This year a record number of Scots have applied to university. It is fair to assume that, as well as taking time to learn and develop knowledge, applicants view higher education as a stepping stone to a rewarding career. Yet according to some research, Scotland appears to be lagging behind other parts of the world in providing the knowledge, skills and support needed by businesses to build and protect the legacy of their enterprise for future generations.
Graduates aiming to carve their career in business are entitled to have high expectations of the courses they are investing in. Rightly they should assume they will emerge capable of adding to the country’s knowledge base through further research or with the skills industry is crying out for.
That leaves universities facing the challenges of not just keeping pace with changes in economic circumstances and the needs of the innovation economy, but to be ahead of the curve so that neither students, nor the industries they aspire to contribute to, are short-changed.
Learning that is tailored to priority sectors for economic development is one approach that helps to produce a well prepared pool of graduates equipped to drive innovation and growth in the Scottish economy. Robust programmes rooted in research that create understanding that industry requires are the best way for graduates to play their part in accelerating improvement and productivity in enterprise.
There is an identified gap in the provision of intermediate skills in Scotland. Progressive learning programmes that are responsive to the needs of industry and society, and give students the opportunity and space to develop leadership skills, are much needed. Only by consulting widely with employers and business experts, and by taking account of research-based academic excellence, will Scotland’s higher education sector continue to bring forward vibrant and innovative courses of study. It is important that there is a choice of learning programmes that are directly relevant to the key industries highlighted as central to the country’s economic growth and where there is an identified need for high performing teams.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are vital drivers of Scotland’s diverse economy accounting for 99.3 per cent of all private sector enterprises. Around 63 per cent of SMEs in Scotland are family businesses and it remains the case that certain areas marked out by Scottish Government as being key to economic growth such as tourism and creative industries are hugely dependent on small, often family businesses.
This year Queen Margaret University has added new business, enterprise and management postgraduate courses directly aligned to areas of key importance to Scotland’s economy with routes in events, hospitality and tourism, and family and small enterprises. The MBA and MSc in international management and leadership courses replace conventional dissertations with a hands-on business or community based project, working with commercial or social enterprises to take projects from an idea through to execution and evaluation. Students build up practical business experience and develop opportunities to enhance employability.
There is a saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” and developing the long-term success and sustainability of existing businesses is crucial to Scotland’s success in wealth creation. If businesses are not sustainable, and fail to pass from one seller to another, or from one generation to another in the case of family businesses, then key sectors for growth will tend to rely on new start-up enterprises, and knowledge is lost.
Investing in research and universities’ relationships with business is essential to allow the economy to achieve maximum potential. Innovation and sustainability are the backbone of all sustainable businesses, across all sectors of the economy. Without a pool of individuals with the leadership qualities, skills and ability to drive and manage sustainable innovation, Scotland will fall behind in the face of increasing competition from overseas markets and lose an opportunity to decisively impact the nation’s economic growth.
• Claire Seaman, reader in enterprise and family business, Queen Margaret University.