Business spirit not found on campus

March 10, 2000

Universities are failing to demonstrate the entrepreneurial drive that the government expects, according to a new report.

Academic and administrative workloads, the lack of incentives and the pressures of the research assessment exercise were all blamed for universities' entrepreneurial inertia, according to a report by the Association of University Teachers and the Institute of Education.

The AUT-IoE survey contrasts with the prime minister's vision of universities as powerhouses of the knowledge economy.

In his Romanes Lecture at Oxford University before Christmas, Tony Blair said:

"...it means universities generating the maximum possible entrepreneurial drive on a national and international plane."

But the survey reveals that, overall, a majority of academics (56 per cent in old universities and 52 per cent in new ones) spent no time on entrepreneurial or commercial activities outside their mainstream responsibilities. A further 19 per cent in old universities and 18 per cent in new spent less than an hour a week on such activities.

Only 4 per cent of academics in old universities and 3 per cent in new universities spent between five and ten hours a week on business-linked activities, while only 3 per cent in old and new universities spent more than ten hours a week.

Academics at universities set up after 1992 were more entrepreneurial than their counterparts in older institutions.

When asked whether economy-related activities should be part of their university's mainstream responsibility, 58 per cent of respondents in new universities said they should, compared with

38 per cent in old universities.

Furthermore, 46 per cent of academics in new universities had been involved in developing business links as a result of their own work, compared with 35 per cent in older institutions.

The survey shows that this may be because new universities are more likely to reward business activity. However, only 11 per cent of academics in old universities and 13 per cent in new had been rewarded by either promotion or pay.

A number of respondents said that although universities' mission statements emphasised the importance of commercial links, the "hidden agenda" was that work must focus on the RAE.

Stephen Court, senior AUT research officer, said: "In many cases academics are willing to engage in this sort of work, but the system needs to be changed to enable them to do so. "

Mr Court also said that institutions would have to allow academics the time to develop commercial links.

"Academics already have to split their time between teaching, research and administration. Add a fourth entrepreneurial leg to their responsibilities and something will have to give," Mr Court explained.

Of the 2,000 questionnaires sent to academics and academically related staff in April last year, 1,000 went to AUT members and 1,000 to randomly selected academics. Results are based on 322 useable responses. Two-thirds of the academics were from old universities, 21 per cent were from post-1992 universities and just over 10 per cent were academically related staff from old universities. There were too few related staff from new universities responding to quantify.

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