As a French woman with a degree in philosophy, my first job out of college brought me to the United Kingdom. After going back home, it seems I wasn’t the only person thinking it was a good idea to leave France for career reasons. A lot of my friends see their future in France as gloomy and view going abroad as the best decision young graduates can make to kick-start their career.
But while my French friends are concerned about job prospects after college, I’ve noticed acquaintances in the UK questioning whether to even attend college, as the combination of skyrocketing tuition, bleak employment prospects and the constant reminder that young entrepreneurs have succeeded without stepping foot inside a classroom has made attending universities not that attractive.
So do you study or launch a startup? In my opinion, it has a lot to do with your location. Let’s take a look at how countries are either supporting entrepreneurship or pushing towards the corporate life and encouraging academic paths.
France: A track record is essential.
Only 5 percent of French entrepreneurs are between the ages of 18 and 34, while the European average is 8 percent, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Report. Supporting those findings, 5,000 entrepreneurs left France in 2012, up from the usual 800 to 1,000 leaving the country each year, as highlighted by The Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal Issues. But why is leaving such a large phenomenon?
It seems elitism has a lot to do with this, and the country is ruled by major contradictions. Universities might be accessible to most but 3-year degrees are considered so low that a master’s degree is almost viewed as mandatory. As for entrepreneurship, there is a vibrant investors’ community, yet funds are often only accessible to those who already have a track record.
«We are a generation who is frustrated by ageism, a lack of diversity, and the perception only business school graduates can start companies,» said Alice Zagury, the co-founder of startup accelerator TheFamily. «The ecosystem here is toxic but we’ll try to make it good.»
While some entrepreneurs may be frustrated with the startup ecosystem, there have been successful companies come out of France, like AppGratis and Skimm.
UK: Portable skills are valued.
My personal experience taught me that where the French system can be somewhat rigid, there is more fluidity in the UK. A degree seems to validate an ability to learn and achieve, rather than being viewed as a subject-specific qualification.
The importance given to portable skills, such as effective communication or an understanding of internet security, in an increasingly online business world, has been recognized both at government and employers level, with the demand for vocational training doubling.
For me, this type of environment played a critical role in getting me to where I am today in my career. Skills acquired during my degree, like analytical thinking, have been instrumental in my career.
If you feel ready to start up your business as you’re leaving school, the UK system is supportive. In fact, young entrepreneurs are much more common than in France, with 9 percent of UK entrepreneurs being between the ages of 18 to 34 (higher than the European average).
US: The importance of the network.
Being historically a country built on enterprise spirit, it isn’t surprising to see that 13 percent of entrepreneurs are between the ages of 18 and 34, nearly three times as much as in France. The perception that failure is not a liability but an experience to build on, probably has a lot to do with this fact, along with a strong startup community.
But should people ditch school for building a company? If they’re ready, why not. However, it might be difficult to get the credibility you need without a degree and a network of connections to help you launch. And what better place to work on your idea and build relationships than at university? Aside from the piece of paper you’ll get after four years, going to universities also facilitates meeting like-minded people who will help you refine your idea and a pool of potential customers to test your start-up on.
China: Entrepreneurship is key to growth.
According to Yasheng Huang, professor of international management specializing in Chinese economy and business, China is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world, with a relatively low fear of failure, high status associated to successful entrepreneurs and one of the highest levels of media attention for entrepreneurship among the countries surveyed by the GEM. But where we often understand entrepreneurship as tech startups, thinking of the likes of Google, Apple or Twitter, in a country with an emerging economy, technical entrepreneurship is not the end-all, be-all.
Related: How to Do Business in China
Obviously, there are exceptions, like the success of tech company Tencent, behind the high profile app WeChat. But overall the country tends to turn more towards rural innovation, as it can help generate domestic consumption and lower its high dependency on export. In fact, rural entrepreneurial firms represent the most dynamic force in the Chinese economy, according to the Journal of Small Business Management. Young Chinese seem to be aware of the opportunities available, with 13 percent of China’s entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 34.