Today, the promise and impacts of entrepreneurial education seems increasingly convincing, with many universities reshaping their program curricula, rethinking teaching approaches, opening impressive support centres, recruiting industry experts as lectures, and launching initiatives that encourage students to make contributions to local and regional economies through business projects. Despite being very much in trend and fashion, entrepreneurship education has its fair share of challenges, and many of them reflect widespread biases and prejudices on the part of educators, university managers and policy makers.
Entrepreneurship education can be broadly defined as any pedagogical process or practice in which students learn to identify market and social needs and new opportunities, assess value against risks, set up businesses, develop ventures and implement innovative solutions. Its origins date back to 1938 when Shigeru Fijii of Kobe University, Japan, introduced the first academic program specifically tailored to fostering students’ entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. By the turn of the century, entrepreneurship education had become a truly global movement as universities almost everywhere in the world are offering workshops, seminars, courses, and degree programs on the subject. Yet, entrepreneurship education has been challenged by perspectives, opinions and approaches, many of which are detached from concrete evidence.
One major challenge has to do with the belief that entrepreneurship is a talent rather than a skill, therefore it can neither be taught nor learnt. Advocates of this view claim that some people are born entrepreneurs and that cultivating a business mindset through formal training is a convenient myth. This challenge, referred to by Haase and Lautenschla as “the lingering issue of legitimacy”, is at the very core of entrepreneurship education. It is fuelled by anecdotal accounts, day-to-day observations, and intuitive judgement, and therefore is hard to dismiss. One often hears the following example in defence of this position: Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg did not learn to become genius entrepreneurs in the classroom; conversely, they had to leave universities in order to start their businesses. A more nuanced view is that entrepreneurship education comprises both teachable and unteachable elements (Jack and Anderson, 1999; Kuratko, 2005). Advocates of this view suggest that functional skills, knowledge of business models, tools and methods are perfectly teachable, whereas artistic, creative, and perceptual aspects of entrepreneurship are much more difficult to codify and impart as knowledge. The question of how one can be taught to become an entrepreneur (enabler, an innovator or a visionary) has perplexed the best minds in contemporary pedagogy.
The question of how one can be taught to become an entrepreneur (enabler, an innovator or a visionary) has perplexed the best minds in contemporary pedagogy.
But as daunting as this belief is, it should not invalidate entrepreneurship education per se. Whilst talent can certainly come about as immensely helpful, it is not an indispensable attribute, for at least some entrepreneurship training has been reliably demonstrated to already bring many benefits to students and society (Charney & Libecap, 2000). Colleges and universities should not hesitate to use this logic to justify entrepreneurship elements in academic programs.
A related challenge is a widespread belief that non-entrepreneurs cannot teach entrepreneurship. It is true that by involving proven entrepreneurs to impart their knowledge and experience onto students, universities will be best positioned to develop programs that are truly entrepreneurial. And there is little disagreement that practice-oriented entrepreneurs bring important experience-based insights into the classroom and stimulate students to engage in “learning-by-doing”. They can also be crucial in establishing strategic linkages between academic programs and the external business ecosystem, offering students unique possibilities to build and apply their entrepreneurial competencies. But the fact that real-world entrepreneurs can enhance the quality of entrepreneurship programs does not prevent non-entrepreneurs to be effective instructors and mentors as well. Roelfsema (2013) rightfully points out that the restriction of having entrepreneurs as teachers is non-binding in most cases. The majority of lectures in entrepreneurship centres, business schools and management departments have at least some exposure to entrepreneurial practices, which is enough for them to be successful learning facilitators, class moderators, and student mentors. Moreover, it could be argued that academics who dedicate their careers to observing and analysing entrepreneurial cases, both successful and failed, is an important source of quality-knowledge worth transmitting to students. Empowering students with high-level analytical skills and the ability to conceive and make use of concepts is just as important. At the same time, project-minded entrepreneurship students will benefit most from learning how to transfer strategically positioned business ideas into viable revenue models, and this is when coaches with solid market experiences are most helpful.
Finally, another challenge springs out the myth that entrepreneurial programs will stand alone in the success of universities. However, universities often face difficulties promoting entrepreneurship in education if their academic and institutional cultures remain unchanged. Surprisingly, a fair share of university leaders who recognise the value of entrepreneurship education are bound to old organizational structures that resist the efforts made towards shaking the convenient status quo in their institutions. Some have even challenged the value of teaching entrepreneurship, as evidenced by a survey
revealing that many Canadian universities still struggle to understand “how entrepreneurship fits their academic mission”. The “hiding in the sand” approach is both unfounded and unproductive as an increasing body of data suggests that universities themselves must transform into entrepreneurial actors. Nourishing a truly entrepreneurial culture among university’s administrative and support staff is one way to achieve this goal. A HEI that lacks this holistic approach would hardly succeed in implementing and sustaining a high-quality entrepreneurship program. A mismatch between in-class and out-of-class experiences will do disservice to the students as much as it will hurt the institution’s reputation. Enacting an entrepreneurial culture may present a major challenge to many universities and academics that are traditionally more risk-averse and more reliant on past achievements in their decision. A more forward-looking, innovative, and proactive university will foster an environment that is most conducive to effective entrepreneurship education.
Enacting an entrepreneurial culture may present a major challenge to many universities and academics that are traditionally more risk-averse and more reliant on past achievements in their decision.
Over the recent decades, entrepreneurship education has been a topic of increased interest in higher education. However, its implementation has been hindered by widespread prejudices stemming from the misconceptions on how to teach entrepreneurship, who can teach it and what changes universities must undergo. In tacking these challenges, HEI leaders, teachers and stakeholders must adopt a more critical and reflective stance based on research and evidence.
Charney, A., & Libecap, G. D. (2000). The impact of entrepreneurship education: an evaluation of the Berger Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Arizona, 1985-1999. Available at SSRN 1262343.
Haase, H., & Lautenchlager, A. (2012). The" teachability dilemma" of entrepreneurship. IEEE Engineering Management Review, 40(2), 131-147.
Jack, S. L., & Anderson, A. R. (1999). Entrepreneurship education within the enterprise culture. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 5(3), 110-125.
Kuratko, D.F. (2005). The emergence of entrepreneurship education: Development, trends, and challenges. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(5), 577–598.
Roelfsema, H. (2013) Entrepreneurship Education - An Innovation Systems Approach. In Pedagogical Views on Innovation Competences and Entrepreneurship. Series: Innovation pedagogy and other approaches. Reports from Turku University of Applied Sciences. Turku University of Applied Sciences