Beth Price, Project Assistant at Enabling Enterprise looks at entrepreneurship as an option for young people, and how it is not confined the realm of setting up a business. This blog was originally published by the Access Project.

Student protests now seem like a familiar sight. The rising costs of education are a major concern for young people looking to develop themselves and their career prospects through further study. Secondary students applying university may ask whether further study is really worth the burden of debt. Recent graduates searching for employment may ask whether a degree really prepared them for an increasingly competitive job market. When faced with these barriers, young people have two options: give up or press on. Fortunately, many young people refuse to have their aspirations dampened, but instead choose to adapt creatively to a tough economic climate.

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Creating Opportunities

Last week, I read an article called ‘Earning to Learn’: an investigation into postgraduate students who set up their own businesses, from coaching to freelance tutoring, to help them fund their studies. Rather than feeling dejected by the lack of funding, these students chose entrepreneurship as a way of supporting their application to university, by finding the niches to create their own economic opportunities. This new ‘spirit of entrepreneurship’ on campus seems to reflect a wider trend, with an increasing number of universities and colleges forming their own enterprise or ‘innovation’ hubs, which encourage undergraduate and postgraduate students to turn their business ideas into reality. The outcomes look promising, but does entrepreneurship in education really hold the key to overcoming the barriers facing young people today?

The answer is yes, and no. Applying to study for a Marine Biology PhD whilst starting up your own infographics company is an inspiring and impressive example of the success young people can achieve. On the other hand, being an entrepreneur is a risky business – reports show, on average, only 20% of new start-ups in the UK survive. Whilst student entrepreneurship can open up many new opportunities, the statistics are really too narrow to promote entrepreneurship as the model for future success for all young people.

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Entrepreneurship as a Philosophy

At Enabling Enterprise, we believe there is much more to entrepreneurship than setting up a business. Entrepreneurship embraces a much broader set of skills and attitudes – initiative, creativity, determination and resilience – qualities we want to inspire in all young people, not just entrepreneurs. When young people begin making the transition from school, whether applying to university and considering future job options, they often feel a sense of uncertainty. Having been guided through a maze of GCSEs, BTECs and A Levels, you suddenly step out into an empty space, with no sign posts and no-one telling you what to do. From this moment on, you alone must decide on the direction you are heading in, even if the final destination is unclear.

To be ready to make these choices, young people need to be equipped with the confidence and proactivity to seek out new opportunities, as well as the skills to make the most of them. When applying for university or a new job, for example, young people are required to take initiative in pursuing new avenues and prove their competencies in environments which are very different from the structured world of the classroom. In the current economic climate, having young people with the capacity to rise to challenges, invent new pathways and adapt to different scenarios, will be more important than ever. This is what entrepreneurship, as a philosophy, is all about – and it’s just not confined to the realm of business.

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Embedding Entrepreneurship in Education

A broader understanding of entrepreneurship, as a set of ‘enterprising’ attitudes of skills, may provide a more inclusive ‘model for success’ for young people making their first transitions to further education or the world of work. There is scope for colleges and universities to embed an entrepreneurial approach within the culture of education itself – whether providing an applied, real world focus to academic courses, encouraging a wider range of extra-curricular activities, or, more fundamentally, embracing a skills-based approach to teaching and research. For example, collaborative group work, creative research projects and student-led discussion forums, can all contribute to an academic environment where young people not only deepen their knowledge, but also develop the core skills which will prepare them for the future.

At Enabling Enterprise, we believe higher education should not be the only arena where entrepreneurship can come into play. Young people pursue a wide variety of paths, but school is the place where the journey begins. We work with school students from 6 to 18 across all areas of curriculum, showing how enterprising skills and attitudes are an asset to everyone, no matter where your passions and ambitions lie. In these difficult and uncertain times, we aren’t in the position to dictate choices for our young people, but we do have a responsibility to equip them with the skills, experiences and aspirations to make their own.

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Get involved

Enabling Enterprise has a range of different lesson-time projects, challenge days and business trips that focus on preparign students for the “real world” through enterprise. Find out more: www.enablingenterprise.org/secondary

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