Business leaders demanded urgent action today to halt the decline in the number of teenagers studying A-level science and foreign languages.
Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, warned that a failure to produce enough high quality scientists and linguists would compromise Britain's future economic success.
The CBI produced figures showing the number of teenagers taking A-level physics had plummeted by more than half in the last 20 years. The employers' organisation said A-level entries for French and German both fell by nearly a third between 1999 and 2004.
As more than 260,000 students waited to learn their Alevel results this week, Sir Digby said: "We must change our cultural attitude.
"We are an island race but must embrace the world and speak its languages if we want to be in the pole position for business."
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He went on: "These issues must be tackled by Government, teachers, careers advisors and companies - we cannot allow it to blight the UK's future economic success."
The CBI said there were "very few" students taking languages that would be crucial to the UK's future economic success such as Mandarin, Russian or Spanish.
Last year, just 451 people in England and Wales took Alevel Russian, the CBI said.
Sir Digby said: "Youngsters need to be equipped with the skills to make their way in the competitive globalised economy of the 21st Century.
"Business must have them if it is to meet the onslaught from countries like China and India.
"Science, engineering and technology skills are the essential building blocks of research and development.
"Without innovation and the ability to secure advantage the UK cannot hope to challenge these emerging markets as they invest huge resources into producing top quality graduates."
The Secondary Heads Association also backed the CBI's concerns while David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I strongly agree with the CBI.
"We need more candidates in languages, single sciences and maths because that is what the country needs."
A DfES Spokesperson said: "The sciences continue to be amongst the more popular courses at A-level and the most recent set of UCAS figures show applications for science subjects up by over ten per cent compared with last year.
"We are introducing a new science programme of study at GCSE that will maintain a clear focus on academic rigour, and by engaging young people, ensure that there are greater numbers of students considering studying science post-16.
"In 2004, 15,000 more pupils obtained a good GCSE (A-C) in a modern foreign language than in 1997.
"This Government is committed to increasing the take up of languages at all levels of education through its Modern Foreign Languages Strategy. It is important to start early, that is why we have a new focus on languages in primary and by 2010 every child aged 7-11 will be able to learn one or more languages.
"In addition, 400 specialist language schools will be working with other local schools to teach languages."