Fostering Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education

University and Business Cooperation (by YouthProAktiv)

Entrepreneurship is a complex topic that can be considered from different perspectives and in different circumstances. The project #empl-oi – European Mobility Placements for Open Innovation has looked specifically at collaboration between universities and companies, and on 27 June shared an overview of the project achievements and outcomes as well latest thought on relevant topics through its final conference titled University and Business Cooperation: Fostering Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education.

The rich all-day programme included presentations and panel discussions from partner and other organisations, and started with a welcome from Tim Bastiaens of Erasmus Student Network and project overview by Vikrant Janawade of the University of Nice, France. Igor Kalinic (Centre for International Business at University of Leeds / DG Growth, European Commission), started his presentation on Fostering Entrepreneurship by analysing what entrepreneurship actually is and what its common traits are, comparing e.g. typical means and goals for blue-collar workers (set means, given goals), managers (given goals but with the ability to add means as necessary) and entrepreneurs (set means but imagined goals, they invest as much as they can afford, so more flexible but also more uncertain). He also addressed the topic of failure and success in entrepreneurship, reinforcing opinions of many other experienced entrepreneurs: the differences between the US more progressive approach to failure and the status quo in Europe; the difficulty of getting the second (or third) chance and the importance of it; the number of now massively successful ventures that started with repeated failures; and the need to change mindsets and approach to failure. For him, the way forward for higher education is more internships – shadowing expert entrepreneurs at universities, teaching entrepreneurship also in non-business courses, and more pseudo-real simulations offered to students.

The project, a collaboration between 11 institutions (five European universities, four companies operating at an international level and two networks), led to a number of outcomes and intellectual outputs coordinated by different partners, including an open online course on social entrepreneurship coordinated by the University of Lodz in Poland. Dr Bogdan Buczkowski explained the basics of the online course and the feedback they received at the piloting stage. The course, when finished this summer, will consist of 10 stand-alone publicly available online modules dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation, and these will be complemented with nine new modules developed by the #EuropeHome project, with overlapping objectives, activities, outcomes and partners.

During the first panel discussion, Giedre Belazariene, an HR Manager at a Lithuanian company UAB Festo, opined that to be a good entrepreneur, you have to go step by step and to get the experience and the knowledge – some young people she has worked with expect too much too soon, and they can lack patience to grow step by step and achieve their goals. Tijana Stojanovic from Erasmus Student Network agreed that for young people like herself just having a lot of energy and motivation is not enough, they need to learn further. However, in her opinion, students and young graduates are also self-learners, aware of what is happening around them and that having a university diploma is not enough, and aware of all the research that says that international experience and multicultural learning improves their employability. Igor Kalinic commented he had observed a change in the students in the last 15 years: these days, during the summer after graduation, young people are no longer just enjoying well-deserved holidays but doing a summer internship straight away, aware of the professional pressures and the importance of experience and further learning. He also remarked that in China, being self-employed is the dream for nearly half of the population, whereas other parts of the world are not that entrepreneurially minded yet. However, as Ms Stojanovic added, being an actual entrepreneur is very specific and also brings sacrifices, it does not suit many people, but not everybody needs to be an entrepreneur. The difference between having entrepreneurial skills, of great importance to everyone, and starting a business was acknowledged by the panel.

Maria Palladino from DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture at the European Commission, expert on innovation in education, entrepreneurship education and university-business cooperation, believes that entrepreneurship in education is key for innovation. She presented the EC’s latest initiatives, such as the annual University Business Forum next in spring 2019, or the free HEInnovate tool for higher-education institutions to self-evaluate their entrepreneurial capacity.

The event featured contributions from many other professionals and presented not just different initiatives but also alternative views, such as that by Steve Price, Executive Director of the European Institute for Industrial Leadership, who would like to see more emphasis on and funding for entrepreneurial education outside of universities, through extra-curricular activities and non-formal learning from people with entrepreneurial experience. All the participants agreed on the importance of helping people acquire and constantly enhance their entrepreneurial, transversal and job-specific skills, and contributed to a thought-provoking day.