A sturdy base to build upon

12th December 1997 at 00:00
In his second report from the Scotland-Germany enterprise conference in Berlin, Neil Munro discovers how FE is responding.

Ann Justice likes to tell the story of the further education student who walked five miles through the snow to get to college. His explanation, she said, was that he was interested in starting up his own business one day and was determined never to be deflected by mere weather from opening his doors.

But Mrs Justice, who runs the Centre for Enterprise Education in FE which is shortly to merge with its higher education equivalent, acknowledges that there is some way to go before hearts and minds embrace the "enterprise culture".

A survey of 245 students in seven colleges, carried out for a new higher national certificate and degree course in small business management, found only 44 per cent had considered self-employment. Risk-takers were even thinner on the ground with over 90 per cent saying job security was of paramount concern. And only 9 per cent suggested enterprise was about "making a profit": "turning ideas into action" was the preferred definition.

Asked to name an entrepreneur, Richard Branson was way out ahead among the responses with Andrew Carnegie and Anita Roddick sharing a poor second place. Some dynamic characters even mentioned "myself".

The student survey showed nonetheless that there are foundations on which to build: over 60 per cent wanted enterprise studies to be part of their FE programme.

This is just what Falkirk College plans to do by embedding enterprise and entrepreneurship across the curriculum. By March it intends to offer staff development, beginning with awareness-raising, and establish an enterprise education centre. The eventual aim is that all full-time students will be able to study enterprise as a unit, module or workshop.

Alison Gavin, who works in the college's school of management, human resources and quality assurance, says they intend a two-pronged approach which would serve the needs of both students and small enterprises.

"We wish to embed entrepreneurial attitudes in the curriculum as part of students' self-development, which will give them some reference points if they want to strike out on their own in the future," she says.

Falkirk is one of nine colleges which, along with the FE enterprise centre, has just won EU funding totalling Pounds 2 million over two years to support the training needs of small businesses with less than 50 employees. There will be a link with partners in France and the Netherlands. The colleges will develop training packs deliverable through open learning or on CD Rom and offer training needs analysis.

There will also be an "entrepreneurs' forum" in each college to help small businesses network with each other and also make contact with those who have made a success of larger organisations.

West Lothian College is another participant in the EU Adapt programme. "This is missionary work," Christine Richard, the college's business enterprise co-ordinator, says. "We hope to change the culture to generate a positive attitude to enterprise. This is an ongoing process but we're very much at the early, awareness-raising stage." A student entrepreneurship club is being established.

The college is also preparing what Mrs Richard describes as a "warts-and-all" video showing the experience of people who have set up their own business. "It's not about the Richard Bransons of this world," she said.

It is more about people like James Armstrong, a star of the video who runs his own one-man agricultural machinery repair business in West Lothian. He stressed the importance of the right kind of advice at the outset, particularly in drawing up a business plan, arranging finance and keeping accounts.

Inverness College, which is also involved in the Adapt programme, is focussing on a "starship enterprise project". Presumably intended "to boldly go", this will develop a game and learning pack designed particularly to help business start-ups.

Like all the other outcomes from the EU programme, the Inverness products will be made available to other FE colleges in Scotland - seen as a strength of the Scottish system.

Kilmarnock College, another participant, has a grand if not grandiloquent vision beginning with staff development seminars designed "to support staff, recognise the need for change and, within a nurturing environment, lead them towards the inculculation of enterprising habits that will help them become proactive leaders in today's complex and rapidly changing global environment. Beginning with self-analysis, staff will identify their strengths and talents as well as their passion."

Reid Kerr College in Paisley will attempt to embed "an enterprise ethos" throughout the college. It hopes to develop student enterprise projects, student businesses, and increase the number of students achieving enterprise units or modules. The college is appointing an enterprise officer to spearhead the initiative and plans to establish an annual enterprise award.

Mrs Justice recognises, however, that a key element in the Adapt programme is staff training - particularly training trainers. The ambition is to train 400 college staff, including 270 trainers.

Lauder College in Dunfermline is already ahead of the game, with a staff development programme to foster entrepreneurship now in its second year; some 30 lecturers have been through the complete cycle, which is 16 per cent of the academic staff. This involves lecturers going on business placements, after which they write up teaching materials to embed enterprise as a "core skill" in the curriculum.

The college has established the Carnegie innovation centre as a resource base for staff and says its overall aim is "to encourage students to start up businesses by creating an awareness of enterprise among the lecturing staff. "

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