Support for entrepreneurship in UK universities in freefall

University support for enterprise in local schools and communities has significantly decreased in the past six years, study shows

April 4, 2019
Beconscot Model Village, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England.
Source: Alamy

Support for entrepreneurship activity in UK universities has fallen significantly since 2012 in nearly all areas of institutional policy, a survey has found.

The National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education surveyed 62 heads of enterprise at UK universities and found that the proportion of universities offering support for enterprise in local communities had dropped from 73 per cent to 44 per cent.

The number of leaders who said their institution supported enterprise in local schools declined from 57 per cent to just 32 per cent. Earlier this year, a report from the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission warned that “universities have lost some of the tangible connection to their places”, when they should be increasing their civic role in their local area.

The report also found that, in 2018, fewer UK universities had a pro vice-chancellor for enterprise or entrepreneurship than in 2012, with the proportion slipping from 61 per cent to 45 per cent, or a central office for enterprise or technology transfer, which fell from 84 per cent to 66 per cent.

Even provision of a dedicated website for enterprise support has diminished, from 80 per cent to 68 per cent. Staff training in enterprise across those surveyed also decreased, from 60 per cent to 39 per cent, and the proportion of institutions offering staff funds for continuing professional development in enterprise has dropped, from 79 per cent to 40 per cent. The results were published on 4 April.

Ian Dunn, chair of the NCEE and provost of Coventry University, told Times Higher Education that “the pressures of the sector and its whole regulatory framework have meant that the focus has been drawn elsewhere”.

However, Professor Dunn said that as higher education faces uncertainty – such as Brexit and the outcome of the Augar review of post-18 funding – “now is the time to redouble efforts” in enterprise activity.

“At a time of change and difficulty, an entrepreneurial spirit, for staff and students, is exactly when it will be most beneficial,” he said. Universities must ensure that the agenda is front and centre in their corporate plans and strategies, he added.

The report, produced in partnership with ACS International Schools, recommends that all institutions have an enterprise strategy, having found that only 44 per cent of institutions reported having one in 2018, compared with 49 per cent in 2012, and says that the higher education sector should call on the government to set out how it will support entrepreneurial activity after Brexit.

The report also recommends that universities consider how existing activity and the work of students in particular could engage with schools and communities, and that staff promote the work of local entrepreneurs, in preference to tales of high-profile examples such as Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson, to make entrepreneurship seem more accessible to students.

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Reader's comments (3)

Completely agree that more can be done in this space. In a random sample of One, UCL is bucking this trend. Interest in student entrepreneurship and graduate start-ups has grown 57 starts, 162 jobs, £6.7m external investment (2017/18). Current year shows already surpassed these figures. Entrepreneurship is very much alive and very much kicking adding jobs and growth to the local community. I have hosted a local school today who are keen to find out about entrepreneurship. But, we, as enterprise educators, have work to do across the landscape to make a real difference in our communities and the time is now in our pre/post (fill accordingly) BREXIT landscape. Jerry Allen UCL Director for Entrepreneurship, Director of Enterprise Educators UK,
I have no idea what entrepreneurship is and I suspect many others involved in its 'education' don't know either. I'm willing to bet that the army of aficionados who countenance the value of 'entrepreeurship' could have a full conference on its definition(s) and walk away inconclusively. I can point to some 'entrepreneurs' though, mainly because they have been 'outed' by the media and they have been/ continue to be revered by millions who want to be like them. Donald Trump is one and Phillip Green is another ... hardly an advert for any movement promoting 'entrepreneurship's values; but I can be persuaded by better examples. Whilst it's not my field (is it a field?? is it anybody's field??) I can understand the allure to VC's of its mystic qualities because it's linked to companies and the lucre that accompanies them. If not immediately then in the future. If the VC sets up a cost centre which provides no return, however, 'entrepreneurship' can become just another atrophied fad that never really cut it financially. Is this what's going on here??
If you are trying ot teach students that there is life beyond "getting job" i.e. create your own job then this is attractive to many young people and gets bums on seats at the institution, we run similar schemes. Most Universities would not know what Enterprise is if it hit them in the face, they are clueless on marketing and other business skills that exist outside the public sector. It is often managed by academics with no business skills whatsoever. The article also talks of the decline in Technology Transfer an avenue for commercialising the IP generated by academic staff but this seems to have passed many VCs by at a time when they are seeking to increase revenue. University insitutions are not well managed or innovative, they follow the pack, benchmarking, best practice etc rather than being proactive. One day someone in government wll drag them into the 21st Century.

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