The relevance of Higher Education: Assessment of Graduate Attributes Associated with Entrepreneurial Skills for Start-Up in UAE

The relevance of Higher Education: Assessment of Graduate Attributes Associated with Entrepreneurial Skills for Start-Up in UAE

Chapter 1

  • Purpose of Research

The world of business is ever-changing and more so now when the tide is shifting from the conventional setting of knowledge-based start-ups and entrepreneurship to a more skill-based and talent-oriented atmosphere. In the traditional context, starting a business or any enterprise was characterized with acquired knowledge from a higher institution of learning and a significant degree or certificate of further studies proving that a person is equipped to run any form of corporate entity (Hammad 2015). However, with the wave of new technology and the new generation, the academically powered business is no longer the norm. The term millennial refers to individuals aged between eighteen years of age and thirty-five years of age. Generationally speaking, millennials came after generation X (Bhanja, Modi & Glavan 2018). The unique feature about the new generation is that the youth do not succumb to the general stereotypical mindset of attending higher institutions of learning to acquire knowledge about how to start and operate a business.

The new age has gravitated towards acquiring skills, exploring talents and exploiting the necessary resources as a basis for setting up a business. Before understanding the role that millennials play in the modern economies, it is important to note that the generation has for the longest time been stuck in limbo trying to understand the meaning of various perspectives and ways of thinking. The new phenomenon has been theorized as a new world order that will revolutionize how businesses are built and where they originate (Al Saiqal 2015). For example, in the traditional era, companies were defined as the utilization of raw materials to produce finished products, which were then sold to earn profits. On the other hand, with the new surge of modernization and innovation, the definition has transcended into a new meaning. The scope of definition now lies in the terms ‘enterprise’, ‘entrepreneur,’ and ‘start-ups.’  Unlike the former ways of starting a business, millennials are geared towards generating ideas from whichever spectrum or field of knowledge and converting the concepts into how companies operate through the use of change agents. It is also worth noting that millennials innovate ideas without first considering whether the thoughts could generate profits but use the change agents to monetize the concepts. Despite the enthusiasm from millennials to become enterprising and start corporate entities, there is a grey area on how the skills needed can be acquired especially considering the fact that the companies are founded on new age concepts that have not been fully understood.

Education is one of the most significant loopholes on how millennials can utilize the systems to acquire the skills and abilities needed to invent start-ups. In the previous era, traditional University courses, units, and learning perspectives were geared towards generating graduates whose ideological thinking was to get a degree or diploma in a particular field (Goby & Erogul 2011). Most of the previous generational graduates have successfully started businesses that have thrived to become multi-billion Dirham businesses or small and medium-sized to sustain their livelihoods. The critical aspect about millennials is that their change in thinking has allowed the generation to articulate that without skills to parallel knowledge, then businesses crumble. To prove this point, eight out of the ten enterprise-based beginners who start-up businesses or enterprises fail within the first year or the second year of operation. Madichie and Gallant (2012) have suggested that underlying factors of entrepreneurial or individual skill in understanding how to run a business is lacking and thus, the enthusiasm of starting a business is quickly countered with the reality that businesses require more than knowledge to keep them afloat. The school of thought is that Universities and other higher learning institutions should reorganise and restructure courses and course materials to suit the current market demand for both knowledge-based and skill-oriented graduates who are equipped to begin start-ups.

A large pool of research has focused on theorizing the best courses that suit millennials and other graduates while pursuing business-based courses in higher learning institutions. Despite the significant contribution to academics in the classes, there remains an unattended objective in comprehending the authenticity and credibility of the attributes that students get while pursuing business-based courses in higher learning institutions (Ryan, Tipu & Zeffane 2011). There is a need to assess whether the characteristics that students gather throughout their tenure in Universities while continuing their courses are relevant and of high-quality in association with start-ups. To better understand the impact, the paper seeks to evaluate various aspects under the topic in question.

  • Problem Statement

The recent arguments raised on whether millennials possess the right skills and knowledge to aid in acclimatizing to the new culture in business has been questioned. The elements about the eagerness of higher learning institutions to alter their structural and reorganization of courses to better equip the graduates with the right skills. In particular, the questions have been significant in the United Arab Emirates where, millennials question the attributes gained from higher learning institutions if they are pertinent to equipping graduates with the right skills (Iqbal, Melhem, and Kokash, 2012). It is estimated that in the United Arab Emirates eight out of ten start-ups fail within the first year of operation and in the second year of service. Some of the factors identified as reasons for failure is the lack of competent skills among millennials to operate start-ups. Currently, the UAE’s main agenda in education is to ensure that education rights are equal and can be reached at all educational levels. The statistics of the number of candidates enrolling to Universities and other higher learning institutions in the UAE has increased 30-fold in recent decades. To ensure that students gain the most in learning in higher institution, the Ministry of Education structured learning into different categories including education and information systems and business sciences (Tong, McCrohan and Erogul, 2012). Despite the increase in the number of students, arguments on whether graduates are leaving with the necessary skills to aid them in generating ideas for start-ups and maintaining them for a long duration of time. There is need to assess student attributes aligned with higher institution courses, understand the relevance of the courses in knowledge acquisition on necessary information regarding start-ups as well as understand whether millennials understand the importance of education in business as a platform to start-ups in the country.

  • Research Objectives
  1. To determine the type of graduate attributes from UAE Universities focusing on the quality of graduates from the higher learning institutions.
  2. To investigate the entrepreneurial courses offered in UAE universities concerning start-up skill acquisition.
  3. Determine the statistical outlook on the number of millennials is starting businesses through start-ups in the UAE after a ten years graduation period.
  4. To investigate the millennial outlook on inventing start-ups in UAE and what impact the perception has on the rate of start-ups in the country.


  1. Chapter 2

2.1. Literature Review

The term ‘start-up’ has been coined using different approaches over the years since its importance gained attention over three decades ago (Wright, Siegel and Mustar, 2017). From a theoretical perspective, a ‘start-up’ can be defined as a company that is invented to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious. Thus, success is not a guarantee (Hammad, 2015). It is clear that the definition of a ‘start-up’ is perceptibly different from a business. In the traditional concept, a business is a venture that is started to exchange goods and services for gaining a profit. The urge to start businesses in the past as well as in the present has been to increase value within a person as well as a community. But, with the increasing problems around the world, it has become evident that there is need to address the issues from a different approach even if it means earning a profit or not (Teberga, Olivia and Kotabe, 2018). Therefore, the term ‘start-up’ came about since it is a trial-and-error concept in entrepreneurship or proprietorship.  The older generation has not quickly embraced the idea of start-ups due to the characteristics and ideologies in start-ups. As such, millennials have cozied up against the idea of start-ups and are quick to abandon corporate employment.

Start-ups are typical of a launch pad where they challenge the day to day occurrences of the business world. According to a study on millennials and concept on corporate mindset, it is clear that 9 out of 10 employees wish to leave their positions in the multinational companies and start up their businesses (Bergamann, Hundt and Sternberg, 2016). The philosophy behind this is that start-ups do not require professionals to begin the company and more so, they have flexible working hours. Moreover, start-ups do not need an elaborate team with good experiences to aid in the establishment of process and systems. Therefore, the canvas in beginning a start-up is pure and can transcend to any aspect affecting modern society.

Additionally, the financial backing from high-end investors is profound, and this serves as a great motivator to millennials. Investors are quick to adopt investment strategies for start-ups because it is a business that changes one’s way of thinking and solving problems take a whole new dimensional thinking-process. Based on research conducted by Battistella, Toni, and Pessot (2017), employers are willing to hire and invest in start-ups since it presents more challenges which millennials gain more skills and exposure of how to work in the real world. However, there is an imminent issue regarding success in start-ups. The instability surrounding start-ups can be challenging especially to beginners who may have a brilliant idea but a poor implementation strategy. It is suggested that beginners are made to take some shock awakening in starting such forms of businesses in a fast-paced business market and environment. Issues about leadership, work-ethics, characteristics ideal for a start-up individual are lacking (Colombelli, Krafft & Vivarelli 2016). Compared to businesses, it is often noted that successful business persons possess some traits including flexibility, innovativeness, creativity, hard-working and risk-taker, to mention a few.

The statistics on the failure of start-ups around the world are alarming, and the main reason for such failures are varied. In the United States of America, it is noted that 20% of start-ups fail in the first year while more than 50% fail within five years of operation (Bosma and Kelly, 2019). In the United Kingdom, the scenario is worse. It is documented that most start-ups are bound to collapse within the first year of operation with at least 50.1% failing within the first three years of service (Bosma & Kelly 2019). The consensus is that 90% of start-ups around the world end up in failure and this mirrors the situation in the United Arab Emirates where the case can be devastating.

Extensive research on why start-ups fail have been detailed. Majority of the study indicate that the entrepreneur is not aware of the market trends, lack of proper education when it comes to product suitability to the market and fast-paced growth of the company (Zaech & Baldegger 2017). Other aspects include lack of a proper team to acknowledge recovery of business in case of failure, lack of adequate mentorship for successful business initiation and survival as well as the undynamic trends of the market. Little has been done regarding understanding the root cause of the problem when it comes to start-up about millennials. There is a need to acknowledge, discuss and argue on these factors concerning graduate attributes, educational background and whether these will affect the start-up success, especially in the United Arab Emirates.

2.1.1. Graduate Attributes

In the current economic setting, more and more millennials are set to become business-oriented individuals who seek either financial freedom or supplementation of income. Regardless, it is paramount that graduate students possess some form of attributes that will guide them in to starting successful enterprises as well as businesses. Croce, Guerini, and Ughetto, (2018) determine that graduate attributes are crucial to improving the success of start-ups. Most of the qualities that graduates gain are presented in educational formats. It has been acknowledged around the world and especially in developed countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom that graduates should possess specific attributes. Similarly, the UAE government has sanctioned a directive through the Ministry of Education to promptly implement practically applicable courses including those in business (Al Saqail 2015). The strategy is to enhance the skills of the graduates to improve the number of companies in the region as well as maintain the success of the companies for the long term.

The primary attribute for any graduate student is self-efficacy and self-sufficiency. Self-efficacy means the ability to commit and engage in any business venture. Entrepreneurial inclinations indicate that graduate students have to practically apply the skills gained in higher educational institutions to sufficiently become successful in their investments (Lipset 2018). The reason for the emphasis on graduate attributes is to ensure that graduates are equipped with the right knowledge as well as the skills in starting their start-ups and providing that they fall through with the ability to succeed. As such, graduate attributes fall under five categories that are engagement, active, enterprising, inquiry-based and expertise.

  1. Engagement is defined as the capability of a graduate to be intertwined with the knowledge that their venture is to change the world. As noted earlier, a start-up entails a person who has a differential thinking-process and who challenges the world’s dynamic problems. From this premise, a graduate has to be engaged in aspects including being a global citizen (Maxwell & Armellini, 2019). A global citizen, from a modern outlook, is a person who is willing to change the world despite the numerous challenges that exist including lack of financial capital to begin businesses, global warming, and climate change, to mention a few. The risk of being a global citizen is to take up a challenge as big as it as and convert it into a possible solution. Other attributes of engagement include ethical standards. Due to the issues of businesses being illegal and operating under strict actions, it is clear that with start-ups they have to maintain a standard of ethical considerations. These may revolve around aspects of human rights, environmental conservation and confined within state laws (Huq & Gilbert 2017). Additionally, issues of self-motivation and excellent communicator are paramount. The reason is that in business, a person should be able to articulately communicate with other people allowing them to understand what the company is all about.
  2. Effectiveness entails a graduate who can sustain their emotional and physical strength in ensuring that those who work around them are well motivated and capable of running a start-up (Winberg et al. 2018). The challenges of running a start-up are that it is a gambling game which does not guarantee that the solution is viable for a market. However, due to the aspects of change citizen, it is necessary that a graduate possesses the attributes of being an active team player, strategic thinker, resilience and emotional intelligence. For example, emotional intelligence states that a graduate should know how to handle their emotions especially when things get heated or when he or she is annoyed about team members being incompetent. Such tolerance and patience will eventually foster the attribute of being resilient with the team members as well as be able to face any challenges that come with starting up a start-up.
  3. Enterprising is another attribute that a graduate should possess. Enterprising means a person should be able to understand the value of being self-motivated and seek problems within a society, nation or the entire world to provide solutions (Moalasi, Molokwane & Mothibedi 2017). To enact this, a graduate ought to have the skills of innovative talent. The ability to become an innovator rests on the knowledge gained in higher learning institutions of how to seek problems and find a creative way of solving them. In most cases, graduates realize that they cannot do the process by themselves and may require assistance from team members. Therefore, the aspect of being a collaborative worker is fundamental to ensuring that the element of innovativeness is fostered in the right manner. Essentially, the other motive is to become an entrepreneur (Moalasi, Molokwane & Mothibedi 2017). An entrepreneur is defined as a person who takes risks and who considers the financial repercussions in the end as the main goal of risk-taking is generating profits in the long run. Eventually, being an entrepreneur warrants the person to be a leader, which is vital to motivating the team members. Such an individual must be self-motivated to ensure that the business maintains the course to success.
  4. A fundamental graduate attribute is being inquiry-based. The common phrase is that ‘curiosity breeds necessity’ and a graduate is always programmed to be inquisitive. The ability to question why facets of the world operate in certain ways can allow them to render solution-based start-up in a different way of thinking (De Jager et al. 2017). Recall that a start-up is a form of a business that resonates with differential thinking. Therefore, the specific facets that a graduate should have include critical thinking which elaborates on the factor of a problem solver.
  5. Consequently, it is regarded that a graduate attribute should also contain being a creator of new knowledge as well as being a decision maker (De Jager et al. 2017). Millennial are faced with a dilemma in deciding which start-up is relevant and how to go about it. But, with the ability to make appropriate decisions, it is clear the knowledge gained in school can aid them in doing so.
  6. Expertise is another form of the graduate attribute that is necessary for maintaining a start-up. They have to possess the right skills in specific disciplines or professions. To become an expert graduate are taught that it is required to have high levels of disciplinary knowledge which entail being a work-based individual (O’Leary 2017). The emphasis on this aspect engages that graduates are meant to be learners in a world where problems are continually evolving. Additionally, a graduate attribute on expertise formulates the need to become a reflective practitioner. The aspect is ever-changing and can require the individual to be digitally literate.

Despite a broad spectrum of studies confining to the five concepts of graduate attributes to being necessary to begin a start-up, the aspect of knowledge gain in school is questionable. The blame-game situation has rested upon the ability of the universities to provide adequate skilled graduate who can link their graduate attributes to the successful enterprising skill in beginning a start-up (Golden et al. 2017). It is essential that higher learning institutions provide an elaborate course material that ensures students are more equipped with the article demanding world. Universities and other higher learning institutions are required to possess the right entrepreneurship classes which promote entrepreneurship and leadership among scholars which are pertinent in ensuring that the skills gained are of high quality (Mukhtar 2019). The situation may be differential in different countries including the United Arab Emirates. The reason is that, studies connecting the ability of graduates to use attributes to begin start-up are linked to some start-ups and considerable success in the businesses.

In developed nations such as the United States of America and Europe, the emphasis has been placed on higher learning institutions to couple entrepreneurship courses with leadership courses (Irwansyah & Tripalupi 2019). The intent is to ensure that from a practical standing point, students can visualize and actualize the entrepreneurship within the skills they have learned. As a result, in the United States, more than 290 courses are offered in universities while in the United Kingdom more than 60 entrepreneurship courses are provided whereas, in the UAE there are a handful of classes on entrepreneurship especially those offering women related courses. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2018/2019, the MENA region reports an overall 13% and lower rates in entrepreneurship compared to Africa which exhibits rates of over 20% in entrepreneurship (Bosma & Kelly 2019). However, there are disparities in the statistical outlook. The common misconception is that high-income countries including America and the United Kingdom ought to have the highest rates of start-ups compared to regions such as MENA and Africa as well as Asia. But, according to the GEM 2018/2019 report, this is not the case (Bosma & Kelly 2019). The report indicates that aspects of emphasis on a political level for entrepreneurship and the number of courses offered to students are pertinent to being entrepreneurial. Each economy has its specific needs which should align with aspects of boosting innovation, reducing unemployment, increasing trade and diversification of industries (Rao & Mulloth 2017). All these needs and academic solutions lie in the graduate materials that are released into the job market.

Necessity over opportunity is among the main drivers for entrepreneurship courses in economies including the United Arab Emirates. In more than thirty decades, the current government has instituted entrepreneurship courses that ensure both women and men benefit and more so, the upcoming millennial generation. But the question remains whether the graduate attributes gained from higher learning institutions are equivocal to the needs of the economy. Assessment of the UAE universities including courses offered has never been done (Shirza 2017). The loophole from an academic point of view provides a niche in research which is pivotal to understanding what is lacking for UAE to become a global competitor when it comes to entrepreneurship. Additionally, there is a need to study from a survey point of view on whether millennials agree with the concept that relevance of higher education is necessary for start-ups and whether it enforces success in the business sector.


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