Entrepreneurship education is now in all universities

All universities in the Netherlands now offer entrepreneurship education and from next year it will be obligatory in vocational colleges, said senior researcher Dr Petra Gibcus. But content differs greatly between institutions and faculties – and it took far too long to integrate entrepreneurship education into the curriculum.

Gibcus is a researcher for Panteia, a Dutch company with 150 employees that provides support to decision-makers and conducts research in the economic, social and transport fields for national and international clients. Based in Holland, in Zoetermeer, Panteia also has offices in Belgium, Turkey, China and Kazakhstan.

She was presenting at the South African Technology Network’s Eighth Annual International Conference 2015 on “Entrepreneurship Education for Economic Renewal”, held at the science park of Vaal University of Technology from 19-21 October.

Entrepreneurship is desirable

According to Eurostat figures, said Gibcus, across Europe there are low proportions of young people aged 15 to 19 years who are self-employed in relation to total employment, with young Italians the most entrepreneurial either by necessity or nature.

In 2014 in Italy, 15% of young people in this age group were self-employed against around 8% across Europe and in the Netherlands – where the proportion has been slowly rising in the past decade – and only 3% in Germany.

It appears there are considerably more young people who consider a career as an entrepreneur to be desirable, than who are self-employed.

Again drawing on Eurostat figures, in 2012 across Europe 49% of people between 15 and 34 years old considered being an entrepreneur desirable, compared to 63% in Italy, 31% in Holland and 24% in Germany.

Some research findings

Gibcus reported on Panteia’s numerous research projects on entrepreneurship education between 2009 and 2015, mostly for Dutch government ministries but also for the European Commission and others, including evaluating entrepreneurship centres' initiatives and impacts.

Among other things, the research found that in Dutch higher education there were more and more institutions offering entrepreneurship education, and more integration of entrepreneurship education in curricula.

But it transpired, Gibcus told the conference, that “there is a lot of work to be done”.

“We see that entrepreneurship education is more integrated into the curricula of schools and also in the strategies and admissions of universities and other institutions.”

“There are some difficulties, because curricula differ a lot per institution and faculty. Some offer entrepreneurial education as majors, others offer it in the minors, others offer it only as extra-curricular activities and some offer it in summer schools and master classes, or have entrepreneurs give speeches to students.

“We did notice that it is important to teach the teachers. The teachers are not the role models – it is the entrepreneurs who are the role models – so if you want to transfer entrepreneurial knowledge to students, then the teachers have to be entrepreneurial.

“We also noticed that some higher education institutions in our country select teachers based on their entrepreneurial skills. So that’s another way of thinking that has become important in the last two or three years.”

It had taken a long time to integrate entrepreneurship education into curricula, because of budget constraints and the unwillingness of academics to change or cooperate with each other across disciplines. Institutions were still struggling with this, in the Netherlands and likely elsewhere, said Gibcus.

There were more and more students participating in entrepreneurship education. Currently 5% of all higher education students in the Netherlands are somehow involved in entrepreneurship education. There was also more attention being paid to entrepreneurial skills – not only about entrepreneurship or becoming a start-up – “that’s also a shift in our country”.

What the students say

Gibcus said Panteia research had asked students what they thought about entrepreneurship education, and their association with the word ‘entrepreneur’ for example.

The first association that students had with the word ‘entrepreneur’ was taking the initiative – for “quite a large number of students this was most important”. The second was being alert to opportunities, “and in my opinion, that is what entrepreneurship is all about”.

Students also thought the word was about planning and organising, and owning a business, “especially the mindset, and not just being an entrepreneur”, with being your own boss in fifth.

Panteia research found that entrepreneurship education had positive influences on students.

For instance, nearly 75% of people surveyed said they became more aware of the meaning of entrepreneurship, more than 65% believed it would help prepare them to be an entrepreneur in future, more than 55% thought more positively about entrepreneurship, and more than half felt more inclined to be an entrepreneur and showed more entrepreneurial behaviour.

From talk to action

Gibcus stressed the contradiction between what students say and what they do. “While 31% of students in the Netherlands say they desire to become an entrepreneur, we also know from research that only 8% become an entrepreneur. So there is a huge gap.”

To close this gap – to encourage more young people to become the entrepreneurs they admire – it would be necessary to create a stimulating eco-system as a precondition.

Research, Gibcus concluded, had highlighted the importance of getting business, higher education institutions and governments together “so that they create the eco-system together”.