With clear recognition of how enterprise significantly contributes to wealth and job creation, Irish policy makers have, in recent years, worked to foster and encourage entrepreneurial intent as an essential driver of economic growth and prosperity.
With current unemployment figures at unsustainably high levels, and as entrepreneurship can be a force for change, this impetus is likely to become even more important over the coming years.
But, can we actually encourage young people to become entrepreneurs? We believe, the answer is yes — through the effective implementation of a comprehensive, collaborative ‘education for entrepreneurship’ strategy embedded across all levels of our education system.
Education for entrepreneurship may mean different things to our educators — from primary schools to university, from vocational education to a university MBA.
The benefits of entrepreneurial learning are multifaceted. Entrepreneurship education can, from a young age, awaken entrepreneurial spirit and can foster a positive attitude towards independence, risk-taking and learning from failure.
We believe that developing the entrepreneurial capacity of our students enhances the economic and social well-being of the country.
Thanks to Cork Innovates, UCC and CIT, we had the opportunity to undertake a programme of study this summer at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning in the University of Cambridge. The purpose of this intensive one-week programme was to provide participants (primarily educators) with the know-how, skills, contacts and confidence for developing and delivering entrepreneurship programmes at third level.
The programme provided a forum for the sharing of knowledge and experience in the field, across many institutions across Europe.
A couple of key themes emerged from the programme. First, many universities and institutes that are spearheading entrepreneurial education are embedding the philosophy of education for entrepreneurship.
Indeed, some (as in Cambridge UK, and MIT), focus almost exclusively on education for entrepreneurship as opposed to education about entrepreneurship. This is not to suggest the latter is unimportant, but, that in attempting to actively encourage entrepreneurship, the former is more effective.
Second, there appears to be consensus that entrepreneurship should be cross disciplinary and modules should be available to all students, whether they are studying art, music, business or any other discipline. Third, entrepreneurs-in-residence is a highly effective instrument for supporting students as potential entrepreneurs and universities, using the expertise, experience and business network of seasoned entrepreneurs to assist in setting and optimising new ventures.
Finally, entrepreneurial education should focus on a portfolio approach to maximise benefits, embedding three interlocking types of skills into entrepreneurial learning: personal awareness skills; business know-how skills; and social skills.
Ireland currently faces a number of challenges that can only be met if it has innovative, well-educated, and entrepreneurial citizens. Entrepreneurship is not just about starting your own business.
It is about people who have the spirit and inquisitiveness to think in new ways, and the courage to meet and adapt to the challenges facing them. Ireland will require a greater number of young people who are willing and able to behave entrepreneurially, from successfully developing their own commercial or social ventures, to becoming innovators in the organisations in which they work, in both the private and public sectors.
Because education is key to shaping young people’s attitudes, skills and culture, we believe it is vital that entrepreneurship education is addressed at all levels of education, from primary school through to skills development for existing entrepreneurs.
The European Commission has a tradition of supporting the cause of entrepreneurship education. In Ireland, there is no specific national strategy for entrepreneurship education in general education, despite some good initiatives at all levels. We believe that fostering a new entrepreneurial culture in Ireland requires a clear strategy for entrepreneurship education across the full breadth of our education system.
Enhancing creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship, at all levels of education, must be part of our future.
Embedding a wider societal appreciation of the importance of entrepreneurship is crucial if we are to create the jobs that are needed in Ireland.
* Dr Catherine Kavanagh is a lecturer in economics at UCC. Olive Murphy O’Dwyer is a lecturer with the Department of Continuing Education at CIT, lecturing in business management, marketing and enterprise