Wanted: more smart asses

November 24, 2000

Enterprise teaching ranges from "bad to disastrous" in all countries and its "shady image" acts as a break on development, according to a report on entrepreneurship.

The findings are from the second annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), a joint research initiative between Babson College in the United States and the London Business School, which surveyed enterprise activity in 21 countries.

The report confirms that education, especially post-secondary, is critical to fostering entrepreneurship and an enterprise culture.

Economic growth is directly related to its level of entrepreneurial activity, the report says. In the United Kingdom, one in 33 adults is starting a business, compared with one in ten in the US, and one in eight in Brazil. The UK is ahead of most European countries in the enterprise stakes, but behind Norway and Italy.

One report author, Michael Hay, head of the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Management at LBS, said: "Investment in education may take time to pay dividends but clearly has a major impact on entrepreneurship. It ensures an ongoing supply of people creating new ideas, technology and knowledge - which leads to new business opportunities," GEM researchers, who interviewed almost 800 experts, found that the more extensive a country's post-secondary education system, the greater overall participation there was in enterprise. They suggest that the biggest gains come from broadening post-secondary institutions and educational programmes.

Paul Reynolds, GEM project co-ordinator, said that despite post-secondary education across Europe doubling in 20 years, it was still too small compared with North America.

"Once you get more people involved you are creating more of the smart asses comfortable with challenging the system, and essentially that is what entrepreneurs often are.

"The other issue is that entrepreneurship should be integrated into all aspects of the curriculum. Having an option available to students would have a positive impact on teachers, as they are often suspicious of entrepreneurship - there is a shady element to it that does not give a wholesome image," said Professor Reynolds, visiting professor in entrepreneurship at LBS, and professor of entrepreneurship studies at Babson.

None of the experts evaluating enterprise teaching had judged it either adequate or extensive enough in any country, with scores given on the scale from "disastrous" to "pretty bad".

The GEM 2000 research was supported by the US-based Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Ernst & Young. It involved scientific surveys of 2,000 people in each country, more than 40,000 in total.

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