Universities are being invited to bid to run the UK’s first degree course in food engineering, which is being launched in an attempt to improve the standard of the industry’s workforce.

Managers of leading food and drink companies will be involved in drawing up the new qualification, which will also seek to tackle the huge dependence on migrant workers.

Last month, we revealed that Improve, the skills council for the UK food and drink sector, had been granted £1.7m in funding from Westminster, with a commitment from the industry to match it, to launch initiatives to improve the training of the food and drink workforce.

This week, Improve revealed it wanted the first batch of 40 students to begin the course in September next year. Students will spend two years on the course, with a sandwich year at a supplier. “This is a vital catalyst for change,” said Jack Matthews, CEO of Improve. “We want universities and FE colleges to register their interest.”

A lack of training geared towards a career in food and drink was one of the major reasons why 25% of the workforce was from abroad - more in some sectors, Matthews added: “There are 20 universities that offer food science courses, but 40% of people on these courses are from outside the UK and most of them go home.”

An exception in the food industry - and a model being used for the new centre of excellence - is Project Eden, at Reaseheath College, Cheshire, which offers a qualification in dairy technology.