With the recent launch of the next round of government funded Start-Up Loans aimed at encouraging and supporting young people to set up their own business how will these loans fit in with the current landscape of increased university tuition fees and high youth unemployment? Are young people really worth investing in, and if so what messages are our government sending to today's youth?
For an 18-year-old leaving school or college now, you are looking at paying a colossal £9,000 per year in tuition fees for three years, if a degree is what you want. On top of this are maintenance loans for living expenses and interest rates. The Independent recently reported the projected cost of a degree in the UK over a lifetime to be a staggering £100,000. Comparing these figures with the package of support and opportunities the government and charities like the Princes Trust are offering to these same young people to set up in business, it makes the option of taking the entrepreneurial route ever-increasingly appealing.
When launching my company, the London Jewellery School aged 21, I reached the dilemma of finding myself at odds with university life but simultaneously not wanting to join the 9-5 rat race. Having saved up £5,000 from my current job, I made the bold move to leave both university and employment to set up my own business and become self-employed. Despite warnings at the time from most around me, this was personally the best decision I've ever made and had I not, I wouldn't have a successful 500k (and growing) business today. Without that initial investment I would have really struggled to launch a business on my own, which is why I strongly support the new Start-Up Loans scheme funded by the government and initiated by local organisations. Perhaps more invaluable than the money on offer is the package of mentoring and support, it seems there has never been a better time to be a young entrepreneur!
However I am somewhat conflicted by all of this, whist the Start-Up Loans will be excellent for young people wanting or considering going into business, not everyone wants or should have to be an entrepreneur. Should young people not have options? The government is sending mixed messages if only giving out £2,500 to start a business, but claiming that degrees are worth £9000 per year. The message is: business we'll help with (so is it better?), but education is financially worth more, but you're on your own with funding it (or you can have a loan that will take you a lifetime to pay back). Are young people not worth investing in, in their own right? Whist celebrating the support going to enterprise we, and most importantly the government, mustn't forget that this is not a replacement for funding for education or offering stable job opportunities to young people who want careers in other fields. It seems to me that the government is not seeking a real solution to the financial crisis by only investing in entrepreneurship as a proposed catchall fix to youth unemployment.
To sum up, when faced with being given £2,500 to start a business or spend £100,000 on a degree I know which I would choose. So does this mean that education no longer has pride of place in our society? Yet the majority of jobs still specifically require graduates, even in entry-level positions. Of course there is always the option of doing a degree first and then setting up in business but in my experience these are two completely different skill sets and as many famous entrepreneurs show, such as Alan Sugar and Richard Branson, degrees are not necessary in the world of business.
In answer to my titled question I certainly feel that young people are worth investing in, in both the way that the government are doing, to help fuel the economy, but it should also be as a way of enriching lives, providing opportunities and helping to build a more equal society (things we are not doing much of at the moment!). It may have never been a better time to be a young entrepreneur but I think it is one of the worst times, financially, to be a young person with a lethal combination of high education fees, unattainable house prices and a lack of employment prospects. This may be a step in the right direction but lets not forget how far we still have to go.
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