applicants this year.

The University Central Admissions Service web site reports that 407 of an estimated 850 construction and building-related degree courses still have places.

Like a large number of education establishments, Anglia Polytechnic University has spaces on all 17 courses in the department of the built environment.

The department has a target of 100 students to start this academic year, but is expecting a shortfall of 25%. “It is down on last year, but some of the gap will be filled by part-time students,” said Nigel Powell, head of the department of the built environment at Anglia Polytechnic University.

Construction management is one of the worst hit subjects, with numbers decreasing year on year. The University of Derby has had 25% fewer applicants this year compared with 1999. The construction management course has 15 places, eight of which have yet to be filled.

Head of the construction department at the University of Derby, Colin Fryer, said: “The subject is becoming as popular as ancient Greek. The industry is booming and I have employers ringing me for graduates, but there aren’t enough.”

Fryer does not believe many places will be filled before term begins next month.

However, University College London has filled its construction management course with 20 high-calibre students. “I have a theory that the higher you pitch the course and the more academic points you ask for, the more applicants you get, because people respect that,” said David Woolven, the construction management degree course director.

The industry reacted with dismay to the student shortfall, seeing the figures as another symptom of the problem of attracting young people into what is perceived as an unattractive industry.

Jennie Price, chief executive of the Construction Confederation, said the confederation was looking at developing a strategy for dealing with the crisis. “Unless we have the critical mass going on the courses, we will lose the courses and the whole situation will become even worse,” said Price.

Contractors are also concerned that finding good graduates will become more difficult. Chairman of Dean and Dyball and the Civil Engineering Contractors Association Martin Hirst said that, although his firm was not suffering in particular, recruitment was an issue the whole industry should focus on. “There will be no quick-fix because people are not viewing construction as attractive,” said Hirst.