The Role Of Academia In The World Of Startups Many people have to learn adaptability through their own experiences and mistakes. But a degree allows you to learn adaptability in a structured, nurturing environment by engaging in real life situations.

By Fiona Oster

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Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson have several things in common. Aside from being among the most successful entrepreneurs in history, they never completed higher education. As such, it begs the question: does academia still have a role to play in the world of startups? Do today's entrepreneurs really need a degree?

Yes, absolutely. Higher education remains crucial not only to individual entrepreneurs, but the whole startup ecosystem that fuels new businesses, innovation, and economic growth. That is the case everywhere, including Dubai, which boasts one of the most vibrant and fruitful startup scenes anywhere in the world.

Higher education is not just about securing a valuable qualification. It is about developing the skills, knowledge and experience you need to thrive in future endeavors. For instance, university and, more specifically, business management courses, can help budding entrepreneurs learn at an early stage arguably the most important skill in business– adaptability.

Adaptability is being able to thrive and grow in the face of rapid change. As the last two years have demonstrated, the world of business never stands still. Business constantly evolves and the most resilient models are created by people who have an in-depth knowledge of the business and economic landscape.

Many people have to learn adaptability through their own experiences and mistakes. But a degree allows you to learn adaptability in a structured, nurturing environment by engaging in real life situations and learning from the experience of those who have already had to overcome their setbacks.

As well as the invaluable knowledge one can gain from an intellectually rigorous program and experienced mentors, a degree can provide you with effective analytical, critical and communication skills that are transferrable to a range of careers, from banking and finance to management consulting or entrepreneurship.

The University of Birmingham Chancellor, Lord Karan Bilimoria, is one of higher education's shining success stories in the world of business. He came up with his business idea for a global drinks brand while studying at university, but decided to first finish his degree.

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On a radio show recently, he imparted some sound advice, actively encouraging young people to be entrepreneurial from an early age and at school. He pointed out that a structured learning environment does not stifle creativity. In fact, the top institutions today seek to stimulate innovation. The University of Birmingham Dubai, for example, offers a AED50,000 prize as part of its Global Innovators Award, and most universities have societies that encourage students to embrace and implement an entrepreneurial mindset in work and in life.

Lord Bilimoria also reminded us that a degree is a qualification you will have with you forever. If a venture doesn't work out, you will always have your education and qualification to act as a platform for various career paths and ventures. A commonly referenced statistic is that 90% of startups never make it. The value of a higher education experience must not be lost, even on the most ambitious entrepreneurs.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to an education, then it is important to seize the opportunity. And what better place to learn entrepreneurship and prepare for the competitive arena of business than Dubai?

Dubai is a global hub for cultures, visionaries, and talents from across the world. Its colorful startup scene is viewed as a platform for scaling ideas and fledgling businesses globally thanks to its flexible regulatory environment, geographic location, connections, and global outlook. It is no coincidence that the world's greatest talents often decide to converge in the City of the Future to collaborate in various sectors.

Academia is an important pillar in Dubai's economy. Business management programs are highly valued as part of the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem and there are numerous public and private sector partnerships with education institutions designed to provide frameworks to support young business men and women to flourish.

Bright, young, and ambitious individuals stand a lot to gain from studying in Dubai. The UAE's continued economic diversification is leading to exciting new opportunities for the next generation of innovators. Students here also have a chance to be part of a community of likeminded thinkers and peers- a rich network of alumni that they can draw on throughout their ventures and careers.

Ultimately, a higher education degree and everything that surrounds it provides invaluable skills, knowledge, connections, and experiences that cannot be so readily obtained outside of a supportive and established institution.

Let's remember too that while Jobs and Gates may have dropped out of university to pursue their business aspirations, both Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk attended higher education and obtained degrees that proved invaluable in their rise to the very pinnacle of the business world.

Related: Four Key Areas Forward-Thinking Countries Need To Focus On To Build Blockchain-Aware Populations

Fiona Oster

Assistant Professor, University of Birmingham Dubai

Fiona Oster is the Assistant Professor at the University of Birmingham Dubai which offers the highest ranked business management program in Dubai. 

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