It’s obvious why the latest group to seek to ‘transform’ FE (mere ‘change’ is so last century) should want to call itself the ‘Gazelle Group’. Gazelles are slim and pretty; the group’s supporters even claim that they are agile, though I’ve never seen one climb a tree. They are fleet of foot, tread lightly on the earth, and are always alert.

This conveniently ignores the fact that in the great scheme of things the main role of gazelles is to help turn grass into hyenas. They fill the same niche between herb and hunter that the lemming does in colder climates, and though ‘the lemming league’ would have less of a ring to it, it’s no less appropriate. Lemmings are arguably more agile but, like gazelles, are first and foremost prey.

The antelopes, however, do have one feature that resonates with FE: they engage in ‘pronking’. For those not familiar with the term it means that when danger approaches, instead of running away they repeatedly leap stiff legged into the air.

Spending a lot of energy going nowhere does not seem a wise move but the aim apparently is to say to the predator ‘Look at me. I’m tough. Eat someone else’. There is always a lot of pronking in the FE sector.

The aim of the Gazelle Group is to promote enterprise. The underpinning rationale is that young people can no longer rely on being employed by large organisations and instead need to prepare themselves to create their own future. They need to show initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial skills. They need to be good at networking and on occasion prepared to take risks. They need, in the vernacular, to ‘look out for themselves’.

To a large extent this is wise and not particularly novel advice. Those who show initiative have always done better than those who wait for things to be handed to them on a plate. Those who are excited by a challenge have always done better than those who are fearful of change. Imagination and creativity are important alongside technical skills.

Spending a lot of energy going nowhere does not seem a wise move but the aim apparently is to say to the predator ‘Look at me. I’m tough. Eat someone else’. There is always a lot of pronking in the FE sector.”

Furthermore it is good to stress that learning in colleges should be active, should engage and excite students through project work and give opportunities for team working. Just repeating classes in English and maths, important as they are, is not going to motivate many.
There are, however, serious dangers if the idea of entrepreneurship is taken to extremes, as so many ideas are these days. Here are the top three.

First, the reality is that very few young people will become self-employed, particularly in the early stages of their careers. The proportion of the workforce that is self-employed is small, and even that number is inflated by those who pretend not to be employees for tax purposes, as well as those odd jobbing to pad out a pension. Suggesting to young people that they can all be the next Richard Branson risks setting up thousands to fail.

Secondly, the idea that advanced economies are characterised by heroic individual entrepreneurs is a romantic myth. As Ha-Joon Chang, author of “20 things they don’t tell you about capitalism” convincingly shows, many developing countries have enterprising individuals in abundance and it does them no good at all. Economic performance is primarily driven by complex and sophisticated systems of finance, stable institutional frameworks and the rule of law.

Most importantly, however, a focus on entrepreneurship risks transferring responsibility for unemployment from failed institutional arrangements to the young people themselves. They can be made to believe that they are out of work, not because of misguided economic policy, but because they are not enterprising enough. This, of course, will suit the predators in our system who offer interns the ‘opportunity’ to work for nothing and see the answer to poverty as ‘getting on your bike’. FE ought to offer a more sophisticated narrative.

Mick Fletcher is a Further
Education Consultant



Your thoughts

Leave a Reply to Steve Hewitt Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 Comments

  1. Scott Upton

    Excellent article Mick.

    My favourites from the ‘Enterprising Futures’ foreword are:

    “This report is nothing less than breathtaking in its scope and ambition.”

    and,

    “This report is the most substantive educational development for entrepreneurship activity we have seen in a developed economy…”

    Really?? Something in Gazelle is “nothing less than breathtaking”, but I won’t suggest what.

    Scott Upton, Sandwell College

  2. Amarjit Basi

    Enterprising Futures is a seminal paper that seeks to engage and challenge current thinking and approaches to learning and skills. We’re delighted to have achieved this! The term ‘gazelle’ refers to the critical 6% – young, innovative and enterprising companies who are adding proportionately growing contributions to GDP/GVA Similarly, a ‘vital 6%’ – 20 FE colleges (of 316 in England) have come together to form a new genetation of colleges, Gazelle Colleges, who by focusing on entrepreneurial learning recognise the shift from the technological to the creative age – an era where the core capabilities of curiousity, creativity and collaboration, alongside the acquisition of technical and academic knowledge, understanding and skills will be the distinguishing attributes for individuals, communities and economies to thrive in a fast-changing, volatile world. We are fundamentally changing our proposition to our learners and communities, our curricula and delivery models; and our organisational capabilities to achieve this. Catch us, if you can!

    • Andy Wilson

      Surely the point of the enterprise and entrepreneurial approach is to equip young people with the skills they need to be competitive in an economy which has changed, where getting jobs is difficult and, even in the biggest orhanisations, employers are looking for the sort of soft and hard skills an entrepreneurial outlook provides. I don’t know if this requires us to ‘fundamentally change our proposition to our learners, etc, etc’ as Amarjit suggests. However, we should ensure that entrepreneurial education is available for those who want it and can take advantage of all it brings.

    • Jan Korscak

      Amarjit proposes an entirely uncritical reading of ‘fast capitalism’, confusing an ideological project – the deregulated economy – with the more complex ‘realities’ that shape the lives of our students (and teachers for that matter). This reflects a wider intellectual shallowness on the part of the so-called leaders and thinkers of the ‘new’ FE. It’s rather sad that FE Principles are seduced by entrepreneurial mythology, and forget the broader civic mission of FE. I’m certainly not against innovation and creative practice, but I also recognise that when FE colleges attempt to re-position themselves as entrepreneurial institutions this tells us something about the failings of entrepreneurialism. I also recognise that for every successful entrepreneur there are more who are not. The ‘volatile, fast changing world’ Amarjit is so in awe of is one that also generates failure and inequality. As educators, our commitment is also to the youngsters who end up in the low paid, insecure jobs on which the success of the new ‘entrepreneurs’ is based. If Amarjit wants to be an entrepreneur he should go off, get some private investment and do the business. Rather, he wants the star-dust, whilst drawing a rather generous salary funded out of the public purse. Can I challenge Amarjit to read Liquid Times or Wasted Lives by Zygmunt Bauman, or Richard Sennett’s the Culture of the new Capitalism – brilliant antidotes to his unthinking rapture. Reading his post, I’m also reminded of Orwell’s comment on how language can ‘give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’.

  3. What I support about this is a more forward looking approach to education and the future prospects of young people. Employers themselves recognise that it is not all about young people actually becoming individual business owners as they leave school but enterprise is also a vehicle for encouraging young people to think about what business is all about and to get a bigger picture of the world of work. Those with enterprising mindsets who go into employment have greater potential to create opportunities for themselves, their employers and the economy. And it shouldn’t wait until FE never mind HE, it can start at primary. Klaus Schwab Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, ‘entrepreneurship is the engine fuelling innovation, employment generation and economic growth’, and taking into account ‘the power that education has in developing the skills that generate an entrepreneurial mindset and in preparing future leaders for solving more complex, interlinked and fast-changing problems’ (quoted in a recent QAA report for Higher Ed) and “…almost a third of business owners call for enterprise lessons in Britain to make entrepreneurship become a valid career choice, recent research by the bank Coutts & Co has revealed” http://www.startupdonut.co.uk/news/startup/one-in-three-entrepreneurs-calls-for-enterprise-courses-in-uk-schools

  4. Clever, intellectual carping is not the same thing as debate or engagement. Sure, not everyone can be in business on their own. But doesn’t every employee need to be entrepreneurial, given the global competitive environment, which demand constant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness? FE needs a wake-up call. Debate, engage, but keep the intellectual carping – which gets no youngster a job – for the common room perhaps, where it is all too common.