Students fear they lack skills to set up business

Many third-level students want to set up their own businesses after graduation, but college supports to do so might be lacking, a new study suggests.

While one-in-six have the strongest ambitions to start their own ventures in the future, barely half said their college encouraged entrepreneurial activities.

One-in-four did not think their college encouraged them, and one-in-five were not able to offer an opinion on the question.

The findings raise questions about the ability of higher education institutions to meet government requirements that graduates have the skills to start their own firms.

The survey got the views of 800 Irish students, more than 80% of them still working towards primary degrees and the rest undertaking postgraduate studies.

Their opinions were canvassed as part of the Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students’ Survey (GUESS): 122,000 students responded in 50 countries.

The Irish report, authored by Dublin City University (DCU) business school’s Eric Clinton and Roisin Lyons, shows that three-quarters who took part last summer were studying at University College Cork: 10.5% were attending DCU; 8% were at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, and smaller numbers were at University of Limerick (1.5%), Cork Institute of Technology, and Trinity College Dublin (0.6% each).

Nearly two-thirds of participants were female, 85% were Irish, and the questions examined their intentions immediately after they graduated and in five years’ time.

More than one-in-10 were already trying to set up their own company, while two-thirds hoped it would be their main occupation after graduation.

A further 27% see themselves as entrepreneurs or working in their own business within five years of completing their studies.

But 74% of the surveyed students had not yet taken an entrepreneurship course at their university.

Those taken by one-quarter of students had been compulsory, with lectures, workshops, and guest speakers the most common form of entrepreneurship education.

But events like external competitions, simulating a business venture, developing a prototype, or the chance to deliver a Dragon’s Den-type business pitch were among the elements used least.

There was a strong tradition of family businesses among the students, with construction, architecture, engineering, and agriculture the more prominent trades.

“This research provides interesting insights about family business and succession in the next generation,” said Mr Clinton, director of DCU’s Centre for Family Business.

“Academic institutions need to foster this entrepreneurial mindset and assist the next generation of business owners to start their own firm or engage in the family business succession process,” he said.

Education Minister Richard Bruton wants third-level students to have access to facilities that encourage creativity and innovation, as the former jobs minister says that Ireland does not have enough entrepreneurs.

Mr Bruton hopes that a series of third-level summer camps, which his department plans to fund this year, will increase the focus on entrepreneurship in the education and training system.

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