“University lectures are the enemy of entrepreneurship,” says Michael Fowle, an entrepreneur and enterprise fellow at Northumbria University. It seems an ironic claim, given that Fowle is himself launching an MSc in entrepreneurship at Newcastle Business School this month – but then this is no typical master’s course. The curriculum includes no lectures, or any academic teaching for that matter.
“Who would you rather rely on,” Fowle asks: “A student who has read 30 key marketing papers and written an essay or a student who used the papers to design and run their own marketing campaign?”
Enterprise courses with non-theoretical elements are popular among British universities, with more than 300 on offer in the UK. But Northumbria’s MSc is claimed to be the first entirely practical master’s in entrepreneurship in the UK, meaning any academic written work is “optional”. For a fee of £10,000, a class of around eight to 15 students will spend the year trying to launch their own startups to earn credits on the programme – and ideally some real-life revenue. The course includes a business accelerator for students to experiment with new business ideas under supervision from five entrepreneurship coaches.
Fowle insists on the term “coaches” rather than tutors, to focus on what he calls “action-learning”. The degree is assessed not through essays or examinations, but through weekly review sessions. He believes the lack of academic rigour will be reconciled with an intensive workload. “You will need to be completely immersed. You can’t have a hobby. You can’t have a spare-time job. It’s possible that you won’t be able to have friends,” he says.
Fowle describes his ideal student as someone with a business idea who has not studied a business course at university. He envisages them being recent graduates not too entrenched in their careers, for instance, or perhaps older parents whose children have left home. “We’ve found from the applicants that they wouldn’t get support from their families for a normal business startup because it’s too high-risk; whereas the MSc was considered to be less risky,” he says.