From education to employment

Major London universities partner with online platform to provide students with skills to go freelance

Person on a laptop

Three leading universities in London are working with UnderPinned, an online platform for freelancers, in a first-of-a-kind partnership to support their students in commercialising their skills as they enter the increasingly hybridised workforce, it has been announced today.

These partnerships give around 22,200 students – at the University of the Arts London, London College of Communication, St Mary’s University Twickenham, and London Metropolitan – access to an innovative online platform which provides a ‘virtual office’, including tools to build a freelance portfolio, find and manage clients and projects, and produce invoices and contracts. Students can also participate in a Freelance Business Accelerator programme, a comprehensive online course with modules helping students learn how to price their work, pitch to clients, and build their portfolio.

Currently freelancers in the UK face barriers which are particularly challenging for young people, with research carried out by UnderPinned and the Small Business Commissioner finding that 41% of invoices are consistently paid late to freelancers, with up to 55% of freelancers having not been paid at all for work carried out. 

According to the latest ONS data, there are 4.1 million self-employed people, meaning those who run their business for themselves, making up around 14.8% of the UK’s workforce. The UK ranks second globally in terms of the proportion of its workforce that is self-employed, ahead of the US, Germany and France and behind only Italy. 

The latest available recent data, however, also shows people under the age of 24 represent only 3.8% of the UK’s self-employed. For comparison, those aged 50-54 make up 13.7% and ages 45-49 make up 13%. Analysis shows there is also a significant gender gap – with the self-employed in the UK made up of 65% men and 35% women. 

The aim of UnderPinned and the partnering universities is to enable UK graduates to equip themselves with the knowledge needed to build a business around their skills. This in turn will boost the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and support the drive to a more hybridised future of work built around a mix of full-time employees and freelance workers.

Albert Azis-Clauson, CEO of UnderPinned, said:

“The UK is fundamentally bad at professional education. We produce some of the most skilled individuals in the world, but we fail to equip them with the knowledge or tools they need to build a business around their skills. 

“Our educational focus on getting people into full time employment is fundamentally damaging the opportunities of young people. Businesses are increasingly turning to freelancers and hybridised workers, but the self-employed are disproportionately older. Whether they go directly into freelancing or into a new form of hybridised employment, young people need to get access to the knowledge and tools to commercialise their skills in the modern world of work if they want to succeed. 

“It’s fantastic that London universities are recognising this fundamental shift away from traditional linear employment paths. The capital is one of the best places in the world to be an entrepreneur, but this is just the beginning – we plan to scale up and partner with universities right across the country to help give students from all backgrounds and of all ages the confidence to become freelancers – and to give companies access to the flexibility and skills of freelancers that could transform their business.”

Mandip Takhar, Placements Manager at University of the Arts London, London College of Communication, said:

Often, students entering higher education are conditioned to think that the goal is to graduate and find employment within a business or organisation, but this isn’t always the case and that’s why LCC’s partnership with UnderPinned is such a valuable one, because we have the same innovative and entrepreneurial way of thinking. The LCC and UnderPinned partnership celebrates the diversity of our students that applies beyond simply identifying their core skills sets: it extends to how best they can use these skills to broaden their appeal as independent creatives.

“Working with UnderPinned has enabled us to promote that the opportunity for our students to seek freelance work – whether during their studies or following their graduation –  can increase their appeal to employers in a way that captures their entrepreneurial drive and combines it with the ability to practice these skills within a ‘professional lens’.

“Not only do students gain a deeper understanding of their value as freelancers, they are also able to gain tangible experience and present this to future employers as a testament to their unique ability to seek out the work that matches their skills. UnderPinned’s offer has enhanced our approach in dealing with how we guide students and graduates into their desired line of work and help them to gain a deeper understanding into their value as creative freelancers in their chosen field of expertise.”

  • According to the latest ONS data, there are currently 4,184,000 self-employed people in the UK – 65% male and 35% women.
  • According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, as of 2019, the UK had the second-highest level of solo self-employment as a percentage of total employment, with only Italy higher.
  • UnderPinned has previously partnered with the Government’s Small Business Commissioner to lead research into poor payment practises in the self-employed creative sector.
  • More information about UnderPinned can be found on its website.

Latest ONS age breakdown of self-employed (2019-20):

Age GroupNumber of self-employedPercentage of self-employed
Age 16 to 24187,2003.8%
Age 25 to 29323,1006.6%
Age 30 to 34448,3009%
Age 35 to 39525,00010.7%
Age 40 to 44542,60011%
Age 45 to 49639,10013%
Age 50 to 54669,20013.7%
Age 55 to 59613,60012.6%
Age 60 to 64452,1009%
Age 65 and over484,5009.9%

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