Sue Dutton: Our four million students should be thrown into the dragons' den

Colleges are dragons' dens. This is not a slur on the students or staff, or a reference to the canteen curry; I'm referring, of course, to the collegiate spirit of enterprise and the TV show.

Further education is the natural incubator for new business. The majority of lecturers have industry experience, and between one-third and half of them have run their own businesses.

Many students already know which career path they will take – whether they are going to be a plumber, an engineer or a jeweller – so the steps towards setting up a new business are that much smaller. Also, FE students tend to be from more diverse backgrounds, so colleges have the potential to make progress in addressing what is called an enterprise deficit among women and in some ethnic minority and socioeconomic groups.

In last year's Budget, Gordon Brown announced £180m of investment over three years to continue funding for enterprise education in the UK. As yet, it is unclear how that money will be spent – previously it has been restricted to schools.

We would like a clear policy commitment to investment in enterprise so that, across our 400 colleges, four million students have the chance to experience enterprise education.

Government is right when it declares that enterprise education is a sound investment. More than half of our workforce runs, or is employed by, a small business. In industries such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, this figure tops 90 per cent. Enterprise boosts productivity, increases competition and innovation, creates employment and prosperity and revitalises communities. In parallel (and possibly as a result of TV series such as Dragons' Den), attitudes towards entrepreneurship are improving; the proportion of young people aged 16-24 considering going into business has risen, reaching 18 per cent in 2005.

We get a good return on our investment with FE, as a pilot project in the North of England has recently shown. A total of 32 colleges were given seed-corn grants of £9,000, which led to specially trained staff introducing enterprise initiatives across the region.

Successes saw City of Sunderland College students creating a portable nail-bar, technology experts at Dearne Valley College launching an IT company after receiving advice from a panel of local business people; and Hull College hairdressing apprentices setting up their own salons. At Lancaster and Morecombe College, students manage a profitable patisserie; Leeds College of Art and Design students have created their own clothing label, now stocked in several city boutiques; and the bright lights of South Tyneside College created a candle factory. In all, 16,000 students were involved in the projects, learning business start-up skills and fostering innovation and social enterprise.

These projects are testimony to the can-do culture in colleges. Now we would like to see the northern enterprise project replicated across the country, and sustained political and financial support for enterprise in FE, so that many more students are given the opportunity to brave the dragons' den.

The author is acting chief executive of the Association of Colleges

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Senior Textiles / Fashion Technician

£22000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To contribute to the day-to-da...

Recruitment Genius: Health and Social Care NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It is also essential that you p...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£30000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An independent boys' school sit...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'