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Undergraduates ‘should be taught entrepreneurship’

Universities should teach undergraduates how to start up companies, the prime minister’s enterprise advisor has said.

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Lord Young of Graffham told a conference that higher education had to “instil the very concept of enterprise” into young people.

“Every undergraduate during the course of their degree - and I know exactly how little people do during their undergraduate degree…should have a short course on setting up [their] own company,” he told the Student and Graduate Entrepreneurship in Colleges and Universities conference in London on 20 March.

“The world in which they [graduates] are going to go and inhabit and work in is going to be a self-employment world, it’s going to be a small firms world,” he argued.

Graduates “may have to be more self reliant…they have to embrace the concept of working for themselves”, and universities had to prepare them for this, he said.

His comments come amid debate over the extent to which universities should prepare students for work.

Writing in Times Higher Education on 21 March, Steve Sarson, a senior lecturer in the department of history and classics at Swansea University, objected to having to teach students how to write a curriculum vitae as part of a module on historical research.

“When academic study is entirely cast out of the classroom, what message does that send about its value?” he asked.

But Lord Young emphasised that he did not mean to “denigrate” the value of higher education and that teaching students to start companies should be an “addition” to, rather than a replacement of, their course content.

He also stressed that the courses would be optional, although “we should encourage as many people to take it [as possible]”.

Asked whether the government should give universities extra money to carry out such courses, he said: “I don’t think the funding [would be] that much, actually, as we’re talking about three or four lectures.”

Lord Young was re-appointed as an advisor for enterprise in October 2011 after quitting the role in 2010. He stepped down after being criticised for claiming that people in the UK “have never had it so good ever since this recession — this so-called recession — started”.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Any degree that does not include the development of entrepreneurial skills is offering a strange form of education in the 21st century. Much already happens, although it is difficult - and possibly ill-advised - to try and codify such learning within a modular system. Some of the most entrepreneurial postgraduates I have met are studying within some of the most 'traditional', library-focused sub-fields of the arts and humanities. They are not entrepreneurial because they have taken a business class, but because, I suspect, of a combination of a keen enthusiasm for their subject and passionate conviction of its cultural importance, exposure to inspiring and creative lecturers, an ambition to succeed, and a supportive and close-knit group of like-minded peers. Entrepreneurialism is a positive, but often unintended, outcome of the best kind of student experience.

    That is not to say learning about entrepreneurial business practice would be out of place within a general university education, but it would be a poor addition to the curriculum if broader contexts of learning were not taken into account. And should we see an emerging assumption that 'academic' learning is somehow clearly distinguishable from 'entrepreneurship', this could feed into the worst kind of pedagogical myopia.

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  • Debra Midgaff

    I think that anything that prep's the Graduate for the real world of work has to be embraced - there are many who simply do not cope, part of this group include Graduates who start out on their own and fail, others never try due to rear of the unknown - it is simple good sense to offer this.

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