The BBC have been running a story this morning that University applications in the UK are down by 9%. It comes across as something we should be worried about. I think we should be delighted. It’s great news if we want to kick start out economy. Let’s get those young brains with fresh ideas creating start up businesses.

There is too much emphasis on the idea that the way to get on in life is having great qualifications – and in particular a degree. I think it’s a dangerous fallacy. It’s education along with opportunity that matters – and that doesn’t necessarily involved schooling or universities.

I sat at lunch with a friend the other week. She was hosting a dinner with a chief executive of a major multi-national company – and she started to make apologies for the fact that she had dropped out of further education. I pulled her up on this, and reminded her that many of the greatest achievers dropped out or left school early. It was the week that Steve Jobs had died – so there was one example for starters! Finishing a course and getting a degree is not the route to success.

I regularly listen in to Desert Island Discs – an excellent biographical programme linked in with favourite music of high achievers. I am always surprised at how many subjects of the programme have dropped out. A recent Desert Island Discer was the broadcaster Danny Baker – he left school at 14.

This morning, I read an excellent Op-Ed (Opinion/Leader Column) in the New York Times called “Will Dropouts save America?”. It was by Michael Ellsburgh – whose book “The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think and It’s Not Too Late” will be published in the UK in mid-November. I’ve put in a pre-order for my copy.

In the article, Michael goes through a “credits list” of dropouts that have made such a difference to the world of technology.

Steve Jobs of Apple
Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft
Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone of Twitter
Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker of Facebook

He also talks how 20% of jobs are fulfilled by a formal process that involved a CV, qualifications, etc – but 80% depends on the personal network you create and the story you can tell. Don’t get hung up on the CV and degrees – people want to know the real you, not a set of stats.

I agree with Michael that the route to some careers will require formal qualifications. The professions such as lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc. However, the economies of the world will be driven by business creation – and that’s what we should help many of our school leavers towards. I would like to see equal support given to young people in creating new business as in applying for universities to get degrees. I would also like to see the willingness of governments (and banks) to give the same funding support for new startup ventures that they would to running up debt on studies.

Also this morning, Sachin Rekhi (founder of Connected – which has just sold to LinkedIn) shared with me a story in Fast Company magazine. The story “Silicon Valley’s new hiring strategy” – told the story of an innovative programme in the US to find coders away from the conventional trawl of CVs. It also had a great graphic showing some successful dropouts, entitled “we don’t need no education” (I’m a sucker for a Pink Floyd lyric!)

So you can add Richard Branson, Frank Lloyd-Wright, Lady Gaga and Walt Disney to that list!

I liked a quote from my twitter friend, Sarah Doody, yesterday:

“How do you balance a start up and having a life? You DON’T. If all your chips are in, it IS your life.”

Let’s get people creating start ups, having a focus – and not killing time in a 3 year trip to University. Let’s drive those University applications down. Create something, learn out in the real world – and choose life!