What recommendations are made in the GEM Scottish report?

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report (GEM) is a survey, now conducted across the world in over 80 nations, which measures the attitudes to entrepreneurship in these countries. In addition to measuring this by country, here in the UK the four devolved nations are also counted separately, with the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Strathclyde being responsible for the Scottish survey.

The particular chart that caught my eye was one which plotted relative attitudes and opportunity to entrepreneurship, and it shows that although we are strong (first quartile) in opportunity, education and competition we counter that by being very weak (fourth quartile) in the relative status we award to entrepreneurs, and that our ‘fear of failure’ is very poor.

We are also relatively weak in our perception of opportunity and also we don’t score high on knowing anybody who has started a business – i.e having good ‘role models’.

In other words we have a fairly good environment for starting businesses here in Scotland, with a healthy supply of risk capital and a range of good advice available. Where we are still weak is the attitude of the average Scot towards starting a new enterprise, and their worry about taking the risks involved. As a result, our business birth rate trails the rest of the UK.

Preparation for academia – or the workplace?

The Scottish Science Advisory Council last year held five gatherings attended largely by people from high-growth technology-based businesses. The conclusions of these meetings was fascinating; all agreed that the quality of University education in Scotland was first-class in imparting theoretical scientific, mathematical or engineering knowledge, but that they all fell short in providing practical guidance on how to apply these skills in practice.

In other words, students were not being provided with the skills they actually need in the workplace. They are still being prepared for an academic career, despite the fact that well over 90% of them will never follow one.

Historically, larger corporations used to hire graduates and put them on a formal ‘graduate training programme’ in order to give them the negotiation, project management, and budgeting skills that they will need to do well in industry. However these days more and more good graduates don’t actually join larger corporations and instead work with smaller companies where such training programmes are not available.

Applying world-class STEM skills to the real world 

The conclusion of the Scottish Science Advisory Council was that business awareness and management skills should be embedded in all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, and these should be a feature of all STEM degrees. All students, even the few who who pursue an academic career, will need to actually budget a project, and monitor and report on its progress, so these skills are essential.

In addition to this, there should be an optional opportunity for students who wish to experience some entrepreneurship skills in subjects such as marketing, raising risk capital, and corporate governance to gain some knowledge in these areas.

Our STEM skills are world class – but we need to ensure that we can also reap the economic benefits of our cutting edge science, and we need to ensure that our graduates are effective when they join the real world.

More information

Download the latest GEM report

Visit the GEM website

Ian Ritchie was the Co-Chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Council from 2010 to 2012.