Chinese universities must forge own path on teaching enterprise

Institutions will struggle with Chinese government push on entrepreneurship, Ellie Bothwell hears Zhejiang University dean tell conference in Beijing

March 15, 2016
Chinese students releasing paper lanterns
Source: Corbis

Chinese universities need to “break away from the utilitarian view of entrepreneurship” in order to create enterprising students who start their own businesses, an education professor in the country has claimed.

Xu Xiaozhou, dean of the School of Education at Zhejiang University and Unesco’s chair of entrepreneurship education, said that the Chinese “government has been encouraging” entrepreneurship but there is “not much motivation from the students” and “only a small fraction of graduates choose to be self-employed or entrepreneurial”.

Last year, the Chinese government called for universities to focus on entrepreneurship as part of its proposals for the countrys 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), a series of development initiatives that is due to be published later this month.

But speaking at the UK-China Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education and Graduate Employability at Tsinghua University in Beijing, part of the British Council’s UK-China Education Policy Week, Professor Xu said that universities will face “major challenges” in introducing this proposal.

“It is easy for policies to come out, but it is difficult for the policies to be effectively implemented,” he said. “Students are taught to pass examinations rather than start their own businesses.”

He added that entrepreneurship is more popular “outside the campus than inside the campus” and is also more likely to be taken up by students through extracurricular activities rather than as part of their degree programme.

“We need to break away from the utilitarian view of entrepreneurship,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is not only about business and not only about teaching students how to make money. We need to view entrepreneurship in a bigger context. It should be lifelong."

He added: “Chinese entrepreneurship education is not for China only. We need to go global.”

Professor Xu also claimed that “too many” government policies are “problem-oriented” rather than “vision-oriented”, meaning that they “fail to show” universities the way they should be developing.

Fu Zhiyong, vice-dean of the department of information art and design and a member of the innovation and entrepreneurship teaching steering committee at Tsinghua University, who also spoke at the event, agreed that universities are “not well-prepared” for entrepreneurship.

“Between the government and universities there is a gap,” he said. “The government has the policy but it doesn’t make the universities do something.”

Richard Harrison, chair of entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Edinburgh Business School, added that one of the “biggest challenges” of entrepreneurship education in the UK is assessment.

“We’re teaching a non-traditional curriculum. In terms of the assessment I don’t think there is a standard protocol,” he said.

Very often we find ourselves encouraged to create new curricula and be innovative in what we teach and how we teach it but we haven’t thought through fully the objectives. Assessment needs to be designed with respect to those outcomes.”

He said that the “push back and resistance” from more “traditional colleagues who are still in the knowledge acquisition and transfer mode of education” is also a challenge.

“It is a challenge making entrepreneurship legitimate within the academy in those terms,” he said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Although I have worked with Edinburgh I'm not familiar with Richard Harrison or his work, but he is quite right in my view, especially if he means the business school environment that does not look beyond its own walls of experience. Luckily for us in the UK we have bodies like Enterprise Educators UK and the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education to help us to see further. Moreover, we have the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education Guidelines, which according to the Higher Education Academy help enormously ( Assessment is key I agree, and at OECD levels / in Europe we are hitting this head on with an 'EntreComp' competency framework that is very near completion. In the meantime this overview document might be of use to any interested parties.