Britain is losing out in computer science, endangering the British economy in the long term, the British Computer Society (BCS) has warned.

In a response to the National Audit Office's recent report on Successful IT Business Change, the BCS said Britain is fast falling behind its global competitors in generating both the interest and enthusiasm needed to persuade young people to study computer science or pursue a career in IT.

It added that the problems may start with the way children are introduced to IT and computing in schools, and that this could imperil long-term success for the nation’s expanding IT economy.

However, the BCS also said that it "warmly welcomed" the report, which it believes has added a much needed fillip to IT’s negative media image by spotlighting genuine programme successes across both private and public sectors.

BCS CEO David Clarke said: "The NAO report has rightly attributed successful IT project completion to a new and growing recognition by IT professionals of the importance of senior level management engagement, few of whom fully comprehend IT. This is very much in line with the BCS’s IT Professionalism programme which has been successfully promoting greater engagement between the IT profession and the board room led business process.

"Our academic membership, including nearly all the heads of computer science at British universities, are predicting that the growing demand for skilled IT professionals will be frustrated by a 25 per cent shortfall of computer science graduates by 2009.

"The future success of the British IT economy, particularly in the Nanotechnology and Biotechnology sectors will rely on the delivery of computer science graduates. The UK is not delivering these with the threat of a major skills gap opening in our thriving IT industry within five years which will impact severely on our economy."

BCS president and computer science academic Professor Nigel Shadbolt said: "Data collected suggests that the year-on-year reductions affecting the number of students studying computing within higher education will continue until at least 2009.

"This will have an impact on the numbers of qualified graduates entering the employment market over the coming years. It will also have an impact on the UK economy which will be felt by companies large and small. Large companies may be able to re-direct their creative work overseas. Small companies, traditionally hiring locally, may find that they are unable to recruit staff necessary to develop their businesses at a cost they can afford.

"Nothing can now halt the decline in the number of computing graduates through to 2009. We need to introduce children at school to the excitement of computing and information technology in the age of the Web. Action is required now to reverse the decline from 2010 onwards”.