As an experienced business adviser, and having worked for some twenty years in blue chip UK corporates, I know how important it is in business to connect with the world around us.
And I’m also very focused on why the UK doesn’t perform as well as the US, in terms of getting start ups from concept, through seed, and into mainstream business, or crossing the chasm as it’s known.
Doing some research, I discover that today, all mainstream US universities are engaged in quite high levels of business investment. In the UK, that’s restricted to only 4 universities, mainly the usual suspects, of course.
The other feature I note from first hand enquiries is that some universities are very dismissive about “outside knowledge”. They seem to feel that they know best. This has a number of damaging effects.
Firstly the world changes very rapidly today. We see the advance of social media on many fronts: social enterprise, social capital, social recruiting, social selling. How can UK universities keep up with the real world if they stick to an insular “we know best” approach ?
Secondly, students graduating from university need to be better prepared for the real world. In the UK, we know that employers constantly bemoan the need to “re-train” graduates in real world skills.
Yes, universities are very good at analysing business, and pulling out trends that businesses would do well to heed. But this analysis is often three years or more out of date. So how can graduates be ready to hit the ground running given such a constant broil of change.
And too many UK universities still haven’t even really cottoned on to one of the biggest trends coming out of social media, the desire to meet and talk on topics of mutual interest. And particularly where this might involve customers !!
These can be opportunities to meet the local community, business or civic, and find out what business or civic needs are. Such meetings might help highlight the fact that engineering graduates are in short supply in the UK. Ridiculously, this can be in the same city that an engineering university resides.
The other benefit from integrating better with the outside world is the feedback startups can get. Ideas may or may not be business worthy, but it’s very important to understand the market that any start up proposes to enter, and the more feedback a founder can get from experienced business people, principally about markets and customer buying behaviour, the better.
So UK universities had better realise the bubble they are creating, about the level of their own ability to prepare students for business, either as a start up or as a corporate citizen, is, like all bubbles, a dangerous thing for all participants to believe.
The first step to puncturing this UK bubble is to tear down the ivory walls, eat a little humble pie, and find local business people who can connect them with modern day skills, activities, tools and techniques.