Focus must be on entrepreneurs

Scotland's universities are being encouraged to develop strategies to support young entrepreneurs. Picture: Getty
Scotland's universities are being encouraged to develop strategies to support young entrepreneurs. Picture: Getty
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UNIVERSITIES need to develop proper training skills but they are the key site for the next generation of businesses, writes Olga Kozlova.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Business Innovation Forum works to identify ways to develop business acumen and investment in Scotland. Its next report, soon to be published, is focused on entrepreneurial education, an area that has emerged as a national priority for Scotland’s future economic growth.

Only last month, two major new schemes came into being: the Entrepreneurial Schools Programme, which seeks to develop the business potential of Scotland’s young people, and Enterprise Campus, a joint initiative between the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Strathclyde, which aims to help establish 90 high-growth companies over the next three years by supporting postgraduate students from any Scottish university who want to set up their own business.

These encouraging developments provide a fitting backdrop for the new Business Innovation Forum report, which examines the full provision, scale and scope of entrepreneurial education in Scotland.

The study is split into three sections. The first, Enterprise Education, looks at how university students can be equipped with the skills they need to generate and implement ideas, spot opportunities and solve problems. The second, Entrepreneurship Education, focuses on practice, taking account of business planning, fund-raising and development. The third, Skills for Growth, addresses education for existing business owners on topics such as growth, leadership and marketing.

Our report recognises that the last ten years have seen significant improvements in Scotland’s universities – Enterprise Campus being the most recent example. There is, however, more work to be done if future generations are to reach their full entrepreneurial potential.

Interaction between university business schools, other academic departments and professional services, such as careers, development and alumni, needs to be encouraged to deliver a more comprehensive approach to promoting the benefits of enterprise education.

But there are challenges to overcome, one of which relates to how enterprise education is delivered across the university curriculum.

Often this depends on the experience of course leaders, the majority of whom come from academic backgrounds and will not, understandably, have entrepreneurial experience.

This is in part due to the requirements of the Research Exercise Framework, the formula by which universities are ranked and funded according to their research output, which makes it unattractive for institutions to hire employees from non-academic sectors.

We suggest that senior management should be encouraged to adopt a consistent and proactive approach to enterprise education across their universities. To enable this, we propose that each institution implement a dedicated entrepreneurial strategy. We further propose that the Scottish Funding Council consider supporting the employment of enterprise champions within each university.

We found that an efficient way to provide enterprise education is by offering students work experience with private or public organisations. As a result, we recommend that academic departments, in partnership with business schools and professional services, consider how this could become embedded as part of the university experience.

One of the many positive things we identified was that those who already have an idea for creating a new venture are well served, through support schemes such as the University of Edinburgh’s Launch.Ed programme and Scotland-wide initiatives, which include RSE Enterprise Fellowships and Converge Challenge.

Our report suggests ideas on making it easier for aspiring student entrepreneurs to navigate what can at times appear as a complex support network.

Skills for Growth represents the weakest part of the entrepreneurial education pipeline in Scotland. In particular, there is little provision available to address gaps around sales, marketing and international trade.

The US is a leader in this area, with universities such as MIT, Stanford and Harvard offering world-class executive education.

Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have developed commendable initiatives to enable access to these courses for executives from Scottish companies with high growth potential. However, the cost is prohibitive and geographical issues around growing a business of scale in Scotland can lead to complications.

Our report recommends that business support agencies co-ordinate the development of relevant courses

The general message of the paper emphasises the importance of collaborative working. In this spirit, we conclude by proposing the establishment of an Entrepreneurship Education Forum, supported by the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council, to deliver a comprehensive programme for entrepreneurial education in Scotland.

• Olga Kozlova is part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Business Innovation Forum