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Why the education system can’t keep up with business

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Poor prospects, expensive degrees and outdated teaching – last week, 10,000 students marched on Westminster to show their discontent with the UK’s education system, as a shocking 18.5 per cent of boys and 15.3 per cent of girls aged 18 remain jobless. 

Is higher education really vital to business success, or will the nation’s future business leaders be those who put experience over an £8,000 university degree?

Our love affair with university

Some 115,000 18-year-olds are jobless and claiming benefits. If these teenagers gained a BA or BSC, would their prospects change? 

Gary Martin started his property business, Martin Construction at 16. Now, without a degree, Gary is a successful entrepreneur and managing director. His thoughts: “A lot of my friends ask me, should I go to university? It depends what road you are looking to go down. If you want to be an entrepreneur or start your own business, I would advise against university.”

Earlier this year, university minister, David Willetts reduced the minimum student intake from 4,000 to 1,000 for higher education institutes. Oddly, now Willets has backed the biggest university shake up in the last 20 years: ten smaller higher education colleges are to become full universities.

Does the government need to redress this issue? UK business constantly changes, whilst education remains at a stand-still. “A piece of the system is completely outdated: your traditional Business Studies course in schools,” argues Gary Martin. 

“Whilst maybe teachers maybe have the desire to bring things up-to-date and really help students out as much as possible, they’re limited by the curriculum. Ultimately, the government sets out how each course is run, and there needs to be a shift to bring it towards more practical situations.”

Corey J Smith, founder of CJ Sales and Services, believes that higher education is not for all. Corey started his own business at the age of 16 – now he has the vision to make it the number one games store in the world. “I believe all children in all schools should be given coursework according to their age, ability, and aptitude,” he says.

How are business schools different?

If universities aren’t, are business schools the golden ticket for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Gary Martin believes these schools can make a real difference: “[Because] a traditional Business Studies course is not going to help you, but people need a general level of education – the rest of it is learning specific skill in the specific business you would like to be in.”

A recent Business Schools Task Force report criticises the power of business schools. While the Task Force recognise the good work already being done, they urge schools to focus their help on SMEs.

The report sets out a number of practical steps to help improve how schools and SMEs work together to support growth, improve management and develop courses that are attractive to local firms.

 Recommendations from the report include:

  • Business schools should actively target mid-sized firms, offering them taster sessions and tailoring their courses to the needs of their local mid-sized businesses;
  • Mid-sized companies should work with their local business school to examine their management practices and look at how they could be improved;
  • Business schools should promote careers in mid-sized companies; and
  • Mid-sized businesses should be involved in the management and advisory boards of business schools to ensure that the voice of local firms is heard.

Michael Mercieca, CEO at Young Enterprise, a business educational charity that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, believes qualifications are still important to entrepreneurs. “If your academic qualifications are very poor, you are going up against people that can communicate better, and write better CVs than you – and they will get through the door first.”

A university degree may not be vital for young people to succeed in business, but social attitudes towards education need to develop alongside business. For the UK economy, vocational courses and practical skills should not be second to a university degree. 

Britain’s future business leaders need to be aware of the education available and take steps to suit their personal needs. Gary Martin reminds budding entrepreneurs: “If you buy something for a pound and sell it for two – you are in business!”

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