In early February 2020, through our work with the British Council on its Higher Education national policy dialogue, sixty faculty and staff from Uzbek Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), public academies and the Ministry of Public Education came together for the two-day entrepreneurial university hothouse event to co-create their entrepreneurial ecosystems. Uzbekistan Institutions developed their individual strategies and plans to support their students and communities sustainably in creative entrepreneurship and enterprise. Each institution had defined its mission, the stakeholders they were seeking to serve, and their innovative approach to improving graduate employability. The Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Public Education, Higher, Secondary and Specialised education as well as the Ministries of Economy and Innovative development attended, endorsed and celebrated the approach. But universities were wondering why they should consider this ‘diversion’ from their core responsibilities of teaching and research.
Current provision of education is not meeting the standards of employability companies are needing and often research is mis-aligned from the wider needs of society, thus delivering very little impact. On education Rectors say, “We are not serving the students, graduate outcomes in Uzbekistan are low”. Only 10% of young people enrol into tertiary education, and of them only a fraction find suitable employment meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG #8), i.e. decently paid jobs in the industry of their discipline. Several institutional level factors create this gap. The curriculum content is often created in isolation within the confines of the University with little or no input from industry, therefore it’s often not relevant and/or outdated to the needs of industry. Curriculum is not taught in a manner that fosters creativity, innovation, and problem solving, didactic teaching is the norm with very little focus on co-creation or peer-learning featuring anywhere in the curriculum. These systemic issues on the supply side only show half the picture, the other half lives on the demand side i.e. the availability of quality jobs and opportunities for the right candidates.
Trend 1: Knowledge acquisition by a single individual is no longer the key
Not so long ago, an individual could keep up with the developments across all fields. It was said that Aristotle was the last person who knew everything about everything. The growth of knowledge through advances in technology, cross-discipline working, and simulations has increased exponentially. Today the pace of development of knowledge is far more significant than for any individual or organisation to keep up, and with each passing day, this gap will widen. Routinely scientific papers, such as the development of Higgs Boson in the CERN Hadron collider laboratory in Geneva took 5000 scientists . An entrepreneurial university can help its students to develop additional skills that allow for collaboration, creativity and critical thinking to build knowledge networks and amplify their own capabilities. Education today is much more about skills and knowledge, as opposed to solely knowledge – however knowledge remains the focus as it’s easier to measure (essays, exams, presentations etc.) whereas skills development remains an area that needs greater emphasis and focus.
Some of the innovations that we need for our societies already exists elsewhere.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are no longer technical engineering problems but complex systems thinking, cross-discipline area problems. Isolated exemplary solutions to these goals already exist as pilots; the reasons these continue yet to be achieved goals is because of social, spatial and temporal inequalities. As an example, a supply chain disruption because of the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic can lead to precarious unstable futures, as increasing energy consumption and ageing infrastructure mean that energy-supply systems become progressively overloaded.
To solve problems now and in the future, no one can rely on their solo genius; new research shows creativity will become even more important to the growth of jobs between now and 2030 . This includes behaviours like problem-solving, and taking action; attributes like self-confidence and perseverance, skill such as opportunity recognition, persuasion . An entrepreneurial university can help its students to collaborate with others, across disciplines, demonstrate creativity and ingenuity and develop their leadership and problem-solving skills.
Trend 2: There is a change in hiring practices
We have also seen a shift in hiring practices in some of the top universities in the world. In our work with the Head of Careers and Employability at one of UK’s Top University (King’s College London), we discovered that, in 2016, one international professional services firm recruited more graduates of History than of any other university subject for their Accountancy training programme. Apparently, History graduates, and the training they have received at their universities, prepares them with important skills and attributes that are considered as valuable assets in their new role as accountants of a leading global firm. These skills include analytical thinking, attention to detail, causal analysis to self-motivation (see the full list here ). The firms were willing to train them in accounting as a discipline; these firms are hiring for attitude and critical thinking (skills) and not for subject matter expertise (knowledge). For a while leading banks have hired mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists for their trading functions. The banks are looking for talent and potential, the subject matter, and in this case, corporate finance and trading finance can be taught. An entrepreneurial university can help its students by teaching its subjects in a manner that develops enquiry, analytical thinking, attention to detail, and self-motivation.
Trend 3: Governments worldwide are actively supporting start-up activities as a means of job creation
In developed countries, job creation happens in the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector as these are the growth engines of the future. Large enterprises, unless they are growing rapidly, are under constant pressure to trim their workforce. The growth in the SME sector, in turn, is fed by agile, well-funded, robust start-up enterprises that find new opportunities to scale. The developed economies have recognised the potential of this sector for growth and employment generation. Working through local governments, universities and corporations, these economies nurture and create multi-stage support programmes to nurture and incubate start-up activity. In the UK itself over 600,000 new companies are launched every year, and a portion of these scale up. As the adage goes - every big company (unless it’s a state entity or a monopoly) was a small company and a start-up at one stage. Developed economies have thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems. An entrepreneurial university can play a crucial role in encouraging university-based start-up activity and attract support and funding from local governments, national government and corporations. These start-ups can come from university research projects which are commercialised; university alumni and university students who are encouraged and supported to develop their concepts and ideas and take charge of their own careers.
Trend 4: Experience in running or working in a start-up develops highly desirable employability skills for the 21st Century
Not all start-ups succeed in their original idea; some find new business opportunities while others fail and close down. The failure is however limited to the venture, and not the venture owner. High growth enterprises value the entrepreneurial mindset and have a preference for hiring people who are ex-founders of start-ups over people who have corporate experience. We see modern high growth firms like Google, Amazon and Airbnb routinely hire ex founders of start-ups. An entrepreneurial university can play a valuable role in helping their graduates develop new start-up ideas, try them in the market and provide for a safe environment to experiment, build new connections with investors and grow.
An entrepreneurial university can prepare students for the future.
The entrepreneurial university is an institution that has an approach to embedding “enterprise skills” and “entrepreneurship education” within its culture and programmes, and which can demonstrate a significant impact at the regional or national level. It forms a part of the HEI’s strategy and actively creates an environment that encourages entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours in staff, students and alumni whilst ensuring that ideas and innovation are nurtured and given the support they need to flourish. Enterprise skills at the broadest level are the generation and application of ideas , which are set within practical situations during a project or undertaking and can be applied across all areas of education and professional life. Entrepreneurship Education is the application of these enterprising skills with new business framework create cultural, social or economic value and possible to start a new business. Entrepreneurial universities embed enterprise in the teaching curriculum; all subjects regardless of the discipline area are taught in a manner that develops these skills. It also has dedicated centres to support entrepreneurial activity through inspiring students to engage, provide training in generating start-up ideas, and incubation of promising ideas that can lead to venture creation. Alongside students, staff are also supported to convert their research into intellectual property that can be commercialised for the benefit of the staff, the institution and wider society.
2020 has been declared the Year of Development of Science, Education and the Digital Economy in Uzbekistan. With digital access, the students of today have access to the world of knowledge at their fingertips. With expertise and guidance and support from external agencies like the British Council and other country equivalents, these universities can mentor their students to a curated set of information that is valuable. The entrepreneurial universities can create a culture of developing curiosity, persistence, and experimental behaviours to help build an enterprising mind. The entrepreneurial university can also provide the environment for these students to collaborate, network globally and develop the leadership skills to create new value. The future is already here; some universities have already taken up this challenge and accelerate the development of their students' futures. Ultimately the new entrepreneurial university builds their student's employability skills and assets for the 21st Century workplace.
Viren Lall is the Managing Director of ChangeSchool and an international executive educator in entrepreneurship and institutional transformation. ChangeSchool London is one of UK’s fastest growing international education institution, with programmes for executives and university faculty running in 22 countries. Academics and from 101 international universities have attended their faculty development programmes.
Gurpreet Jagpal is the newly appointment Pro Vice Chancellor in Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Suffolk. He is the past Chair of Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK), a national body for promoting excellence in entrepreneurship education. In his roles he has helped London South Bank University achieve the Times Higher Education Entrepreneurship university of the year, and UWE as the shortlisted outstanding entrepreneurial university.