Entrepreneur: Should universities ditch the word?

Entrepreneur: Should universities ditch the word?

Lydia Wakefield gives an overview of the debates and highlights at this year's IEEC

We often hear that freelancers and self-employed professionals feel they do not receive enough education from their university about this way of working. Although a number of universities continue to increase their level of support, many students are still not accessing it.

Each year enterprise and entrepreneurship educators from across the world gather at the International Entrepreneurship Educators Conference (IEEC) to discuss and debate issues to do with enterprise education. This year, it was hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University and the theme was ‘Enabling Enterprise for All’ – a perfect platform to continue the discussion about enabling enterprise education for budding independent professionals.

A key highlight was a debate on whether “we need to stop using the ‘E’ words (entrepreneurship and enterprise) with our students”, in which speakers discussed whether the terminology is understood and accessible for all.

The problem is that not all independent professionals consider themselves entrepreneurs, even though many entrepreneurial attributes are required to work in this capacity.

Linguistics specialist and enterprise educator Gary Wood, from the University of Sheffield, argued that entrepreneurship and enterprise education are important, but the terminology is not always relatable for different stakeholders - including many students. Instead, he suggested that educators should tailor their approach to different groups to ensure students and other stakeholders engage with the support that is available through their institutions.

Lydia Wakefield hosts a talk on students entering the flexible workforce

This was IPSE’s third year attending, meeting and hearing examples of good practice from a wide range of universities. There was a noticeable increase in the appreciation of freelancing as a valuable career opportunity for students, as well as stronger recognition that young people are increasingly choosing to work this way in a broad range of professional fields.

This was particularly evident during the ‘Enterprise for 21st Century Working Lives’ Pecha Kucha workshop. The University of Sheffield, Newcastle University and Teesside University demonstrated some projects they have developed to engage medical, foreign language, linguistics and maths students and to enhance their enterprise skills. Each of the universities recognised that students from different academic disciplines pursue freelance and self-employed careers, and the importance of tailoring their support.

Whilst Dragon’s Den has influenced many universities to run entrepreneurship competitions, we recognise that these are not always tailored towards students who are likely to go freelance. Catherine Brentnall, founder of Ready Unlimited and Professor Nigel Culkin of the University of Hertfordshire, shared the rationale and outcomes of Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK) - a funded research project on how to expand a pedagogic repertoire beyond the ‘Compete and Pitch’ model, and how detrimental it could be to students’ perception of enterprise.

It is also important to ensure students have positive introductions to enterprise education.

Dr Kelly Smith of Coventry University highlighted key ice-breaker tasks to engage and inspire students who are new to enterprise through her workshop. Activities included everything from‘speed networking’ and the ‘untangling task’, promoting collaboration and teambuilding, to the ‘room task’ which encouraged participants to recognise they were surrounded by enterprise and that it didn’t have to be a big novel invention.

IPSE is dedicated to promoting and raising awareness about the importance of education on self-employment and freelancing opportunities among students and young people. Hosting one of the last workshops of the busy conference, we were delighted to have a packed room of entrepreneurship educators keen to explore how we can better enable students entering the flexible workforce.

We provided them with an understanding of the rising numbers of young people pursuing flexible ways of working before introducing IPSE’s Young Freelancer of the Year, Nisha Haq, and digital nomad Mark Williams, via AppearIn, an online live video conferencing platform. Each of them shared their professional journeys, the level of support they received at university and suggestions on how institutions can better prepare students who are starting their careers by either embracing the gig economy or embarking on freelance and portfolio careers.

It is important to ensure that the next generation of entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals – irrespective of their educational background, subject area, and professional ambitions – are knowledgeable, prepared and confident enough to pursue their chosen way of working. 

Academics, enterprise professionals and careers advisors across the UK are continually developing new ways to engage and educate their students. IPSE continues to work with educational institutions to ensure that students pursuing freelancing and self-employment are as prepared as those intending to grow their business start-ups.