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Cross-curricular resources: Global Entrepreneurship Week

Tycoon Simon Dolan says tomorrow's entrepreneurs should give HE a miss

Tycoon Simon Dolan says tomorrow's entrepreneurs should give HE a miss

  • Global Entrepreneurship Week, starts 14 November
  • Universal Children's Day, 20 November
    • I suppose my early life was much like that of many other future entrepreneurs. I grew up in a comfortable house with two loving parents who wanted the best for me. I remember my fascination with numbers starting at an early age - my parents would often find me in the cupboard watching the numbers go round on the gas meter.

      I guess it was not a massive leap from numbers to pounds, so from an early age I had a variety of jobs and developed ways of making money from my schoolfriends: selling scratch-cards I had sourced for free from Exchange and Mart and selling the solution to the Rubik's cube I had found and then photocopied on the school copier - all this by the age of around 12.

      You could argue that this indicates that entrepreneurs are born and not made. I disagree. Perhaps I had a natural predisposition for money-making enterprise, but that doesn't mean that the skills needed to get a business off the ground cannot be taught.

      You would think that my teachers would have looked on my first little ventures with a certain admiration - but you would be wrong. I'm sorry to say that most of them thought very little of my initiative. In those days teachers were far more interested in forcing us to learn ever-more pointless "facts" (and I use the term loosely as many of these "facts" are now considered untrue), from how to conjugate verbs in Ancient Greek, to considering what Shakespeare really meant when he wrote those words 400- plus years ago, to a rather biased account of who discovered America. Interesting maybe; useful, no.

      For whatever reason, I developed a rather irritating habit of considering whether these things would be useful to me in later life, questioning the teachers about why they thought they would be, and then discounting their answers and switching off. You can imagine how popular this made me with them, and it was really no surprise when I was thrown out of school at 16.

      College was next up, where I completed a BTEC in business and finance. I was markedly more successful in this as: a) I learned some relevant things; b) it was only a 20-hour-a-week course and; c) the girls were a whole lot friendlier.

      That said, it was a two-year course, which could probably have been taught in about 20 weeks. After that, it was a variety of low-paid jobs (I earned less working full-time at 18 than I did working part time at the market when I was 14). Then, through sheer desperation, I placed a little ad in the local newspaper offering to do people's accounts. Twenty years later that little ad had turned into a business worth pound;100 million and spawned a variety of other businesses from aviation to motor racing, publishing, engineering and a top London model agency.

      University could have been the next step after college, I suppose. But in those days university was a place for really bright kids to go to study classics or science, so it really never occurred to me that it was an option. How sad that university is now thrown open to everyone, regardless of talent, education or aptitude.

      Kids are told that if they get a degree they'll get a better job. Except they won't. The statistics prove this time and time again.

      This didn't matter too much when it didn't cost anything, but it's a whole different ball game now. In 2012, a student will be graduating with around pound;60,000 worth of debt to obtain a degree that is of no use at all, and with three years' less experience than the person who started out, aged 18, working on the reception desk of a company.

      The whole university system now is a con - a giant, unchallenged lie to keep unemployment numbers down and to make lazy politicians look good when they point to the fact that we have more graduates now than we used to.

      Am I against university for everyone? No, of course not. My lawyer and doctor have a degree - and rightly so. It is true that you can only get a place on management-trainee schemes with a top company if you have a degree. But the key point is that you need a good degree from a top-class university - not a 2:2 in media studies from a former polytechnic.

      Let's get rid of these class-driven, politically motivated lies and go back to a situation where university is the place for the brightest kids to study the hardest subjects and get the rest of them into work, on apprenticeships, learning something useful.

      What about the argument that university gives you a broad range of experience of life and allows you to socialise with interesting people? My retort is, what is to stop you meeting interesting people and socialising while you are working? Do we all stop being interesting and cool when we start work?

      Looking back, how would my life have been different if I had gone to university? I have never been asked if I have a degree (except at press interviews) and, more importantly, I have never even considered the notion when employing over 300 people in the last few years. I look for the person best suited for the job, whether they are a graduate or non- graduate.

      To me, the most useful thing teachers can do is to develop the child as an individual by building their confidence, their social skills and their empathy - everything that makes us successful in all areas of our lives, from business to relationships with our loved ones.

      I am often asked whether I would like my children to go to university. My answer is that I would want to consider the purpose of them going. Is it in order to qualify for a job, and if so is university the only way of doing that?

      Is it to learn something they find fascinating? If so, consider the cost and, again, whether there could be another way of learning the same thing. Or is it to get drunk and laid, in which case you may like to consider far cheaper and more reliable methods .

      Simon Dolan is founder, owner and managing director of SJD Accountancy, Easy Accountancy and Contractor Umbrella. His autobiographical guide, `How to Make Millions Without a Degree', is published by Matador (pound;9.99)

      WHAT ELSE?

      There's more to business pitches than Dragon's Den, but what are entrepreneurs all about? Try resources from robsonbusiness and dazzan74 to get your pupils started with this topic.

      In the forums

      Teachers discuss their own entrepreneurial ideas - what are your thoughts?

      Resources and forum links at

      WHAT ELSE?

      How would you sort the economy out? Join the lively debate on the TES forums.

      Celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week (14-20 November) by taking part in the School Enterprise Video Challenge - the deadline for entries is 20 November.

      Resources and forum links at

      Original headline: A PhD from the university of life did me just fine

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