Don't knock enterprise

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Ministers should be congratulated on taking action that is vital to Scotland's economy, says Charles Skene

I was surprised and disappointed by the negative viewpoint (TESS, December 2027) of our review of enterprise education and the recommendations in our report, Determined to Succeed. Our traditional education system is still rooted in a past when most young people obtained well paid employment for life. Not now. The business world has changed and self-employment will become the way forward for more and more Scots whether through "necessity" entrepreneurship or "opportunity" entrepreneurship. To help them to compete and succeed, our education system needs to light the spark of enterprise which has been allowed to lie dormant in all but the most entrepreneurial.

We Scots boast of our ability to invent and innovate, but this genius, unfortunately, has not metamorphosed into more employment and wealth in Scotland. Scottish Enterprise's "Strategy for Scotland" showed how we could have had hundreds of thousands more jobs if only we had matched, per head of population, the number of new ventures set up in England. The Technology Ventures report showed how one university in Gothenburg created more spin-out companies and employment than all the Scottish universities put together. The 2001 Global Enterprise Monitor report, which measures entrepreneurial activity in 29 nations plus Scotland and Wales, placed Scotland in the lowest of three bands.

Babson Universityin the USA, the leading university in the world in the teaching of entrepreneurship, believes "ideas are a dime a dozen, it's what you do with them that counts". Our anti-enterprise, risk-averse culture has had a disastrous effect on the economy. It is the responsibility of political and business leaders to recognise what is wrong and to institute change when change is needed. I introduced the Young Entrepreneurs' Award in 1986 to encourage an enterprise culture in Scotland, and I have long argued that enterprise education is so vital that it must be available to all by embedding it into the curriculum. This is what we propose.

In 1994, when chairman of the CBI Scotland Enterprise Group, I invited political leaders and leading educationists to meet, and we unanimously agreed that enterprise education for all Scots was essential. As George Robertson, now Lord Robertson, said: "It was the first time that the leaders of all political parties had agreed on anything." Unfortunately, nothing happened. Until now. The Scottish Executive is to be congratulated on taking action.

Your coverage states that there is no study which shows that a work-related curriculum "improves the exam performance of the rest". Quite true. A work-related curriculum and enterprise activities are intended to improve Scotland's economic performance, not its exam performance. Successful entrepreneurs will tell you that their success in business had little to do with passing exams. It was to do with attitude, willingness to take risks and determination to succeed.

Again you quote the links or, rather, lack of links, between 20 years of school-based enterprise activities and later business start-ups. I welcome recent initiatives which have dramatically increased the number of enterprise activities in schools, but it is too optimistic to expect that exposing a small number of pupils for a few short periods of time to enterprise activities as in the past would have changed our culture and resulted in new business creation.

Your leader agrees that "pupils must be made keenly aware of the world of work as well as their own potential to contribute to it", but your conclusion that this will not necessarily come about by "ramming enterprise education down their throats, or symbolically promoting budding entrepreneurs at the expense of those less gifted in that direction" is nonsensical.

Entitlement to enterprise education for all will produce, hopefully, a few entrepreneurial stars and many, many more enterprising Scots. It will also increase the self-confidence, creativity, flexibility and leadership skills of all pupils whether they go into professions, academia, healthcare, the trades or self-employment. A win, win situation for Scotland.

atricia Hewitt, Secretary for Trade and Industry, commissioned Michael Porter of Harvard Business School to review the UK's economic performance. Speaking about the UK, Professor Porter said: "The lack of business and jobs in disadvantaged urban areas fuels not only a crushing cycle of poverty but also crippling social conditions; new business formation has been stunted by the attitude that failure is unforgivable; working hard or striving to earn a great deal of money is viewed with a great deal of suspicion in Britain, and the British educational system lags behind that of virtually all the nations we studied." Harsh words indeed, but home truths frequently are.

The Scottish Enlightenment, and Adam Smith's theories about how the Wealth of Nations was increased, influenced the whole world. I believe the opportunity exists for the Scottish Parliament to lead Scotland into the Second Scottish Enlightenment; a new age when every young Scot is educated to understand the economic facts of life, is given the opportunity to develop their latent entrepreneurial skills and is encouraged to believe they can be successful - if determined to succeed.

Our recommendations give the Scottish Parliament the way forward to improve our economy, help Scotland to be more competitive internationally and improve the lives of the many thousands of people in our deprived areas.

Charles P Skene is a "serial entrepreneur" and Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Robert Gordon University. In 2002, Mr Skene endowed the chair of entrepreneurship at Robert Gordon which recently renamed its Centre of Entrepreneurship in his honour.

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