Too often I hear and read about entrepreneurs who never went to university. I very rarely hear the praises being sung about a successful entrepreneur who went to university – but these people do exist. University is critiqued far too much by those interested in business and the growing number of ‘wantrepreneurs’.
I recently read an article by Ted Nash on The Kernel. I disagreed with most of the piece, hence why I’m writing this piece. I want to offer my side of the debate, on how university can be hugely beneficial for the budding entrepreneur.
Ted writes ‘Back then, degrees meant something, and there were less of them around. There were fewer subjects, too’. Degrees mean more than ever before. Most ‘good’ career paths require at least a degree to even step foot in the door, even if the whole point of an entrepreneur is to make something for themselves.
Currently I study broadcast journalism at degree level. On average my timetable a week contains around twelve hours worth of lectures, workshops and a variety of other teachings. Yes, that’s twelves hours which in a week lasting 168 hours is nothing.
For those who aren’t lucky enough to have wealthy parents, you have to apply for a student loan or grant – which is the best loan you’ll ever have in your entire life. Currently you don’t pay back until you’re earning more than £15,000 a year – and you pay back very little to notice. Now it’s even better, you pay back after earning more than £21k a year – after a certain time the debt is cleared. You can use money from your student loan to start a business easily – in fact there are many stories out there of people who have done just that. This is nothing new either; three years ago Layla Boubker graduated from the University of Hertfordshire, where she saved part of her student loan – using the money to start a business. Her start up, Artizina, produces handmade, Moroccan inspired clothing – from kaftans and dresses to denim jeans. Another student, Maria Alema also took her maximum loan allowance to start a lingerie business – and is saving what she can to cover bills from her business as they come in, and has extended her overdraft. Bank overdrafts are frequently completely interest free up until a year after graduation for students, with limits of up to £2500.
My point is, many people who want to make money, have no money. It’s ideal going to university. You’ve got enough time in a week to do what else you want to do, whilst studying into a subject you find interesting, and if building a business fails, you’re walking away with a respected degree in a subject you have some form of passion towards. It’s one of the many reasons you should look at university as an investment. When you’re studying at college or sixth form, don’t be that guy/girl who spends far too much time on your business that you don’t make any input towards your education. Because education does matter, even if it’s the traditional method. Wait until university where you’ll have far more time and independence.
‘I see so many friends taking out loans and piling on debt to become yet another ‘Business Studies’ graduate from a mediocre university, and be no better placed to compete in the job market than any of the others.’ says Ted Nash.
Piling on debt? As I said above, you can barely call a student loan ‘big debt’ and I will argue that case through and through.
Believing university is a ‘waste of time’ is absolute arrogance. Having a degree (or at least attending university) does make you better, all round. Studying allows you to be independent. At the age of 18 you’re living alone, in my case 250 miles from my hometown, and in a major city, London. It allows you to meet people and freely socialise and network with others you would never normally be able to meet. It gives you that platform which allows you to move out easily, and take the first steps to independence which would otherwise be very hard. In the first year you go to halls and before you know it you’ll be in a student house, paying bills and taking on responsibilities but still with the ‘safety net’ of university.
It’s probably the perfect way for any 17 or 18 year old to immerse themselves quickly in to the real world. You also get to mature and grow up in an environment which is safe, secure and where you’re also going to be learning and broadening your horizons through the work you do at university. You’ll be able to experience different clubs and societies and hone in on the specific skills your degree course offers; whether they are academic or more practical or vocational skills. You simply have nothing to loose in this situation.
There’s also the countless student rates, student discounts and other perks which you can take advantage of – many of which come in very handy and go far beyond just the NUS Extra card. Your (free) student ID card alone will entitle you to student rates at conferences and events and discounted subscription rates to newspapers like The Economist, the FT, and professional organisations like the NUJ and countless others which might be of interest or great use to an entrepreneur – whatever field they are going in to. Your university library will also give you unfettered access to resources that otherwise cost £1000′s – think legal databases, subscriptions to professional journals and online publications – and let’s not forget physical media.
With the free time university brings, you also get ample time to travel, to do other activities and to socialise and network without any real financial worries. University is so much more than just the degree, and it’s also so much more than the union bar or the local nightlife. The whole experience combined is what makes university what it is – it’s undoubtedly the perfect place to experiment with business ideas, meet potential business partners and take business risks you’d otherwise be unable to take without the safety net of university.
There’s also the many university affiliated organisations set up to help aspiring entrepreneurs. Aside from almost all universities having an entrepreneurship society, there’s also the likes of NACUE (National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs), ‘a fast-paced, grassroots charity that supports and represents student-led enterprise societies and young entrepreneurs to drive the growth of entrepreneurship in Universities and Colleges across the country’. Real support from lecturers, or inter-university organisations is never far away for anyone interested in entrepreneurship whilst studying at university. You’re not on your own as you’ll find others doing the same as you, and others who’s job it is to support you.
Even if you end up dropping out from university, it’s still a great spring board to making your way in the world of business. A great example that university does work: Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for university. Google, that wouldn’t have happened. Sergey Brin and Larry Page both attended Stanford University. Now look at them. Oh, yep — university wasn’t such a wise choice for them too. Bill Gates may have dropped out of Harvard, but he still intended on studying a degree and still went to university. Without university, where would these people be?
Finally – here’s another way to think about university. It’s a fall back. When you see your fellow peers who have skipped university and decided to enter the big world without studying a degree — and their “big idea” fails. At least you’ve got a degree, something of substantial respect across companies in the UK and beyond.
University isn’t a bad idea. A bad idea is not balancing your time enough throughout college/sixth form that you don’t quite get the grades to be accepted. You can get into university with grades as little as DDD or even lower – even if it means doing a ‘Micky Mouse’ degree as some call it. You’re getting a loan, a new life, and heck – if you’re living in a small town, this is a perfect opportunity to get out and set-up business elsewhere. To clarify, my comment on ‘Micky Mouse’ degrees. I, personally don’t think there is any such a thing. A degree is a degree. You’ve selected it for a reason and you’re going to get valuable academic or vocational skills as a resolut. And by no means is media studies a ‘non-respected’ degree as some say. Media studies degrees are held by people who, shape our media landscape — they control what is on our screens.
How anyone can argue university is a bad idea, I find difficult. It’s almost a rite of passage in ones life. It’s something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience, and it’s something that should never be dismissed. I’ve read many arguments and debates on this exact topic: ‘Is university a worthwhile route for entrepreneurs?’. But how many of those arguing the case, ironically, have been to university themselves?
Cameron writes about music and technology alongside a variety of other topics. He’s also a broadcaster (currently be found on ‘The Cammy Show’, Blast Radio every Saturday 6-8pm), who is often found interviewing talented people from across UK. On Twitter he is known as @Cameron.
With contributions from Sam England
Are you an aspiring entrepreneur? What do you make of the debate? Are you intending to go to university, and if so why? Are you an entrepreneur aged 18 or 19, who’s not at university? What were the reasons behind you not choosing the university route? What factors are you taking in to consideration when considering university? Should young entrepreneurs be actively encouraged to apply to university?