Entrepreneurial Spirit and Skills Development in Schools
The vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, Professor Sir Nigel Thrift, was recently quoted as saying that universities are competing in a “global war for talent” and that UK universities should be competing for the best overseas students in order to tackle the current skills shortage, regarded by many policy makers as holding back productivity and growth in the UK economy.
Sir Nigel also suggested that a global exchange system between universities could help boost skills development by giving students greater opportunities to experience other cultures and ways of learning and working. “It certainly helps,” he said, “when you are looking for employment, that you have been entrepreneurial enough to go somewhere else within your degree.”
Universities have an undeniable role to play in developing the skills base of the UK but it does beg the question why there aren’t sufficient numbers of able UK students entering higher education, particularly given the enormous increase in university places since the early 1990s.
Arguably, the real work needs to be done at secondary school level, to better prepare pupils for the world of work and to give them the broad-range of skills they need to build successful careers in the modern economy, regardless of whether or not they choose higher education as the route to employment.
There is a lot of talk about how young people need to be “entrepreneurial” but not so much debate as to what exactly that means and how we should teach them to be so. We would argue that those schools should first be developed in regard to the individual – teaching financial literacy and employability skills that first enable young people to take control of their own lives before talking on the challenges of building a business.
In a time where we are constantly told that personal debt is far too high and poses a very real threat to our national economic fortunes, it seems rather remiss not to teach young people to master their own finances and develop those same skills that will be required in business – understanding debt, cash flow, liquidity, tax etc – before we expect them to deliver on the challenge of creating the next generation of successful companies.
If we were to improve this area of skills development in schools, perhaps UK universities would have less need to look overseas for talent and we could create greater employment opportunities for young people as a whole.