How business and universities can work together to help students to become enterprising and entrepreneurial…

“Governments around the world are increasingly looking to universities to be the engines of innovation and economic growth.”

The Entrepreneurial University and Economic Growth

Governments around the world are increasingly looking to universities to be the engines of innovation and economic growth. Across Europe there is a deep and long-standing interest in how government, universities and business can work collaboratively with the aim of growing and sustaining both regional and national economies. A university which collaborates with government and business, in this so-called Triple Helix arrangement, is regarded as being an entrepreneurial university.

Studying at the Entrepreneurial University

The development and promotion of entrepreneurship have been strategic objectives within the European Union for many years and it is now widely accepted that the development of an entrepreneurial mindset is, therefore, more than just desirable but necessary. There is a vital role for education in promoting and establishing such entrepreneurial attitudes. An increasing number of universities now offer options for students to study enterprise and entrepreneurship in addition to their core curriculum and to gain practical experience in activities outside the classroom.

“An increasing number of universities now offer options for students to study enterprise and entrepreneurship in addition to their core curriculum.”

In the UK, the curriculum at university is nowadays likely to offer an explicit description of the enterprising skills to be developed by students e.g. creativity, decision-making, risk taking, resilience, dealing with ambiguity and team work. It is a commonly held view that all students will benefit from these enterprising skills whatever their future employment. Some students will want to apply these enterprising skills specifically to self-employment and entrepreneurship.

Students themselves are taking the initiative in developing their enterprise and entrepreneurship skills. For example, NACUE is an organisation which directly supports students to create their own enterprise society at their university, so that they can then organise regular events for themselves, learning from entrepreneurship experts and providing support to each other.

Preparation for Employment and Entrepreneurship

Universities are keenly aware that students want to know how their university education will equip them with the right knowledge and skills to help them to get a job. Nowadays, employers commonly require enterprising skills from all the graduates they employ not just those who have specifically studied business. Increasing efforts are being made by universities to help students to gain a better understanding of their options for employment and to gauge the potential for self-employment. Work-related skills are often developed through in-course work experience undertaken during projects and via internships.

A number of universities in the UK have begun to issue an electronic Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) in order to provide a detailed picture of student achievement which is not limited to a record of academic achievement but which includes other information that will be useful to potential employers such as details of extra-curricular activities, prizes, employability awards and voluntary work. The HEAR is aligned with the European Diploma Supplement, making it easier for employers to compare qualifications gained in higher education systems across Europe.

Universities and Business Working Together

“Employers can play a vital role in supporting universities to develop graduates with the required knowledge and entrepreneurial mindset.”

Universities aim to prepare students to work not just in large corporations but also in small, medium enterprises and in addition they are stimulating students’ ambitions to set up their own businesses. Employers can directly assist students and graduates, explaining their business models, describing individual jobs and team working, giving examples of career progression, providing work placement and work experience, facilitating learning in the workplace and the development of industry-level skills, and overall helping the transition from study into work.

Employers can play a vital role in supporting universities to develop graduates with the required knowledge and entrepreneurial mindset. Working together, universities and business can predict future workforce requirements, identify required levels of knowledge and standards of skill, produce case study materials and live briefs to support on-course learning, and agree the numbers, scope and terms & conditions of internships.

There are enablers and obstacles to collaboration between universities and business. The University Industry Innovation Network (UIIN) has examined the extent of university business cooperation in Europe. The results showed that in the UK, senior university staff perceived themselves to be European leaders in this type of co-operation.

Entrepreneurial Leadership

The Entrepreneurial University Leader’s Programme (EULP) is an executive development programme which has been delivered annually in the United Kingdom since 2010. The EULP is run by the UK’s National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE) in partnership with Universities UK, an organisation whose members are the 133 executive heads of all the UK universities. The programme is delivered with the support of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.

The EULP explores the concept of the entrepreneurial university and the practical application of that concept by universities in Europe, the Far East, the United Kingdom and the USA. Over 100 participants on the programme to date have represented universities in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Dubai, England, Finland, Luxembourg, the Republic of Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Scotland and Wales. Key issues explored on the programme include the role of universities as regional innovation hubs, university business collaboration and the skills needed by graduates to enable them to make economic, social and cultural contributions to society.

Entrepreneurial University of the Year

NCEE also sponsors an annual Times Higher award for the UK’s Entrepreneurial University of the Year. The judges assess applications against four criteria:

1. Vision and strategy: are enterprise, entrepreneurship and innovation at the heart of the organisation?

2. Culture and mindset: are entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours developed in both staff and students?

3. Entrepreneurial impact: is there evidence of benefits for staff, students and alumni and for local, regional and international organisations?

4. Policy and practice: is the university influencing policy at the local, national and international levels and is this clearly demonstrated in good practice and effectiveness?

The award recognises a university which has made significant achievements in all four categories and is striving to continuously improve for the benefit of its students and wider stakeholders.

Paul Coyle is an independent leadership and change management consultant. He supports strategic change projects in Higher Education through his personal consultancy and as an Associate for Change Management working for the UK’s Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. He is the Director of the Entrepreneurial University Leaders Programme on behalf of the UK’s National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education. You can contact Paul via emailpaul@profpaulcoyle.com or visit his website.

This article is an edited version of the one that first appeared in INFO the magazine for Anglo-French business published by the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain.

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