Sir James Dyson said 27% of the graduates enrolled in his privately-funded university are women as he doubles down on efforts to boost the number of female engineers.

The billionaire founder of Dyson plans to drive the number up to 50% in coming years, as part of his crusade to tackle Britain’s dearth of engineering talent.

Women make up just 16% of students studying undergraduate engineering in the UK, while only 9% of practising engineers are female, according to figures cited by the firm.

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His comments come as the vacuum, hair care and hand dryer manufacturer ushered in its first students on to a four-year engineering degree after the firm secured university status for the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology.

Sir James DysonSir James Dyson (Matthew Fearn/PA)

More than 850 people applied for 25 positions at the university, forcing the firm to bolster its intake to 33 due to the “exceptionally high-calibre of the candidates”.

Speaking to the Press Association, Sir James said: “Something like 45% of our workforce here are female. We don’t think that is good enough.

“We want to get the intake up to 50% (female) and a much higher percentage of female engineers in our workforce.

“I think one of the reasons we have a high female intake is because we make practical products.

“In my view, I think women like to see a practical outcome of engineering and not just the academic study of it.”

Sir James Dyson(David Parry/PA)

Dyson launched the £22 million institute to feed home grown talent into the engineering industry, which has a shortfall of 64,000 people each year.

The Dyson Institute is based at the firm’s research and development campus in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, and is the first privately-funded university to be launched under the Government’s higher education and research act.

As part of the course, the undergraduate engineers will be handed a paid full-time job in the research, design and development team and have their university fees paid.

They will also be mentored by the company’s scientists and engineers alongside lessons from academics at the University of Warwick.

Sir James, who backed Britain’s divorce from the European Union, added: “Britain suffers from an acute lack of engineering graduates which is threatening science, technology and engineer.

“Dyson’s undergraduate engineers will develop new technology alongside world-leading engineering practitioners, creating real products that end up in homes around the world and all alongside their academic.”