How higher education can drive an enterprise revolution

By Wendy Purcell and Caroline Chipperfield –

Universities are places of discovery and innovation, as expressed through the two pillars of their activities; teaching and research. Around the world some universities are moving to view their academic endeavours through the lens of enterprise, further extending their so-called ‘third stream’ activity and embracing a wider cultural and social agenda. From this perspective,

‘being enterprising is the ability to respond to change, take risks, to innovate and to generate and implement new ideas and new ways of doing things. Put simply, enterprise is having ideas and making them happen’1.

In this way enterprise draws upon both teaching and research, creating value by delivering learning that enjoys currency, social responsibility and high employability as well as research that reflects societal impact, application and innovation.2

In the UK, there has been a long tradition of ‘civic universities’. These universities were developed in the nineteenth Century by entrepreneurs and civic leaders to satisfy a strong social imperative and the changing demands placed on cities for an increasingly skilled workforce.

However, a new paradigm is emerging—going beyond that of a civic university—the enterprise university. As Goddard notes:

‘A wider view of the economic and social role of universities, going far beyond technology and skills transfer, is developing and should be encouraged.’3

This new model university maintains its strong commitment to knowledge dissemination, creation and transfer, but pursues its mission in partnership in order to sustain and enrich its academic offer. These universities, bold and entrepreneurial, are beginning to accelerate this change, placing more emphasis on their role as an ‘urban innovation engine’4 and increasingly recognised as significant anchor institutions with an important presence within a city and community.5

Universities attract smart and creative people; innovate through practice, development and commercialisation. They also contain a range of unique facilities and are able to reach out and build strong networks of partners that can drive social inclusion and economic growth.

The culture that underpins successful enterprise endeavour

At the core of an enterprise university is the development of an enterprise enabling and sustaining culture. For many universities, this requires a distinct step-change in thinking; from an organisation based solely on its excellence in basic research and focus on personal learning, to one where innovation and engagement is embedded, actively shaping the university’s offer through team working and partnership.

In many cases, the successful establishment of an enterprise culture is a genuine change of emphasis and requires a new model of leadership, shifting away from ‘command and control’ to one that embraces ‘learn and adapt’ behaviours. An enterprise culture relies upon an agility where confidence in ideas and risk-sharing are encouraged, actively championed and rewarded. This in turn empowers staff and fosters innovation in order to create an environment in which the organisation can excel.

Change agents

As Kotter6 describes, it is important in any change programme to secure early indicators of success—the so-called ‘quick wins’. This builds confidence in the organisation and supports the generation of new ideas, accelerating the pace of change and encouraging others to engage. One way of accelerating change is through an ‘enterprise enablers’ programme. These comprise staff from a range of levels and roles, working together to create small steps of change in their own departments and teams, in line with delivery against the overall institutional mission.

These agents of change are the enthusiasts, the early adopters and those of a more cynical tone who wanted to get on with ‘doing enterprise’. They act as catalysts to accelerate and develop the mission, promoting the agenda at a more local level— translating corporate intent into individual delivery. They are also key to the ‘sense making’ necessary for individuals at the local level to interpret, understand and adopt change.

Academics—tackling cultural change head-on

At the root of a university enterprise culture is a core belief that all members of staff and indeed the entire student body can be enterprising—in particular in championing the role of creativity and innovation to tackle challenges head on. AIM Research in 20107 showed that academics are five times as entrepreneurial as the general public but often do not consider themselves in this way. Perkmann and Salter highlighted that academics believe that institutions do not value their

‘entrepreneurial activities and that these activities count little in the promotion and recruitment decisions of their universities’.

For a successful enterprise culture it is important that the pathways to reward and career progression are transparent and inclusive of all activity. It can be more difficult to develop measures of excellence for the recognition of enterprise, but is imperative to ensure parity in status and progression. A report by the NGCE and CIHE supports these findings and recommends that universities

‘make bold changes to reward and remuneration frameworks to recognise the entrepreneurial behaviour of academics and practitioners’.

Students and alumni

A successful enterprise culture extends across a university to actively include its students and alumni, both in establishing the culture and carrying it forward. Whether these activities involve ‘Dragon Den-type’ competitions, business ideas challenges, or enterprise clubs it is imperative that the enterprise ethos is embedded in the university curriculum, is eligible for the award of university academic credit, enriches the student experience and provides extra-curricular opportunities.

Direct contact with employers and entrepreneurs, together with an exposure to incubation facilities, work placements, internships and volunteering all ensure that students gain confidence in their ability to tackle live commissions and projects, operate in real-world situations and secure experiences that distinguish them in the market place. Research-led teaching enriched by a range of real-life experiences delivers an enterprise-led pedagogic approach.

Business model

To maximise this enterprise culture, a new business model is needed, especially given that enterprise in action relies upon being bold and taking informed risks with ruthless attention to delivery. Traditional models of operation, university committee structures and upward delegation do not adequately support enterprise given the intrinsic need to be agile. The 2009 PA Consulting report summarised that need for change

‘from an ‘old world’ of public funding entitlements to a still-forming ‘new world’ of income earned through value delivered’.

Universities will need to adapt their business model to embrace these changes and adopt a solutions-orientated mindset—responsive to expressed and anticipated customer needs and demands. The enterprise model places a premium on securing shared solutions through partnership working and a belief that a university can impact positively on the community it serves.

External culture—creating pathways for change

Universities, typically though their student body, engage in community volunteering projects, work with schools as part of outreach and liaison, act as supernumerary members of the workforce out on placement and engage in aspects of social enterprise or community engagement.

Enterprise is not simply about the number of spin-off/start-up companies or business contracts; it is about value creation through cultural transformation, innovation and the exploitation of ideas. Enterprise universities create a seamless pathway, at the heart of a national landscape for innovation and creativity—providing a strong and diverse network, creating a critical mass of activity and further developing their anchor status as beacons or ‘hubs’ of enterprise and as a catalyst for change.

The enterprise ecosystem

While focused on the role of national governments to ignite venture creation and growth, Isenberg11 discussed the key principles in developing an entrepreneurship ecosystem. These principles provide a useful checklist for universities interested in establishing and maintaining an enterprise culture:

  • Articulate a clear vision of what an enterprise-led approach and ethos looks like for the university.
  • Build your bespoke enterprise ecosystem around local conditions and develop to support the local environment.
  • Engage the private sector from the start with SMEs playing an important role alongside multinationals and community groups:

‘Regional economic growth is highly correlated with the presence of many small, entrepreneurial employers – not a few big ones.’

  • Establish opportunities for ‘quick wins’ by building a network of vibrant enterprise change agents.
  • Ensure that the university reward structure is transparent and enterprise commands an equal status to teaching and research.

Professor Wendy Purcell is Vice-Chancellor at the University of Plymouth.

Caroline Chipperfield is Policy Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Plymouth.

The University of Plymouth has a clear mission to be enterprise-led in everything it does and articulates this through its student experience. It is a top 50 UK research university and (in partnership) oversees a network of incubation and innovation spaces across the South West, managing over £100million worth of assets.

  1. HEFCE 2010
  2. Vorley, T. and Nelles, Jen. 2008. (Re)Conceptualising the Academy: Institutional development of and beyond the third Mission. OECD. December 2008
  3. Goddard, J. Reinventing the Civic University. NESTA 2010
  4. Williams, L. Turner, N. and Jones A. 2008. The Work Foundation – Embedding Universities in Knowledge Cities. December 2008
  5. The Work Foundation.2010. Research Paper 2 Anchoring Growth: The role of ‘Anchor Institutions’ in the regeneration of UK cities. January 2010
  6. Kotter John P. 1995. Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review. March–April 1995
  7. Salter, A. Tartari, V. and D’Este, P. 2010. The Republic of Engagement Exploring UK Academic Attitudes to Collaborating with Industry and Entrepreneurship. August 2010
  8. Perkmann, M and Salter A. Entrepreneurial academics need support. Financial Times. December 20 2010
  9. Herrmann, K. Hannon, P. Cox, J. and Ternouth P. 2008. Developing Entrepreneurial Graduates: Putting entrepreneurship at the centre of higher education. CIHE
  10. Boxall, Mike .2009. Escaping the Red Queen Effect. PA Consulting Group
  11. Isenberg, Daniel J. 2010. How to start an entrepreneurial revolution. Harvard Business Review, June 2010

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