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.