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Entrepreneurship in higher education: Lessons from abroad

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Career-Technical Education

The 2015 SXSWedu Conference and Festival is underway in Austin, Texas. SmartBrief Education editors are on the ground, bringing readers coverage of the discussions and happenings at this year’s show.

Innovators, educators and policymakers alike are discussing the successes and challenges of higher education in the U.S. at SXSWedu this week, but one session explored an approach that is being implemented at a number of higher-education institutions outside the U.S. to encourage entrepreneurship among students and higher-education institutions.

In Wednesday’s policy forum,“New EU and OECD Experiences in Innovating Higher Ed,” David Halabisky of the OECD and Georgi Dimitrov of the European Commission described HEInnovate, a joint initiative launched in November 2013 to support entrepreneurship in higher education.

HEInnovate is a free, self-assessment tool for institutions of higher education to help them determine whether or not they are creating an entrepreneurial culture, find out where they might be falling short and provide a framework for getting them there.

Halabisky cited research showing that entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial endeavors generate a large portion of new employment opportunities in many countries and that nearly one-third of university students hope to one day work for themselves or run their own businesses. However, he said, international research also shows that some 62% of students had not taken courses in entrepreneurship.

In addition to entrepreneurship development in teaching and learning, HEInnovate is aimed at helping institutions with six other dimensions that are part of creating an entrepreneurial culture, including leadership and governance as well as organizational capacity, people and incentives.

Since the launch, some 600 higher-education institutions – primarily in English-speaking countries — have utilized the tool, Dimitrov said. And many grassroots efforts to improve higher education have followed.

For example, in Dublin, Ireland, three technical institutes have decided to merge to create a “next-level,” technological university, set to open in 2016. The framework and mission of the university will be created by stakeholders from the three institutes — employing HEInnovate — to create an entrepreneurial and innovative model, Dmitrov added.

At another school — Porto Polytechnic in Portugal — leaders used the tool and found that the school was trying to do too many innovative things outside of its core competencies — and that some were not being done very well, Dimitrov said. The school has since developed a 2020 entrepreneurship strategy to return to its roots and refocus its mission.

In Denmark, the tool now is part of the “performance agreement” between the country’s largest university and the government.

Moderator Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, noted the rise in popularity of entrepreneurship as a skill for U.S. students to learn and colleges to teach. But are U.S. higher-education institutions embracing entrepreneurial principles as part of university structure, organization and operation? What lessons can be learned?

Katharine Haber is an education editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.

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