Lord Young of Graffham told a conference that higher education had to “instil the very concept of enterprise” into young people.
“Every undergraduate during the course of their degree - and I know exactly how little people do during their undergraduate degree…should have a short course on setting up [their] own company,” he told the Student and Graduate Entrepreneurship in Colleges and Universities conference in London on 20 March.
“The world in which they [graduates] are going to go and inhabit and work in is going to be a self-employment world, it’s going to be a small firms world,” he argued.
Graduates “may have to be more self reliant…they have to embrace the concept of working for themselves”, and universities had to prepare them for this, he said.
His comments come amid debate over the extent to which universities should prepare students for work.
Writing in Times Higher Education on 21 March, Steve Sarson, a senior lecturer in the department of history and classics at Swansea University, objected to having to teach students how to write a curriculum vitae as part of a module on historical research.
“When academic study is entirely cast out of the classroom, what message does that send about its value?” he asked.
But Lord Young emphasised that he did not mean to “denigrate” the value of higher education and that teaching students to start companies should be an “addition” to, rather than a replacement of, their course content.
He also stressed that the courses would be optional, although “we should encourage as many people to take it [as possible]”.
Asked whether the government should give universities extra money to carry out such courses, he said: “I don’t think the funding [would be] that much, actually, as we’re talking about three or four lectures.”
Lord Young was re-appointed as an advisor for enterprise in October 2011 after quitting the role in 2010. He stepped down after being criticised for claiming that people in the UK “have never had it so good ever since this recession — this so-called recession — started”.