New data suggests that half of recent graduates received no advice or encouragement on starting their own business – a worrying prospect for the future growth of new business in the UK.

The research also found that male graduates are more than four times more likely to feel confident about starting a freelance career than female graduates, with just over one in ten female graduates feeling confident about working for themselves.

The data, from a new survey of 500 recent university graduates carried out by Opinium and the online platform for freelancers, UnderPinned, also finds that 80% of graduates believe universities and other educational institutions are failing to provide adequate tools, courses, and advice to equip students and graduates for freelance careers. 

Meanwhile 78% believe that universities are too focused on traditional career paths and not enough on building marketable skills.

Very few graduates say they were provided with technical training on key skills needed by those working for themselves – such as compiling tax returns (11%), finding clients (9%) and preparing contracts (9%). Nearly two thirds of recent graduates (63%) say they believe universities should offer sessions on running your own business including invoicing and tax returns. 

According to the latest ONS data, there are currently 4,232,000 self-employed people in the UK, which means people who run their business for themselves make up 15% of the UK’s workforce. The latest available data, however, also shows people under the age of 24 represent just 3.8% of the UK’s self-employed. 

For comparison, those aged 50-54 make up 13.7% and ages 45-49 make up 13%. Analysis shows there is also a significant gender gap – with the self-employed in the UK made up of 65% men and 35% women. 

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“These results underline that universities are far too focused on traditional employment paths, and seriously failing to grasp that the world of work is changing,” said Albert Azis-Clauson, CEO of UnderPinned.

“People no longer want to simply be ushered into full-time employment, but want to build their own businesses, work flexibly, and market their skills.

“The UK has huge entrepreneurial potential as shown by our large self-employed workforce – but it is still heavily skewed towards older people and career switchers. 

“Our educational system is failing to tap into the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit by doing so little to help young people build marketable skills and confidence in their own commercial potential.

“It’s clear this is particularly letting down women, and it’s frankly shocking that female graduates are leaving university with four times less confidence in working for themselves than their male counterparts. Universities must step up and prepare students for the world of work as it is now, not what it once was.”

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UnderPinned is partnering with four leading universities in London to support students to commercialise their skills and run their own businesses. 

These partnerships give around 28,200 students – at the University of the Arts London, London College of Communication, St Mary’s University, Twickenham and London Metropolitan – access to an online platform which provides a ‘virtual office’, including tools to build a freelance portfolio, find and manage clients and projects, and produce invoices and contracts. 

Students can also participate in a Freelance Business Accelerator programme, a comprehensive online course with modules helping students learn how to price their work, pitch to clients, and build their portfolio.