Enterprise courses in HE ‘reluctant’ to give real-world scenarios

Creator of crowdfunding teaching tool says entrepreneurship courses should drop the traditional business plan as a method of assessment

July 28, 2016
Artist Frank Boelter sitting in life-size paper boat
Source: Reuters
Does it float? Ideas are not necessarily being ‘pushed through to the real world’

In his 2014 report, Enterprise for All, Lord Young of Graffham wrote that “all university students should have access to enterprise and entrepreneurship”, recommending that universities have an “elective enterprise module available to all students". Since then, numerous universities have added optional modules – as suggested by the report – to their existing courses.

But as Matt Clifford, co-founder of Entrepreneur First, which supports graduate start-ups, told Times Higher Education last year, integrating entrepreneurship into university courses is a difficult task, often involving “grafting” existing business education on to other curricula.

Henry Jinman, co-founder of Crowdfund Campus, a “platform for backing the projects and businesses that come out of universities”, believes that the problem lies in the way that universities are approaching entrepreneurship education.

At a recent conference of the Higher Education Entrepreneurship Group held at Kingston University’s business school, Mr Jinman launched an enterprise education white paper Crowdfunding in the Curriculum, detailing the issues he saw in existing teaching methods.

Primarily, he argued, the traditional business plan that “focuses on a proven problem, a proven idea with the financials to back it up” is hindering entrepreneurship education, because it “does not allow for failure". He concluded that it should be removed as a method of assessment in entrepreneurship modules. 

“[Too much time is spent] coming up with ideas and then writing a theoretical, hypothetical business plan based on second sources’ research,” he told Times Higher Education. “There’s a reluctance to push through the [idea] to the real world, speak to customers.

“If you do have the more academic enterprise educators, they’re even more reluctant to push out students...into the real world, and get them speaking to customers. [They] like to hold them in the classroom and get them to think through their problems."

Fail often, fail well

Mr Jinman said that there was an argument for having more real-life entrepreneurs and practitioners involved. "‘Pracademics’ [are] the people best suited to those roles because they understand a bit of the real world and the academic world and can marry the two, which on an entrepreneurship course is really important," he said.

How then should universities teach and assess entrepreneurship; does it involve more experiential education? Mr Jinman said that “academic success can’t be linked to the success of the idea itself because most of the ideas are going to fail".

“In going through a process you can certainly witness and demonstrate entrepreneurial learning,” he said. “A lot in the [academic] literature is based around this kind of idea of developing an entrepreneurial mindset, which is all well and good, but actually going through those experiences and saying 'I’ve developed these entrepreneurial skills, and this is what I’ve learned from the experience even though I’ve failed' [is beneficial].

“If they did fail, perhaps that gives students a better opportunity to say what they’ve learned from it.”

Mr Jinman was expanding on the ideas that he laid out in his white paper, which fundamentally criticised the fact that “enterprise skills are not yet a part of every student’s higher education experience".

It states that "where there are entrepreneurship courses, they often focus on outdated methods of assessment that don’t allow for creativity or develop real-world entrepreneurial skills".

As a way of remedying this, Crowdfund Campus devised a teaching tool called Sandpit, a virtual crowdfunding platform allowing students to test their ideas “quickly, easily, with their peer groups”, Mr Jinman says.

“This is a teaching tool, it can be a fundraising tool, but primarily this is an accessible method that students can use. [It’s also] easy for teachers to use, [and] gets students to learn about the process – testing an idea and receiving honest, objective feedback,” he said.

A second platform, which uses real currency, is also available allowing students to offer real rewards – predominantly products and services – in return for a contribution.

The platforms have been piloted by five universities’ business schools: Birmingham, Bradford, Reading, Worcester and the London College of Fashion. It has since been rolled out to four more institutions including the universities of Warwick, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire and Coventry. The institutions have employed the platforms across undergraduate and postgraduate modules spanning entrepreneurship, marketing and sports management courses.

Following its use, Rana Tassabehji and Caroline Parkinson, who were in charge of the University of Bradford's pilot, confirmed that the institution was aiming to develop an “integrated curriculum for entrepreneurship and innovation teaching” through multidisciplinary undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

While each university had its own methods of assessment, Mr Jinman said that there was a “commonality” between them, and suggested that there could be “core criteria” for how entrepreneurship could be taught in universities, including “problem-solving, identifying solutions and market testing”, and that he would like to see it in more subject areas other than through the business schools.



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Reader's comments (14)

Nice to have met Henry Jinman yesterday and to plan ahead. As former lead of the HEA's Business Management Special Interest Group in Entrepreneurial Learning a real issue I personally see in the debate here is the Business School focus. In my view more collaborative thinking along the lines of what design schools do would help immensely, go check out their creativity assessment and business interaction! Persuasion? Go check out performance arts etc., etc. As discussed yesterday, especially beyond the business school environment, the UK Quality Assurance Agency work has been employed and much the missing middle is covered (See: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/en/Publications/Documents/enterprise-entrepreneurship-guidance.pdf). Moreover (ignoring Brexit for one moment), the EU are very switched on to competency development in 'EntreComp', where opportunity recognition, visioning and creativity are integral to learning outcome development. (See: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/entrecomp-entrepreneurship-competence-framework). To offer some mild criticism to THE, why not check out Enterprise Educators UK and speak to them? With over 100 HEIs in their entrepreneurial network they have a considerable amount to share - go ask them please. http://www.enterprise.ac.uk Henry Jinman has some great ideas, but we need to work together to make them work... and that has started I am pleased to say.
Firstly, Andy offers some great resources for further enquiry. Enterprise and Entrepreneurship are interdisciplinary pursuits and as such should be incorporated across faculties. This is often difficult to do in existing University structures and I hope our tools go some way towards making this easier for educators. If THE is looking to develop the discussion, Enterprise Educators UK are an excellent group of like minded thinkers aiming to challenge the status quo but in many ways, the converted. The ‘reluctance’ to give real world scenarios often comes from elsewhere in the University and the challenge comes from embedding these ideas into complex University structures. Again, we are working on making this easier for educators and the QAA Guidance and European framework are great leaps forward to help us achieve this at scale. We are very much looking forward to working with Andy and EEUK more in the future.
...and just to add, when will English Schools get the kind of support and guidance that Primary and Secondary Schools in the Macedonian Republic have from their policy makers and the World Bank? (See compulsory school framework at: http://www.ee-hub.eu/component/attachments/?task=download&id=37:Matrix_Macedonia). Will UK Government support initiatives like the amazing South East Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning. Here all levels of education are actively supported in 8 countries (See: http://www.seecel.hr). We have much to learn from beyond our own shores, as noted in a document that helped to trigger Lord Young's thoughts. (APPG Micro Biz's An Education System fit for an Entrepreneur - online via EEUK at: http://www.enterprise.ac.uk/index.php/news/item/402-entrepreneurs-and-educators-agree-new-report-calls-for-better-integration-of-entrepreneur-skills-at-all-levels-of-education).
An interesting article John and Henry Jinman has some good points, but as my friend Andy Penaluna wrote above, there is a lot of great work being done by UK universities who are offering students world-leading enterprise and entrepreneurship education, far more than just theoretical Business Plan competitions. For example at the independent University of Buckingham we launched our BSc Business Enterprise programme in January 2006. It was the world's first undergraduate Venture Creation Programme (VCP) and it is still one of only about 4 similar undergraduate programmes offered by universities anywhere in the world. Our BBE programme undergraduates must develop a business idea and within 4 months of starting the programme they must pitch to "Buckingham Angels" for up to £5000 seed-corn capital. Provided their pitch is successful, the students are awarded funding and they then run their businesses as an integral part of their honours degree. As our students at Buckingham work 4 terms each year, they not only create and run a real business, but they also achieve their honours degrees in just two years. You can be sure that they learn to combine theory and practice and also mature very quickly. On graduation they can buy the business for a nominal sum and continue to develop it. If they don't want to do this, but wish to get more experience in other businesses, they easily get great jobs, as employers are impressed by their theoretical and practical knowledge and experience. Henry argued that the traditional business plan “focuses on a proven problem, a proven idea with the financials to back it up” is hindering entrepreneurship education, because it “does not allow for failure". Well, although BBE students do prepare Business Plans and pitch them to "Buckingham Angels", their plans are developed using the "Business Model Canvas" and the problems and ideas are not "proven". Our programme certainly allows for failure and our students learn from this, just like we all do in the real world of start-up business. John, if you would like to see the results of our work, come and meet our current BBE students at Buckingham and see what you think about the programme and our students' and graduates' businesses. As we work during the summer, you could also visit us whilst all other UK universities are on vacation! You can also find our more about our programme here: http://www.bit.ly/bbe_home and here: http://www.bit.ly/bbe_independent Nigel Adams (Pracademic) Programme Director BSc Business Enterprise University of Buckingham
As Nigel says, his Venture Creation programme is one of 4, which shows the scarcity of making it 'real'. This of course just one ‘type’ of Venture Creation programme and many others exist but perhaps without the same level of real world interaction. Full credit to Nigel for his work at Buckingham but I think this is evidence of how the success of these programmes currently relies heavily on the individual implementing it. Also the benefit of being a Private University perhaps?
The problem with entrepreneurship is that don't know you're one until you stumble across your first success; and you're never a recognised entrepreneur until you deliver on the idea ... now that IS a reality. Yes of course it's possible to be a trier, a grafter, an all round good egg with plausible ideas but all failure in an unforgiving commercial environment leads to claims similar to that of Marlon Brando in the (must see) film 'On the Waterfront' ... "I could have been a contender"; and thereby throwing the blame for the/his failure(s) on an unfair world. I have no problem with the existence of failure. If anything we could do more in helping young people deal with the existence of failure and then deal with its consequences, perhaps starting with failure in assessments. We seem to be reluctant to mention failure to our students but it's spectre is everywhere and sooner or later it will be encountered. Delaying it's introduction does the student no good whatsoever. Lord Young can say what he likes, he doesn't have to deliver the 'trippy' ideas associated with Entrepreneurship. Like most other out of touch politicians, in or out of the mainstream, he is easily influenced in promoting initiatives that offer easy solutions to serious problems. I have no idea what Business Schools are doing but they are in danger of being found out if they think that, firstly, entrepreneurial skills exist and, secondly, they can be taught.The young man Jinman seems to have some good ideas, and good for him, but who taught him entrepreneurship?? could it be that his fledgling ideas are nothing more than existential consequences of having a brain, an inquiring mind and noticing a serendipitous spark at an appropriate moment??
Mr Descartes, of course Entrepreneurial skills exist and can be taught. You don’t need to take my word for it, enterprise education has achieved academic legitimacy across the world and many governments have identified it as a key priority. Much has changed since the 1600s.
Hi Henry, I would have thought the worst possible endorsement for Entrepreneurial Skills is for any Government to identify its teaching as a priority!!. They deal in the world of maintained positions and only choose those priorities which, by default, endorse themselves. Additionally, any Government endorsement of something usually gives a green light to charlatans and blaggards hovering on the fringes to feed on any money that accompanies the endorsement. I would like to learn of the academic legitimacy you write of though, or are you suggesting that existence of something is legitimacy enough?? since those outside business schools might suggest that dabbling in the vagaries of the unknown achieve little beyond crowding out the curriculum. Some of us might feel that you can't teach a talent Henry and that it's pointless trying; for that is what successful entrepreneurs have, an innate talent which can't be grafted on another. You can't, in my view, teach somebody to have a good idea Henry. As for the skills?? well I responded to John Denham's article today in THE and I will lay down the same challenge to you Henry ... define a skill for me??
Hi Descartes, As we at the University of Buckingham work during the summer, you are very welcome to visit Buckingham and meet my entrepreneurial students. You would them be able to see what they are like, see our work with them and find out what they think about our BSc Business Enterprise programme.
Nigel, You might wish to reconsider your opening statement and seek a way of aplogising to all those reading the veiled suggestion that it's only the University of Buckingham who 'work' during the summer. As for your kind invitation to visit Buckingham; I'm actually engaged with a project abroad and will return in late September: at which time I will then, no doubt, start some 'proper' work.
Rather than go back and forth here, we have attempted to answer some of your questions as to whether entrepreneurship can be taught in this blog post: https://crowdfundcampus.com/blog/2016/08/the-enterprise-education-debate-can-entrepreneurship-be-taught/
Thanks for your comments Henry! I agree that the fact that the University of Buckingham is a small and innovative, independent "not-for-profit" institution has been vital in the development of our world-leading undergraduate Venture Creation Programme. However I know many other Enterprise Educators in UK and around the world who are workin to develop similar experiental programmes at their universities. I hope that the work they and you are doing will result in us helping to develop more successful entrepreneurs who ho on to create great businesses!
Agreed - let's create a generation of graduate entrepreneurs!
Hi Henry; I've read the contents in the link and I'm sorry to say you've not captured my imagination with your distinctions between the entrepreneur and entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurship education process seems to be little more than facilitating a student ... "assessing both risks and rewards" and then "learning how to fail". Henry, this is precisely what Business Studies courses have been trying to do (and failing) for as long as I can remember. The promise of entrepreneurship education and it's subsequent rite of passage is hollow Henry: the promise is, however, like flies to flypaper for those that might honestly believe that passing through such a course is equivalent to a licence to practise and instant success ... it's not Henry; but then I think you already know that. Offering the promise borders on the unethical for that reason. Whilst I remain impressed with your passion about such things, and whilst I wish you every success in what you wish to achieve, I just cannot find any common ground on this topic. When you have time Henry, I'm still waiting for you, or your compatriot 'pracademic', to define a skill for me.


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