Increasing numbers of students are looking to start their own businesses when they finish university – in fact, over half (56%) are now considering it. So, what is the education sector doing to support these ambitions?
Many universities are demonstrating commitment to ensuring students develop valuable enterprising behaviours, attributes and competencies, as well as the knowledge and confidence to practically apply these skills whether setting up business ventures, becoming self-employed or growing existing ventures.
Enterprise education develops students’ behaviours, attributes and competencies needed to generate ideas and make them happen. The development of competencies such as creativity, idea generation, innovation and problem solving are essential in any business context, but particularly when starting your own venture.
Entrepreneurship education builds on this, focusing on the application of enterprising competencies in realistic environments – addressing the practicalities of operating such as understanding legal implications, funding and start-up strategies.
Every university is different and will have varying levels of enterprise and entrepreneurship education within, alongside and outside of the curriculum. While some recognise entrepreneurship and enterprise as core to their strategic values and have full teams dedicated to this provision, others are limited by conflicting priorities and resource.
Regardless of the level of provision, Enterprise Educators UK is advocating the importance of this by connecting educators and practitioners to learn from each other, encouraging the exchange of good practice and engaging in policy development. Each year, educators championing enterprise and entrepreneurship come together to learn, network and share best practice at the International Entrepreneurship Educators Conference, which was held at Leeds Beckett University this year.
Now in its thirteenth year, the conference addressed enterprise and entrepreneurship on a global scale. Educators from around the world gave presentations on the importance of enterprise education on an international level.
While in the UK, entrepreneurship education is being recognised by universities, colleges and even the government, countries like China have gone that one step further.
Keynote Jing Zhang, spoke on how China has become a ‘wildland’ of opportunity for entrepreneurship since the country’s government made a requirement for all students to study it in 2016.
With six topical strands, the conference was packed full of practical, interactive workshops delivered by experts from all over the world.
This year the parallel sessions explored enterprise in the curriculum, co-curricular enterprise education, supporting start-ups and established businesses, enterprise education beyond graduation, partnering for enterprise and entrepreneurship, and social enterprise and innovation.
Educators showcased their support for students and graduates pursuing entrepreneurial careers, the lessons they have learned and recommendations for the future.
Some of the key themes emerging from this year’s IEEC were the importance of educating about value creation over growth, embedding entrepreneurship education across universities within the curriculum and collaboration to improve entrepreneurship education.
There was a strong consensus across many speakers that entrepreneurship education should not only focus on growth but rather value creation – whether financial, social or economical.
The focus on value creation supports broader aims and motivations of individuals looking to establish their own business venture.
Recent research has identified that the success measures of the self-employed are much more focused on increased knowledge and expertise, with only 16 per cent identifying taking on members of staff as indications of success. So, the move away from growth to value creation certainly aligns with the motivations of the self-employed.
The final keynote of the conference looked forward, exploring what future entrepreneurial universities should look like. Dr Todd Davey, associate professor for entrepreneurship at Institute Mines-Télécom Business School examined how universities themselves should be entrepreneurial and innovate to meet changes in the market and students.
The five core proposals were that universities will become:
• Talent-engine – developing and validating student competencies;
• Life Partner – adding or scaling skills of professionals at all stages of their careers;
• Discovery – cutting edge visionary and collaborative research;
• Home-base – open co-working exchange spaces for the region;
• Launch-pad – entrepreneurial base for students, academics and business.
Universities must continue to establish how their role within society and the economy can keep up with innovation and prepare their students and wider community for rapid change.
As self-employment and entrepreneurship grows around the world, so to does the need for continued growth of entrepreneurship and enterprise education.
The conference was a celebration of the great work that is being done internationally to improve enterprise education and inspires further development and growth in this space.
By Lydia Wakefield