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New National Enterprise Academy: pre-Budget PR stunt?

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A new £8m National Enterprise Academy was today launched by prime minister Gordon Brown and telecoms entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones. Students between the ages of 16 and 19 will attain a new qualification in enterprise.

The Government also announced extra funding of £30 million to extend enterprise education to primary schools and further education colleges.

Launching the academy at Swanlea Business and Enterprise College in East London, Brown said: "This is going to transform Britain over the next few years. We’ll offer 16-19 year olds the chance to get better qualifications and we’ll lead the way in broadcasting the message that young people can start businesses for the future."

The government will put £3m to £4m into the academy, with Peter Jones stumping up through his charitable foundations.

Jones said at the launch: "There is a stark difference in the entrepreneurial mindset between the UK and the US. Here, there tends to be a ‘can I?’ approach, whereas in the US the ‘I can’ belief is instilled from an early age. The National Enterprise Academy will be run by entrepreneurs and taught by entrepreneurs to hopefully create entrepreneurs. I think that’s very exciting."

The new academy is based on the highly successful Brit School, the performing arts school in Croydon that has successfully bred music talents such as Leona Lewis, Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash.

On the day before Budget day, the National Enterprise Academy is a clever attention-grabbing proposal. But some serious questions need to be answered:

The Brit School’s focus on the performing arts has been a key source of its success. Why launch a generalist "enterprise" academy when industry/sector-focused academies would be more likely to yield successful new businesses? Why encourage very young entrepreneurs when all research shows that business ventures stand the most chance of success when they are launched by entrepreneurs with experience under their belts? The Brit School explicitly states that it is "not a stage or fame school" and that the school expects all to follow full time courses to completion. Surely a rounded education and real experience in business is more likely to spawn successful new businesses than a publicity-driven new academy? What place the dead hand of government in an entreprise academy? And given Peter Jones’ woeful "Tycoon" TV series that was quickly shunted to a late-night slot, is he really the right partner?

Related story "Brit School for entrepreneurs": more details

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