Enterprise Education has always been an important part of the Business School experience but against a backdrop of global pandemic and change it is more vital than ever as a way to transform the life chances of our students.
Running a Business School in the North-West of the United Kingdom, I am part of a constant discussion about how we ‘level up’ the regional economy to reduce inequalities and increase economic prosperity. The University of Salford at the macro-level plays its part in various ways including being part of the Salford Crescent and University District Masterplan; a £2.5 billion, 240-acre major regeneration scheme, aimed at driving economic and social prosperity for the whole of the city of Salford over the next 10-15-years.
However, our expansive vision and ambition is married to an understanding that we make an important promise to each one of our students. The transformation of our environment is matched by our commitment to a transformational experience for each student and help them ‘level up’. We know that the pandemic and resulting economic crisis is making it harder for students to take their first steps into graduate employment and Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK) has identified that this disproportionally impacts certain groups and female workers.
Enterprise at the core
At Salford Business School, we see Enterprise and Entrepreneurial Education as critical to ensure that our students, many of whom are first generation students, go from start to success. Enterprise Education in the past often had a narrow focus about the creation of business plans and new venture ideas often divorced from external scrutiny and context – often purely for assessment purposes with no extrinsic value. In 2020, Enterprise Education must be seen both broader and deeper than this if we are to equip our students with the skills, experience and networks to be successful.
It is about creating pathways for students to engage with potential employers, business partners and discover passions and causes that may inspire them. It is about creating the spaces and places where interests intersect, and students can build their own networks and personal narratives of success. This is more difficult in an era of social distancing but given that Business Schools claim to be innovators, it is not beyond our gift to make happen.
Enterprise Education when done well is one of the best ways to facilitate students to create social capital for themselves. The idea of social capital is highly contested but for our purposes is related to the idea of creating goodwill and networks where they did not exist before. Enterprise Education is not therefore simply about the activity and the assessment outcome, it is about the journey and the chance for students to construct new narratives about themselves – as a partner or a business owner or valued advisor. This is also simply good teaching and learning practice because it is a type of constructive alignment where the student constructs their own personalised learning through the enterprise activities.
Enterprise Education also naturally dovetails with the authentic assessment debate. What can be more authentic or powerful for a new graduate to produce at an interview than a business plan that they provided for a partner or social media campaign they undertook for a social enterprise they cared about?
For a School to be truly involved in Enterprise Education there must be clear evidence it is engaging with and engaged by the outside world – be it commercial organisations, social enterprises and charities. Without this, students will not benefit from a level of externality that will generate the networks and goodwill discussed previously.
Many Business Schools are involved in Enterprise Education but my challenge to you is – when was the last time you analysed and considered the impact of that work?
Questions for you to consider
I will finish by posing the same questions I ask myself regularly to ensure that we have externality and real impact for our students.
- If you analyse your current enterprise education provision – are there regular and real opportunities for students to work with external partners on problem solving and value creation?
- Are there discreet regular non-credit bearing opportunities for students to develop their enterprise education?
- At every level of study, do your students create assessments that solve real problems that an employer in an interview would recognise as having value beyond the purposes of assessment?
- Does your enterprise education represent the diversity of students we have and are there real opportunities for students to use enterprise education as a vehicle for social change?
Let us level up our Enterprise Education and opportunities for our students with it.
Charles Knight is the Associate Dean (Student Experience) at Salford Business School. Prior to his appointment, Charles was a director of Edge Hill University’s Productivity and Innovative Centre.
Our Adding Value through Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education in Higher Education Collaborative Project aims to bring together institutions to answer these questions and more. The project begins in 2021 and is open to participants from all disciplines. Find out more