The value of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education

There was a time when higher education was disconnected from the world of work – research was pure rather than practical, and education was there for education’s sake. Now, students expect their degree to prepare them for when they leave, and universities compete for high rankings in employability league tables. It’s no surprise then that as more and more young people are choosing to work for themselves, universities are increasingly considering how they can better prepare students for self-employment.

Rapid technological change is transforming the jobs market, and enterprise education is essential to ensure young people have the skills needed to take advantage of this digital revolution – boosting UK growth and productivity in the process. Preparing graduates for the future of work means equipping them with entrepreneurial attributes.

The recent launch of QAA’s (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) updated guidance on enterprise and entrepreneurship education for higher education providers  offers some welcome recommendations in this area. To date, entrepreneurial support at university has been typically focused in business departments, even though the largest group of freelancers are those working within the arts and media. The updated guidelines go some way to address this issue, by recommending that enterprise education be positioned centrally within universities to ensure all students can access support. This is a welcome recognition that enterprise and entrepreneurial education is vital to support the career progression of today’s graduates across all disciplines, rather than being the exclusive remit of business schools.

The guidance also draws attention to the unique position of universities to develop enterprising capabilities. Young people aged 18-24 are nearly twice as likely as other age groups to aspire to start a business, and universities are the ideal place to test out ideas and learn from failure. Students can use this time to develop crucial entrepreneurial skills including creativity, decision making and communication – all while the risks remain relatively low. The report stresses that these are skills relevant to those entering employment, as well as those who become self-employed, and should therefore be embedded into the curriculum across all disciplines.

While the guidance makes a strong case for putting enterprise and entrepreneurship education at the heart of university careers services, the report could have gone further to recognise the different forms of self-employment open to graduates. In the report, there remains a focus on developing a “big idea” – the guidance summaries enterprise education as “having an idea and making it happen”. The reality is that entrepreneurialism is more often about freelancing on a project-by-project basis, and the focus on developing something revolutionary can put a lot of people off. Universities should promote how students can use their existing skills to work on a freelance basis, and provide guidance on issues such as marketing, cash flow and tax as well as generating innovative ideas.

As a first port of call to many of those working in this sector, the updated guidelines provide valuable direction for universities wishing to prepare their students for the future of work. QAA’s recommendation that enterprise education be made more accessible is welcome, universities must now place an emphasis on raising awareness of the support they have available if we are to increase student’s exposure to entrepreneurial support. With just two per cent of freelancers learning about self-employment at university, the challenge is now to learn from best practice taking place across UK universities and scale up initiatives.  

Meet the author

Imogen Farhan

Policy and External Affairs Officer