Shared GoalsThird Mission Activities

Entrepreneurial University and COVID-19: Opportunities for Entrepreneurial Transformation?

Universities will change as a result of the Coronavirus, but how? And how will the pandemic impact on their Third Mission and enterprise activities?
Written by David A. Kirby

In March 2020, Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University and Advisor to the UK Government, predicted that “universities will be changed forever by the Coronavirus crisis and its aftermath”. How they will change remains unclear though research by Kawamorita, (2020) suggests that the pandemic will pose challenges for all three university missions - education, research and entrepreneurship. At the same time, I would contend, it is likely to provide opportunities and help overcome, in particular, some of the resistance to Entrepreneurship and the Third Mission.

In the short-term, at least, the result of the pandemic is likely to be a reduction in student numbers and fee income, and many universities might be expected to face a shortfall in income, despite support from Government. Doubtless institutions will have to trim their budgets and some may be required to close or merge but I suspect that, wherever possible, many will begin to diversify their income streams by being more entrepreneurial. Indeed, this has begun to happen already. For example, in the UK, where academic entrepreneurship is relatively long established, the university sector has been shown to be helping fight COVID-19 (Universities UK, 2020) through their medical research, teaching and third mission activities. As the Universities UK report shows, they are carrying out vital research into finding a possible vaccine, providing much-needed equipment, facilities and extra staff to the frontline health services and exploring ways to help with people’s health and wellbeing.

The same is happening elsewhere and in Egypt, a country not known for its entrepreneurial universities (Kirby and Ibrahim, 2016), Mowafy (2020) has demonstrated how, “with the current COVID-19 pandemic, several Egyptian universities have responded in an entrepreneurial manner”. However, while universities may engage in entrepreneurial activity, whether commercial or social, it does not mean that they have been suddenly transformed into Entrepreneurial institutions. To be categorized as entrepreneurial they have to transform their cultures and the Third Mission activities of knowledge/technology transfer and commercialization have to be integrated into the strategic core of the organization, alongside and equal to the two traditional missions of teaching and research. At the same time the teaching mission has to change - from passive learning and the imparting and acquisition of knowledge to action learning and the development of such enterprise skills as opportunity recognition, creative problem solving, leadership, team building, influencing, etc. Such deep seated, fundamental changes take time and it is noticeable that to date formal recognition and accreditation has been received by only 5 institutions, globally

Although I believe there to be very good reasons in the contemporary global knowledge economy for universities to adopt the Third Mission and become more entrepreneurial, all too frequently many have not done so. Traditionally most universities have been state funded and, as Williams (2002, 19) has observed, many in academia have been and remain concerned that such activities will “drive out their other more fundamental university qualities, such as intellectual integrity and commitment to learning and understanding”. This is not the case as the pandemic has demonstrated and perhaps we need to ask ourselves how our university has responded to COVID-19 and whether it has, as a consequence, begun to embrace the Third Mission and become more predisposed to entrepreneurship.

We need to ask ourselves how our university has responded to COVID-19 and whether it has, as a consequence, begun to embrace the Third Mission and become more predisposed to entrepreneurship.

I suspect that we will discover that the experience gained from the pandemic will help our universities better understand the Third Mission and appreciate the importance of becoming more entrepreneurial. Undoubtedly the post COVID-19 era will be challenging but, as O’Kane (2020) has recognized in New Zealand, as a result of the pandemic “the red tape that so often frustrates idea generation and innovation and hampers decision speed has largely disappeared” , or is so doing. While the pandemic has not necessarily shown universities what they should do, it has certainly shown them what is possible.


Kawamorita, H., Salamzadeh, A., Demiryurek, K., and Ghajarzadeh, M.,(2020), Entrepreneurial Universities in Times of Crisis: Case of COVId-19 Pandemic. Journal of Entrepreneurship, Business and Economics. 8(1), 77-88.

Kirby, D.A., and Ibrahim, N., (2016), Entrepreneurial Universities in Egypt: Opportunities and Challenges. In Rizk, N., and Azzazy, H., (Eds), Entrepreneurship + Innovation in Egypt. Cairo: American University Press.

Mowafy, A., (2020), How ‘entrepreneurial universities’ are tackling the effects of COVID-19 in Egypt. American University in Cairo: Business Forward Digest, April 8 (online)

O’Kane, C., (2020), Universities’ chance to practise what they teach. Newsroom Opinion Piece Accessed at

Seldon A., (2020) Universities will be changed forever by the Coronavirus and its aftermath. Higher Education Policy Institute. 23rd March, (accessed at

Universities Uk (2020), How Universities are helping fight COVID-19. London: Universities UK.

Williams, G., (2002), The Enterprising University: Reform, Excellence and Equity. Buckingham. The Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.


COVID-19 entrepreneurial university Third Mission opportunity strategy

About the author

David A. Kirby
Holder of The Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion

Professor David A Kirby is Honorary Professor of Practice at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) and Co-Founder (with Felicity Healey-Benson of UWTSD) of the Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society. From the early 1980s he pioneered the teaching of Entrepreneurship in the UK and internationally and from 2007-2017 was founding Dean and Vice President of the British University in Egypt, in which capacity he introduced Entrepreneurship Education to the University and the country. He is the author of “Entrepreneurship” (McGraw-Hill, 2003), and his many research publications include 10 book chapters and some 24 academic journal articles on Entrepreneurship Education and Entrepreneurial Universities, several of which have championed new approaches to the subject. In 2006 he was a recipient of The Queen's Award for Enterprise Promotion and in 2022 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Triple E Award Ceremony in Florence, where the European Entrepreneurial University of the Year Award was awarded to the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

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