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The entrepreneurial university by design: a reflection on recent reporting and guidance

  • 15 December 2022
  • By Robert Crammond

This blog was kindly contributed by Dr Robert Crammond, Senior Lecturer in Enterprise at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS).

Universities are driven by several factors, from teaching and student satisfaction to the demands of the local business community , as well as the push to respond to social and technological change. We are also seeing increasing pressure for universities to become entrepreneurial in both practice and purpose.

Entrepreneurship and universities

The concept of the entrepreneurial university is now firmly established in the mainstream. Previously a mooted buzzword, being ‘enterprising’ is now a necessity within educational settings. Entrepreneurship is represented by stand-alone (short) courses and even as a category within annual higher education awards. At least half of UK universities deliver a notable entrepreneurship course or programme, and many proudly highlight their in-house business support for academic spinouts and student start-ups. Entrepreneurial universities should provide professional development for staff.

As entrepreneurial universities continue to be a central talking point within higher education, there are a growing number of opinions on the matter. 

My own view, outlined in my forthcoming book, is that developing key skills and knowledge (essentialism) and facilitating practical and productive learning environments (pragmatism) towards imagining a better society (reconstructionism), are themselves rooted in educational philosophy.

Enterprising educators promote:

  • experiential learning;
  • market-minded assessment;
  • a surrounding itinerary or support mechanism for enterprise; and
  • industry intervention and external engagement.

In their quest to build enterprising educational environments, institutions engage with industry and (international) governmental bodies through policy. This can take the form of sharing good or best practice towards the enterprising classroom and building entrepreneurial legacies within the university.

Policy, practice, purpose

Universities should be regionally responsive, engaging with the local communities within which they operate. 

The emergence of a better understanding of what enterprise and entrepreneurship means, and its impact, has resulted in greater alignment between what universities have to offer, higher education policy and industry practices.

Recently, I wrote about the need for universities to assert entrepreneurial process and principles, including skills-based and business creation-based assessment, and embedding external engagement into courses as standard. Principles include:

  • establishing a message, and a team which embraces enterprise from all corners of the institution;
  • promoting inclusivity of ideas and (global) concerns within thematic programmes and classroom-based initiatives; and
  • the importance of impact through transferrable skills for regional, national and sector engagement. 

I advocate for adopting a team-based approach to building what I term a ‘university model for entrepreneurship’.

The UK scene

The United Kingdom enjoys a vibrant and collegial higher education community for enterprise and entrepreneurship. 

The Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS), including the Small Business Charter Award, the Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK), the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) and the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE), are examples of driven organisations which share knowledge and continue the effort.

With these organisations, specific discussions, events and measures in relation to programme accreditation and policy are held and set. These conversations and standards unite universities and highlight successful initiatives and outcomes. These efforts are further supported by governmental intervention, with the recent industry-focussed strategies published by the UK Government.       

Appreciating a teaching and learning perspective around the embedding of enterprise, comprehensive examples include the Quality Assurance Agency’s (QAA) 2018 guidance for UK Higher Education, which explains key terminology and prescribes the embedding of the subject into the curriculum, and Advance HE’s dashboard of reports, topical blogsframeworkscase studies and more. 

Advance HE’s ‘Professional Standards Framework’ (PSF) can itself provide a basis upon which enterprise and entrepreneurship education are aligned with teaching and learning criteria by course design, delivery, assessment and feedback. 

These examples further validate the introduction of more enterprise and entrepreneurship content into the higher education curriculum and increase both its relevancy and applicability to many contexts and taught fields, for all.

In Scotland, examples of entrepreneurship include the ‘Making it Happen’ project and the appointment of a new Chief Entrepreneur, Mark Logan. We have seen increased attention around the notion of practical academics, or ‘pracademics’.

The international landscape

Further afield, we see practical assistance, tools, and case study evidence of international enterprise and entrepreneurship in action. 

Examples include the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Entrepreneurship Policy Framework and Implementation Guidance; the European Commission’s ‘European Entrepreneurship Competence’ (EntreCompframework; and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Entrepreneurship360, which supports all levels of education. The Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) aims to bring together many stakeholders through research, to support entrepreneurship and economies. 

It is also critical for educators and university management to consider the embedding of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within entrepreneurial contexts, supported by business schools or other departments. 

Day to day, adherence to these goals and maintaining commitments such as exchange schemes for students and staff contribute to the regular review of enterprising offerings through awareness, opportunity and collaboration.

Moving forward

It is important to continue to reflect on the important relationship between university and policy by determining the requisite skills for enterprise and the future of entrepreneurial universities which combine student-centric activities and industry-relevant skills. It is people who make the difference.

Centralising the enterprising stakeholder within the university and aligning the role with policy and guidance will help the development of entrepreneurial universities.           

Entrepreneurial leadership influences the nature of universities through policy and contemporary strategies, and enables individuals and institutions to be resilient.

The question we must ask is: how can we apply these policies and principles in practice to create more enterprising universities?

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  1. Denis Blight AO says:

    This is a useful theoretical examination of the enterprising university with extensive reference to international sources. From my experience enterprise means making what you can sell either directly to users or through third party financing rather than attempting to sell what you make. It requires a clear eyed understanding of the market, sound product development to meet that market, professional promotion and delivery, and profitable pricing policies.

  2. An interesting post, Robert. You have addressed many topics in Entrepreneurship/Enterprise education, including the importance of experiential education. However, you did not mention the niche subject of Venture Creation Programmes ( at universities.

    Sadly VCPs are still very rare and this is disappointing. For many YEARS, I was involved in developing the BSc Business Enterprise (BBE) VCP at the University of Buckingham. I saw the very positive effect on the mindset of BBE students and their successful subsequent careers and would like to see more students gain from this specialist area of enterprise education.

  3. Pauline Bremner. says:

    I think it is a much wider context now as described by Richard. What I know is people learn more when they are not in their Silos. Why does the NHS have multi disciplinary teams for example – when your bring many specialisms together the solutions can be identified more quickly and moving on becomes easier. Collaboration is the key word here for the future and beyond.

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