How can we deliver effective entrepreneurship education in a higher education system hidebound by a restrictive, risk-averse attitude? How can we gather the evidence that innovative, mould-breaking approaches are essential if we are to help students develop themselves into practising entrepreneurs?
In the UK, the Quality Assurance Agency has produced ‘Enterprise and entrepreneurship education’ (2012) which is intended to guide practice-based activities, so what is missing to provide the real transformation of students into entrepreneurs? Research (e.g. Hynes and Richardson, 2007 and Piperopoulos & Dimov, 2014) has shown that practically-oriented courses positively influence the entrepreneurial intention and self-efficacy of students. In practice theory, learning occurs through participation in practices relevant to the occupation or field (Boud & Rooney, 2015). So, what constitutes practice and what is needed to produce clear concepts of practice in order to produce effective entrepreneurial graduates?
Research (e.g. Cope 2005) has captured the essentials of the way real entrepreneurs learn and there have been some innovative approaches, such as the Finnish ‘Team Academy’ model where Students behave, work and learn like entrepreneurs in a business setting (Juvonen, 2013, Tosey et al 2013) yet the prevailing approach remains one of applying traditional teaching and learning methods.
We argue that traditional approaches to learning and teaching, to quality assurance, the consideration and acceptance of risk and even student attitudes, frequently conspire to frustrate a truly innovative approach to delivering an effective entrepreneurship education. This is one that enables students to learn and to demonstrate their entrepreneurial capabilities in the only way that really matters – by doing it for real. This is not the same as simply pushing students ‘out there’ to ‘sink or swim’. There has to be another way; one that walks a line between the extremes of classroom-based ‘learning about’ and simply ‘jumping into the deep end’. We believe that higher education has something vital to add to the process of learning to be an entrepreneur but it is not to be found in the classroom, nor is it to be found in text books, game simulations and traditional forms of assessment.
What is required is a process of guided self-discovery. One where students learn by doing, just like a real entrepreneur but with guidance and coaching to help them better make sense of and learn from their experiences. This can be achieved through real-world, real-time interaction over a prolonged period with all the excitement, trepidation and risk that that entails. This requires: students willing to get out of their comfort zone; staff willing to replace didacticism with mentoring and coaching approaches that require them to collaborate with the students as they discover their own learning; and most importantly, institutions willing and able to accommodate courses that ‘break the mould’ of onventional course delivery, quality assurance and risk-taking. How do we achieve this? How do we gather the data to demonstrate the validity of this approach whilst at the same time reassuring fearful institutions that this approach will not plunge them into some kind of crisis?