Entrepreneurship education effectiveness means different things to different people. How can we best capture the outcomes of university-based entrepreneurship education?
The number of universities offering entrepreneurship education all over the world has been rapidly increasing in recent decades (Kuratko & Morris, 2018). UK-based universities are no exception. According to the NCEE University Heads of Enterprise Report 2020, published by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education, 89 percent of the surveyed 63 Heads of Enterprise think that entrepreneurship education provided by their university has increased since 2018. One of the questions that emerge is whether entrepreneurship education is effective and what effectiveness actually means.
Despite the long tradition of entrepreneurship education, extant findings regarding entrepreneurship education effectiveness are inconclusive (Nabi et al., 2018). A reason might be that entrepreneurship education is broadly defined and its outcomes are measured in many ways. The UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, for example, defines entrepreneurship education as “the application of enterprise behaviours, attributes and competencies into the creation of cultural, social or economic value. This can, but does not exclusively, lead to venture creation” (2018, p. 7). According to this definition, teaching initiatives and educational interventions are not restricted to start-up entrepreneurship. Hence, effectiveness does not necessarily mean that entrepreneurship education leads to the creation of new ventures. It can also result in the development of skills, capabilities and attitudes that allow graduates to behave entrepreneurially in other contexts.
Adopting the World Café methodology – “a simple yet powerful conversational process that helps people engage in constructive dialogue, build personal relationships, foster collaborative learning, and discover new possibilities for action” (Tan & Brown, 2005, p. 83) – my colleagues Knut Lange, Spinder Dhaliwal, Andreas Walmsley and I aimed to shed light on entrepreneurship education effectiveness (Decker-Lange et al., 2022). The World Café engages multiple stakeholders having different roles in entrepreneurship education, who may not necessarily meet at other occasions, in a productive conversation in a hospitable environment such as a café. The combination of participants with different backgrounds creates opportunities to exchange existing knowledge and explore ideas and potential actions to be taken.
We invited graduate entrepreneurs, students, academics with responsibilities as educators, teaching directors, programme directors, and directors of student experience from universities across the UK, representatives of the National Association of University and College Entrepreneurs (NACUE) and Enactus UK (a community of student, academic and business leaders dedicated to entrepreneurship and social innovation), and staff of university-based enterprise and entrepreneurship teams to attend one of two World Café events that we organised in universities at the outskirts of London in 2018. Among other things, we asked the participants to reflect on the meaning of entrepreneurship education effectiveness and jot down their ideas on the tablecloths that covered the coffeehouse tables around which the participants gathered in small groups (cf. Figure 1).
One of the key findings was that the definition of entrepreneurship education effectiveness depends on which audience is asked, how this audience defines entrepreneurship, and what type of entrepreneurship is addressed, for example, commercial or social entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, working as a freelancer, or lifestyle entrepreneurship.
The participants reflected on the aims, scale and type of entrepreneurship programmes. Purposes range from the creation of a new venture to the development of or change in a student’s entrepreneurial mindset. Other purposes are the acquisition of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills or getting students ready for business in terms of helping them to join a small enterprise or a family business or work as a consultant or a freelancer. From a pragmatic viewpoint, the purpose can also be that students complete a pathway or a module or obtain a degree in entrepreneurship, with effectiveness clearly relating to the extent to which these outcomes have been achieved.
Students’ motivations act as intervening factors. For example, students for whom an entrepreneurship module is compulsory are not necessarily interested in starting a venture. They just want to complete and pass the module. Conversely, students for whom the module is optional may have a personal interest in studying entrepreneurship, such as the desire to be prepared to join their family’s business or turn a business idea into action after graduation.
Some participants suggested that, instead of asking whether a new venture has been launched, effectiveness could be evaluated based on the students’ individual reflections on what they have learned during an educational intervention or on potential shifts in attitudes towards starting a new venture. For instance, based on the activities that students have completed, they often start thinking about how they may use entrepreneurial skills in their future careers and whether they would actually enjoy being an entrepreneur.
Moreover, the scalability of venture ideas was raised as a potential indicator of effectiveness. However, entrepreneurship students rarely consider it. The failure to do so risks endangering the positive employment effects attributed to venture creation. Some participants also stressed the need to consider different time frames because entrepreneurship may be a career option that is pursued many years after graduation.
Overall, the insights from the World Café reflect an understanding of effectiveness as a transformational process that leads to greater self-awareness among students exposed to entrepreneurship education. This process prepares students for different career paths, including but not limited to setting up a venture now or possibly many years after graduation.
The findings also support Neck and Greene’s (2011) claim that students, though registered in the same modules, differ in their motivations and learning outcomes. The exposure to entrepreneurship education may increase students’ entrepreneurial preparedness. However, having gained knowledge about the complexity and risks of entrepreneurship, some students’ entrepreneurial intentions may decrease (Nabi et al., 2018; von Graevenitz et al., 2010). A realistic understanding of the start-up process will assist those students who start new ventures. For those who opt against this, having gained a more realistic understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur can also be useful. It may help them to decide whether they are suited to entrepreneurship and possibly prevent them from entrepreneurial failure.
Credit to ACEEU Spotlight Magazine whom originally published the blog on 28th April 2022.
This blog represents the views of the individuals, not SCiLAB or the Open University.
Carolin Decker-Lange is a Senior Lecturer in Management at The Open University Business School. Her research interests include organisational development and change, interorganisational relationships, and entrepreneurship. She has been involved in several scholarship projects on two undergraduate modules in the Enterprise and Innovation pathway – B205 and B327.
She has chaired the production of the new MBA elective BB851 Entrepreneurship in Context which is currently in its first presentation. In her scholarship work Carolin aims to generate insights for the design of new materials that stimulate entrepreneurial thinking and help students to apply this in diverse professional contexts.