Prejudice-Driven Challenges of Entrepreneurship Education Limit its Impacts

Entrepreneurial education is in trend and fashion, yet many implementation challenges it faces stem from biases and misconceptions of educators and society. Admitting this fact opens a way to solutions.
Written by Nikolai Shmelev

Today, the promise and impact of entrepreneurship education seems increasingly compelling, with many universities reshaping their curricula, rethinking teaching approaches, opening impressive support centres, recruiting industry experts as faculty, and launching initiatives that encourage students to contribute to local and regional economies through business projects. Although entrepreneurship education is very much in vogue, it has its fair share of challenges, many of which reflect widespread biases on the part of educators, university managers, and policymakers.

Entrepreneurship education can be broadly defined as a pedagogical process or practice in which students learn to identify market and social needs and new opportunities, weigh value and risk, set up businesses, develop ventures, and implement innovative solutions. Its roots can be traced back to 1938, when Shigeru Fijii of Kobe University launched the first academic programme in Japan specifically aimed at developing students' entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. By the turn of the century, entrepreneurship education became a truly global movement, with universities around the world offering workshops, seminars, courses, and degree programmes on the subject. Yet entrepreneurship education was hampered by perspectives, opinions, and approaches, many of which were not supported by empirical evidence.

A central challenge is the belief that entrepreneurship is a talent rather than a skill that cannot be taught or mastered. Proponents of this viewpoint argue that some people are born entrepreneurs and that formal schooling is a convenient myth for developing an entrepreneurial mindset. This dilemma, referred to by Haase and Lautenschla as "the lingering issue of legitimacy," is at the heart of entrepreneurial education. It feeds on anecdotal reports, everyday observations and intuitive assessments and is therefore difficult to dismiss out of hand. The following example is often used to defend this position: Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg did not learn to become brilliant entrepreneurs in the classroom; rather, they had to leave universities to start their businesses. A more nuanced viewpoint holds that entrepreneurship education includes both teachable and non-teachable components (Jack and Anderson, 1999; Kuratko, 2005). According to this view, functional skills, knowledge of business models, tools and methods are perfectly teachable, while artistic, creative and perceptual aspects of entrepreneurship are much more difficult to codify and pass on as knowledge. The question of how one could be taught to become entrepreneurs (enablers, innovators, or visionaries) has baffled the brightest minds in modern education.

The question of how one could be taught to become entrepreneurs (enablers, innovators, or visionaries) has baffled the brightest minds in modern education.

But as daunting as this notion is, it should not be used to devalue entrepreneurial education per se. While talent can certainly be immensely helpful, it is not an indispensable. It has been reliably demonstrated that entrepreneurial education brings at least some benefits to students and society (Charney & Libecap, 2000). Colleges and universities should not hesitate to use this logic to justify the inclusion of entrepreneurship elements in their academic programmes.

Another challenge is the widely-held view that non-entrepreneurs cannot teach entrepreneurship. Indeed, universities are best able to build true entrepreneurship programmes when they involve proven entrepreneurs who share their knowledge and experience with students. And there is little disagreement that practice-oriented entrepreneurs bring important experience-based insights to the classroom and inspire students to learn by doing. They can also play a critical role in forging strategic connexions between academic programmes and the external business ecosystem by creating unique opportunities for students to develop and apply their entrepreneurial skills. However, just because real-world entrepreneurs can enhance the quality of entrepreneurship programmes does not mean that non-entrepreneurs cannot be successful instructors and mentors. Roelfsema (2013) rightly points out that the restriction of having entrepreneurs as lecturers is not mandatory in most cases. Majority of lecturers in entrepreneurship centres, business schools and management departments have some entrepreneurial experience sufficient to make them effective learning facilitators, class moderators and student mentors. In addition, academics who have dedicated their careers to observing successful and failed business cases are an important source of high quality knowledge worth passing on to students. Teaching students high-level analytical skills and the ability to conceptualise and implement concepts is equally important. At the same time, project-based entrepreneurship students gain the most by learning how to translate strategically positioned business concepts into viable revenue models, and this is where coaches with solid market experience 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


Entrepreneurial education challenges myths

About the author

Nikolai Shmelev
Project Development Advisor, ACEEU

Nikolai Shmelev is Project Development Advisor at ACEEU (Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities). He writes on the topics of innovation, internationalisation and entrepreneurship in higher education, university-industry partnerships, community engagement of institutions and the 21st century skills. He also conducts interviews for and works with contributors to the ACEEU’s Spotlight online magazine.

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