By Connor Sturges

Earlier this month, the billionaire entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson claimed that children should leave school at 16 and see the world, and that if we choose the option of university, which more people are doing each year, the courses should be no longer than two years. But how realistic is this view?

If we are to take Sir Richard himself as a model, it works. The businessman, who is amongst the richest in the world, left school at the age of sixteen with a poor academic record. He then had the initiative to create his empire from scratch, firstly selling records at highly discounted prices and taking interviews for a magazine. Now he’s the head of a business empire, with planes littered across the globe and his private exotic island.

Branson has good points. In his comments, he made the claim that university degrees could be shortened, and to a large extent this is true; if students were prepared to work harder and lose much of their month-long Christmas and Easter holidays, and some of the almost three-month-long summer vacation, most degrees could easily be completed in two years, as the University of Buckingham has already done. In fairness, Branson realised there are exceptions, for instance a medical or veterinary degree. However, if most of us were to start earlier and finish earlier, we would have more time for work experience, more time to see the world, and perhaps even more money in the bank, as tuition fees would total a much lower sum than they do now.

However, as attractive as the prospect of travelling more, getting more experience, and entering the world of work at a younger age seems, they are unrealistic prospects to a large extent.

Branson’s suggestion that people should leave school at a younger age, around sixteen, and “see the world” is clearly an attractive and exciting idea. But not everyone has the entrepreneurial capabilities of Branson at such a young age, and personally I know few teenagers whose parents would think nothing of sponsoring their child as they gallivant around the world, seeing all it has to offer, as nice as it would be.

Don’t get me wrong, the world needs to be seen, and the more cultures and people we interact with, the more educated and open to different ideas we become; something vital in the 21st century. But it’s simply a case of how it is made possible.

If we were to leave school at a young age, then there is also the question of whether we would have enough knowledge to get by in many areas of the workforce, particularly if you were to have ambitious aspirations. Many areas, for instance mathematics, the sciences, and even the creative subjects such as literature, journalism, and drama, usually require a large amount of training and practice. Is Branson unknowingly suggesting that we release unqualified individuals into the often brutal industries?

Furthermore, if universities were to shorten their courses, would students be able to cope? The amount of students needing counselling has gone up considerably, and this is with only a few lectures and seminars a week. If the degrees were to be crammed in more, there would be less time for socialising and allocated reading. Furthermore, although the total tuition fee loans that students would have to pay back would be lower, there would almost definitely be no time to get a student job, which many rely on.

Despite Branson’s suggestions being blatantly attractive to many, they are equally unrealistic for others. If you have the money or entrepreneurial abilities to explore at such a tender age, do it! But for most, his comments are just the ideas and dreams of young people, and will stay that way for the foreseeable future.