The UK can address the "frightening skills shortage" by closing the gap between schools and universities, according to Professor Brian Cox.

The TV star and physicist told Tech City News that the move could help narrow the gap between what skills prospective employees have and what skills employers need.

"One of the key ways you inspire children to learn is to give them access to ideas. But also, very importantly, there is meeting academics," Cox said.

Cox stressed that having aspiration was an important factor for students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects to university level.

The University of Manchester academic explained that his summer school at St Paul's Way Trust School in London's East End, where students are exposed to hands-on experiments and networking with academics, was a good example of closing the gap between schools and universities.

"The paths are there. It is absolutely possible for a child who has never had contact with a university, from Tower Hamlets or anywhere else in the country, to go through [to university]," Cox argued.

The comments come after the manufacturers' organisation the EEF said that almost four out of five UK firms were struggling to find appropriate staff because of the skills shortage.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that the issue could "cripple" the country's manufacturing sector.

The senior Liberal Democrat MP told delegates at a Department for Business Manufacturing summit in New Brighton, Merseyside that his ministry was attempting to resolve the issue.

"The problem which is growing, is the problem of skills - we just don't have the right level of people at all stages [who have the abilities employers need]," Cable said.

"We've got a gap already. We've got people approaching retirement who have got to be replaced, this is potentially a crippling handicap unless we get on top of it."