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.