Guest Blog: Enterprising Minds

This week’s blog is a guest feature from the Carnegie UK Trust. It focuses on their recently published report, Enterprising Minds.

Young people are being affected disproportionately by the economic crisis, but will be the engine of our economic future. Understanding the younger generation’s approach to work and business must be a top priority for policy makers, educators and others considering how to build economic recovery and enterprising opportunities.

On Monday 25th June 2012, the Carnegie UK Trust published Enterprising Minds , a ground breaking UK-wide study into student attitudes to enterprise, education and the future economy. The report focuses on how students view practical enterprise – starting a business or working self-employed – and the contribution education systems make to the understanding of these work types.

In total, more than 1600 students participated in Enterprising Minds through 17 different further education colleges across the whole of the UK. The resulting research provides a new and cross-jurisdictional picture of what 16-21 year olds think about working for themselves or starting up a new business.

With 45 questions and producing more than 70,000 question responses, it is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind to have been undertaken in Europe and is believed to be unique in design and delivery in the UK. This work was conducted with the backing and advisory support of Colleges Wales, the Association of Colleges, Scotland’s Colleges, and Colleges Northern Ireland.

The information collected from the survey respondents suggests four principal research findings:

Enterprise in education has an impact

Across the UK, where students had been involved in enterprise activities at school or college, a substantial majority found them useful; those respondents who had been exposed to enterprise education in and around their courses were clearly more likely to think in enterprising ways about their own futures, and be comfortable about business startup.

Celebrity and role models matter

Most students visualised ‘enterprise’ in a media-created way, like a celebrity tycoon or TV show; and many students expressed an eagerness to have more interactions with real, successful business leaders during their time at college.

 A changing economy is confusing

Despite being aware of the economic difficulties facing them, respondents remained optimistic about their own prospects for achievement in work; yet a majority maintained very traditional, single employer expectations of the post-college labour market.

Attitudes vary between jurisdictions

There are significant variations across the United Kingdom in student attitudes to business, awareness about enterprise, and exposure to different intensities and contexts of enterprise education; and these clearly affected overall attitudes to startup.

The survey results demonstrate that college students in Wales are more interested in enterprise and self-employment than their contemporaries anywhere else in the UK. Almost 30% of Welsh students want to start their own business once they have finished their studies, compared to the UK average of 24% and just 20% in England.

Welsh students were also the most confident that their schools and colleges had taken action to include enterprise learning in their education. Welsh students are the most satisfied in the UK when it comes to the support they receive from their colleges, with 53% agreeing that their college encourages them to think more about enterprise, compared to 37% UK-wide.

Colleges in Wales are at the forefront of enterprise education, which comes through in the number of young people who told us they feel inspired to be successful entrepreneurs. The research shows that meeting successful business leaders and entrepreneurs from their own communities encourages and inspires students to think in more enterprising and creative ways – and that Welsh colleges have been particularly successful in providing this kind of support.

The Trust will be making seven recommendations as part of its research report, both for the college sector and for trusts and foundations wishing to support enterprise development in the UK.  

Some key recommendations of the study include:

  • Colleges and supporting organisations should create more opportunities to develop practical enterprise skills that build on students’ retail, voluntary and extracurricular experience.
  • Schools, colleges and universities should collaborate more closely to unify and strengthen their approaches to enterprise learning, and ensure students’ enterprise awareness is reinforced at each level rather than weakened.
  • Carnegie UK and other nongovernmental lead organisations should be helping the educational sector by improving enterprise education measurement, supporting educators to make informed decisions about enterprise education.
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