Why Don’t Universities Better Prepare Students for Self-Employment?September 04, 2017
There’s a steep rise in the number of young people going freelance, yet many universities still don’t educate them enough about self-employment.
Entrepreneurship is a hot topic within universities, and there are innovative programmes helping guide the next generation of business founders. But many students are still not accessing the support needed to go it alone.
The student population has the potential to drive the UK’s boom in self-employment – since 2008 there has been a 66% increase in the number of 16- to 29-year-olds going freelance. But just 1% of freelancers learnt about self-employment in school or college and 2% in university, according to ComRes research last year. More must be done so that young people recognise self-employment as a viable career path.
The largest group of freelancers are those working within arts and the media, and the fastest growing cohort is health professionals. Yet many universities place their entrepreneur support solely within their business departments and, as many faculties operate separately, this can mean self-employed education isn’t accessible to students from other disciplines.
The International Entrepreneurship Educators Conference next week will focus on how institutions can better provide enterprise and entrepreneurial skills for everyone. We need to ensure that business advice and entrepreneurialism is not limited to business students. Middlesex University, for example, has modules such as Music Entrepreneurship which give practical guidance on self-employment for arts students.
Universities also risk putting students off setting up a business by over-emphasising the importance of experience. Many talented people branch out without prior experience. The most important thing for students is to know their skillset, do their research, and commit to networking.
Students regularly tell us at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) that they want to work for themselves but don’t have a “big idea” yet. Programmes like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice have created a perception that a “big idea” is imperative and, unfortunately, too many universities focus on this as well.
Instead, universities should promote how students can reflect on their existing talents and hone their skills to begin their own viable business. Entrepreneurialism doesn’t have to be about something ground-breaking, and careers officers should highlight the market for freelancers required to work on a project-by-project basis.
In addition, more colleges need to bring practice into the curriculum. Nottingham Trent University has done this with its “live-trading” modules, offered as part of its decorative arts degree, in which students conduct a large-scale research project on how to start their own business.
Along with the focus on a “big idea” comes the expectation that you need savings or investment to start your own ventures. Yes, it’s inevitable that some start-ups require investment, but you don’t always need tonnes of cash to start working for yourself and some universities offer entrepreneurial grants or start-up finance schemes when funding is required.
A strong business plan, solid research, and your own talent are often the most important foundations. The main reasons people work for themselves are flexibility, autonomy and greater job satisfaction. Sure, the money can be good, but over emphasising turnover or scaling up as the primary measure of success may deter those who are motivated by different ambitions.
It would be great to see more “How to get the best work/life balance”, or “How to build and diversify your client base” modules rather than focusing, primarily, on scaling up.