Expert hails Victorian role models

November 18, 2005

Entrepreneurship will thrive in universities if academics return to a Victorian idea of higher education, a business professor has claimed, writes Jessica Shepherd.

Allan Gibb, professor emeritus of Durham University, believes in adopting the 19th-century view that higher education is for imaginatively using knowledge.

In a study commissioned by the government-funded National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship, Professor Gibb argues that attitudes towards entrepreneurship need to change.

He advises universities to think outside the "corporate business school-style model of entrepreneurship", where the emphasis is on creating incubators, starting up businesses and liaising with business agencies.

In his paper, Towards the Entrepreneurial University , Professor Gibb urges academics to approach commercial activities as an "imaginative use of knowledge in line with the views of 19th-century philosophers who shaped the notion of a university".

He says: "The vast growth of knowledge and information technology means we have more and more knowledge and more pressure to publish it or communicate it. This leaves less time for imagination and reflection and the result is a growth of ignorance.

"By returning to the mid-19th century view found in The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman, we give students more time to think imaginatively, rather than to repeat what they have learnt in an exam hall.

We need 'learning organisations' rather than 'learned' ones."

Professor Gibb also calls for clarification of the concept of entrepreneurship. He says that the present model is considerably influenced by the economist's tradition and by business schools, which are business-management focused.

"This creates an image that entrepreneurship is difficult to attain and therefore only for an exceptional few," he says.

"The business management focus also considerably weakens the potential of entrepreneurship being valued in public services, such as health, education, social services, local government and police."

Professor Gibb, founder of the Foundation for Small and Medium Enterprise Development - one of Europe's largest centres for research into small businesses - believes the need for entrepreneurship in universities is greater than ever.

He says: "The world students live in is increasingly complicated on all levels from their careers to their personal relationships. They need to be more flexible and have a degree of entrepreneurship in many ways.

"Universities should connect their undergraduates and doctoral students with real problems and not just sit on regional development boards or boards of chambers of commerce. They should build more active links with consultancies and science parks. This is what it means to be entrepreneurial."

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