Friday 24 November 2017

Innovation requires changing basics of education

Institutional culture and policies can often get in the way of entrepreneurial potential and spirit, writes Suzi Jarvis

Challenges: Professor Suzi Jarvis of UCD's Innovation Academy with Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Challenges: Professor Suzi Jarvis of UCD's Innovation Academy with Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Suzi Jarvis

THERE is broad agreement that increased entrepreneurial activity will play a critical role in Ireland's economic recovery.

However, there is also a consensus that many barriers to entrepreneurship exist here and that these need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Our experience at the Innovation Academy in University College Dublin over the past three years leads us to believe that appropriately designed, educational interventions are the most important mechanism by which Ireland can unlock its substantial entrepreneurial potential.

Unfortunately our direct experience of third and fourth level educational institutions in Ireland would tend to indicate that institutional culture, practices and policies can often get in the way of readily developing an entrepreneurial spirit and environment within our universities.

Entrepreneurship needs to be championed by entrepreneurial individuals within the university system who are prepared to instigate change in the face of multiple obstacles.

But this requires strong commitment from the university leadership, as the success of such activities requires a complete paradigm shift for the entire university, including changing the fundamentals of how the university operates and its role in society.

This presents a particular challenge for Ireland where Government-funded universities tend to have very traditional structures which often make it more difficult to integrate new approaches than for privately funded institutions in the USA and Asia.

These issues, if not addressed, pose a serious threat to Ireland's evolution from a knowledge economy to an innovation economy.

We also need to be clear what we mean by entrepreneurship in an educational context.

Entrepreneurship education is about developing attitudes, behaviours and capacities at the individual level and about the application of those skills and attitudes during an individual's career, creating a range of long-term benefits to society and the economy.

It should not be focused on developing basic business or financial skills, which are more, in fact, managerial rather than entrepreneurial skills.

We need to take a holistic approach to the needs of future generations, by seeking to integrate disciplinary expertise with broader skills of creativity, self-efficacy, resilience in the face of uncertainty and opportunism in the face of change. This enhances a university education, it does not diminish it.

At the Innovation Academy, UCD, entrepreneurship has been developed as an integral part of a multidisciplinary, education process.

Students take courses and engage in projects with students from other disciplines, always with involvement from external host organisations, enabling them to draw upon expertise from within and outside the university.

We strive to break down the institutional barriers to this cross-fertilisation, in order to provide the most creative and innovative learning process possible. The result is a dynamic, team and project-based learning environment, which has broadened the university's interaction with industry, government agencies, start-ups and not-for-profits, as well as increasing our contribution to the local community.

Our entrepreneurial education programmes have been developed to provide a combination of action-based learning and skill building with the ambition of fundamentally changing the way participants think and act.

To date, we have educated over 500 participants (including PhD, MSc, industry professional,

'The success of such activities requires a complete paradigm shift'

UCD staff, undergraduates and job-seeking graduates) in innovation and entrepreneurship.

The majority of our students reported extremely positive outcomes as a result of participation, including new venture launches and awards, research awards, expanded personal and professional networks and improved employability.

Additionally, we are participating in the HEA Springboard Programme again in 2013-2014, training an additional 355 job-seeking graduates in innovation, entrepreneurship and enterprise. This has been a highly successful programme with a 92 per cent completion rate to date and 64 per cent of participants going on to employment or self-employment.

We have also developed a Professional Certificate and Diploma for Entrepreneurial Educators designed to attract educators of all disciplines and levels and train them to teach entrepreneurial education in the style that we have successfully developed and implemented in recent years.

But we must look beyond the third and fourth levels. A number of governments across the world are introducing entrepreneurship into the curriculum as early as primary level.

It is our firm belief that entrepreneurship education should be introduced into the Irish curriculum at a much earlier stage and the new certificate and diploma now offers a mechanism to train teachers should the Government choose to do so.

Professor Suzi Jarvis is the founding director of the Innovation Academy, UCD

Sunday Independent

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