In the past, a good degree coupled with a certain amount of ambition would almost guarantee you a decent job in your chosen field. Anyone who’s graduated in the last decade or so will know that’s no longer the case. Both the jobs market and higher education is markedly more competitive - and more people are deciding to study than ever before.
Photo by Franck V.
In 2018 almost 30 percent of 18-year olds in England were accepted into an undergraduate degree programme - the highest number on record. This means graduates need more to show prospective employees than a degree.
According to University of Warwick, skills graduate employers are looking for include; initiative, commercial awareness, negotiation and leadership - all of which can be defined as entrepreneurial traits. In response to this, universities are providing events, courses and training options to help students to acquire these skills before graduating.
For example, University of Cambridge has a hub on their website dedicated to promoting their entrepreneurship courses, programmes and facilities for existing entrepreneurs and budding ones to get involved in. These include a University Enterprise Network, ideaSpace and a Graduate Entrepreneur Scheme.
What is “entrepreneurship” today?
The term entrepreneur has become a bit of a marketing buzzword, used as a kind of catch-all term to describe anyone who runs a business or is self-employed. But is its overuse augmenting its original meaning? The Cambridge Dictionary describes an entrepreneur as “someone who starts their own business, especially when this involves seeing a new opportunity.”
According to Marleen Aasa, Head of University Relations at European Innovation Academy, “entrepreneur” is a mindset more than anything else. In a recent interview with FULL FABRIC, she spoke about the need for all students to acquire the skills associated with entrepreneurship, not just those who aspire to set up their own business.
“For EIA being an entrepreneur is all about having the right mindset, and we believe an entrepreneur is the one who solves a real problem...Whether a student will become an entrepreneur or an employee in a company, it is crucial for them to know how they can add value, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to lead a team.
“The entrepreneurial mindset is about a certain way of thinking -- it is about the way in which you approach challenges and mistakes.”
Another argument for teaching entrepreneurship at university, regardless of subject choice, is the fact that more people are self-employed than ever before. From design and education to engineering and research - these industries are increasingly being made up of freelance Millennials and Gen Z-ers. As well as the academic and practical skills needed to excel in these areas, freelancers need to be able to source their own work, manage their own admin and adapt to changing market trends in order to compete.
The case for teaching entrepreneurship
In an article for The Aspen Institute, Tina Seelig, professor of the Practice in Stanford University’s Department of Management Science and Engineering and a faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, explains that the notion of entrepreneurship as an inherent set of skills you’re either born with or not is a myth, and it can be taught by building on peoples' “natural ability to imagine”.
“Using this framework, educators at all levels can help young people engage with the world around them and envision what might be different; experiment with creative solutions to the problems they encounter; hone their ability to reframe problems in order to come up with unique ideas; and then work persistently to scale their ideas by inspiring others to support their effort.”
Seelig explains that, in her experience, it is possible for students to not only learn but “master” these skills; in fact she has seen thousands of students transformed by courses and extracurricular programs designed to teach creative problem solving and entrepreneurial leadership techniques.
Similarly in a recent interview, Dr Andrew Ward, a lecturer at EU Business School, explains that teaching entrepreneurship requires a different approach and teachers need to have their finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to the latest research and trends:
“As soon as a book is published it is out of date. So, as a teacher you need to have the practicalities of knowing why you were successful and why you failed and explain that to students. You need to have the latest information on entrepreneurship. Also, you cannot teach entrepreneurship like other subjects - you have to let students experiment conceptually with their ideas.”
With the gig economy set to grow and people staying in jobs for just a year or so before moving on to something new, it’s never been more important for young people to learn the skills associated with entrepreneurship, and for existing workers to have the option to upskill.
Does your institution teach entrepreneurship? Share your current practices with us on Twitter @fullfabric.