by Stephen Fear DBA, Chairman of Fear Group and British Library’s Entrepreneur in Residence
When the new academic year approaches; thousands of bright-eyed university students will once again be populating the various campuses across the country. Despite the rise in tuition fees, there has been a record number of over 342,000 new university applicants who are ready to begin their next steps towards higher education.
However, with almost 50 percent of the UK’s young people entering higher education, almost one in ten (9 percent) of new university graduates are reportedly unemployed; leading to the question, is a university degree necessary to have a successful career, particularly if looking to start my own business?
Many would argue that a university degree isn’t essential to thrive in the business world. Most entrepreneurs, who have started their own companies, learn more in the first three months than they would in three years of a standard university education. Several of Britain’s most successful and recognisable business figures aren’t university graduates. It’s widely known that Alan Sugar left school at the age of sixteen, long before he was firing aspiring entrepreneurs on a prime time television programme. Richard Branson has stated on a number of occasions that he has dyslexia and, as a result, suffered from poor academic performance before leaving school when he was sixteen years old. Even some of the BBC’s most famous ‘Dragons’ evaded a formal university education in favour of pursuing their own business ventures.
There is no right or wrong way to enter the business world. However, having a university degree isn’t a pre-requisite to being a successful entrepreneur. A lot of today’s modern university courses tend to focus on teaching students to simply pass their exams rather than teach them to think for themselves and providing the skills that will help to start their own businesses. Even some of the more general business courses are more inclined to focus on the theory behind particular business aspects such as law, accounting and marketing and don’t prepare budding entrepreneurs for failure — something that can only be learned through trial and error.
Some practical entrepreneurship courses can offer limited value, but the best way to learn practical business skills is by actually doing it. A good way to learn about running your own business is to work for a start-up or shadow an entrepreneur. This allows you to get first-hand experience of the highs and lows to being an entrepreneur.
Of course university isn’t just about gaining a formal qualification and it can offer plenty of opportunities and experiences outside the class room; and there are still some industries that require a university degree to even be considered for a job. However, the formal qualification from a university isn’t the most important aspect of getting a job and often work experience is looked at above anything else.
Being an entrepreneur and starting a business is more about what you do and how you think, rather than how academic you are. For example, Mark Zuckerberg was inspired to create Facebook whilst attending Harvard University but never actually gained a qualification from the Ivy League University.
The path to starting a business is a difficult and uncertain journey, filled with many pitfalls and errors made by start-up-companies that haven’t had the business or work experience it requires to make a company a success. It was recently reported that over 27,000 undergraduates dropped out of university before achieving their respective qualifications; evidently confirming that university isn’t for everybody.
Whilst there is no exact way of entering the business world, there needs to be less emphasis on university being the only means to success and more emphasis on other viable means such as; apprenticeships, internships, work experience and mentoring.
There was once a time when going to university ensured a successful career and a lucrative future for graduates; but now with so many courses available and the sheer number of young people applying to university, the business world has become an increasingly competitive scene that many young people are inadequately prepared for.
Stephen Fear DBA is an English entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist and author with over 40 years international business experience. Today Fear has an established property empire and interests in a number of industries, including green technology, hotels, residential care and manufacturing.
Often referred to as ‘The Phonebox Millionaire’, Fear is also notable for being Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Library; a position formerly held by the late Dame Anita Roddick.
In July 2013, Fear was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Business Administration from UWE Bristol for his continued service to Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship.