Branson touched on the subject at a lunch held in January 2008 by Chinese businessmen in Beijing. During the event, titled What Makes a Good Entrepreneur?, the Chinese criticised British entrepreneurs as being "overeducated, too conservative, lacking passion for entrepreneurship and too afraid of failure".
Instead of countering their criticisms, the US ambassador Clark Randt reports that "British billionaire Richard Branson agreed that British entrepreneurs are overeducated and that schooling does not prepare one for entering the business world". The Chinese also criticised their own education system as inadequate to prepare people for entrepreneurship.
Branson has previously indicated that he believes his own experiences in business provide him with something comparable to a university degree.
"Obtaining a diploma is only a first step, and in no way guarantees success," he said in response to a student’s question about the merits of further education, in a column for the Livemint website. "Virgin’s projects and industries are so varied [that] my job provides me with an experience I often compare to an extended university course.
"When I was young, school wasn’t easy. I was not a great student, partly because of my dyslexia (which was not diagnosed until later) and partly because of my restless nature. I found it hard to concentrate in class and spent much of my time in school dreaming up and setting up new businesses.
"However, my story is a very personal one," he conceded. "My strategy will not work for everyone. A diploma can be very useful, since it shows that you have gained the skills and other building blocks required to start your career."
Today, nearly every British university runs its own entrepreneurship society, and Branson himself has since set up the Branson School of Entrepreneurs in South Africa.
But a striking number of the most successful entrepreneurs of recent decades dropped out of education early, including Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Billionaire Warren Buffett also failed to complete his education while Simon Cowell left school at 16. Mark Zuckerberg was only 20 when he launched Facebook.
Peter Thiel, the first outside financial backer of Facebook, has encouraged young entrepreneurs to leave education altogether by offering 20 two-year $100,000 (£63,800) fellowships to teenagers prepared to leave education and work full-time on their ideas.
"Some of the world’s most transformational technologies were created by people who stopped out of school because they had ideas that couldn’t wait until graduation," he said when he launched the scheme.
Jonathan Cain, one of the directors of the Thiel Foundation, agreed. "Universities aren’t always set up to encourage entrepreneurship. Academia is about passing on wisdom, not necessarily supporting or understanding things people haven’t thought of before. If you’re an undergraduate, you’re not necessarily taking classes with people who are working to push the frontiers of knowledge."