What does it take to make graduate entrepreneurship support in HEIs successful?

Andrea-Rosalinde Hofer, Economist, OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development

The promotion of youth entrepreneurship has become an important policy objective across the European Union and the OECD area. Public programmes targeted to youth entrepreneurs, such as start-up loans for the under-30s and start-up acceleration programmes, have been launched in many countries (OECD/European Commission, 2012). At the same time, international survey data confirms that students in higher education increasingly consider new venture creation, either on their own or together with others, as an attractive career option (GUESSS, 2016).

For students who are about to enter the labour market, the question of whether or not to become an entrepreneur typically involves comparing different employment options (e.g. working for someone else, being one’s own boss, employing others), and considering the implications these choices may have for personal development. Values, beliefs and social norms are generally considered to be among the factors the influence such choices. Recent cross-country studies (e.g., by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) suggest that educational institutions also can have an important influence on whether students choose starting-up a business as career path. 

With average entry rates of young people into Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) now standing at close to 58% (Bachelor or equivalent study programmes across the OECD area in 2014), expectations are rising that HEIs will play a more active role in promoting graduate entrepreneurship. There is also growing support from public policy in this as expected economic and social benefits associated with graduate entrepreneurship are high because of the assumed knowledge and technology intensity of business ideas, new business models, and the connectivity amongst start-ups, particularly in metropolitan areas. 

In recent years, an increasing number of HEIs have been putting in place practices that support entrepreneurship amongst their students and alumni. Emphasis has primarily been on entrepreneurship education activities aimed at developing a set of attitudes, knowledge, and skills that allow students to identify opportunities and turn these into successful ventures. At the same time, we notice that the notion of entrepreneurship is broadening and that entrepreneurship also stands in for the sense of initiative, creating value and contribute to make our world a better place. And, if we look deeper, we can sense that there is a change underway to make more space in class for experiences, emotions and reflection in learning. This is a discussion worth taking forward in other blog entries. 

The focus here is on what HEIs can do to support those who want to create a start-up. HEIs have introduced a variety  of complementary support services over the last two decades, including mentoring; the active integration of students into research activities; the creation of co-working spaces and incubation facilities; help with intellectual property rights; and, assistance in accessing public and private financing. 

What makes venture creation support in HEIs successful? In this blog, I will look into two key aspects, that is, organising interdisciplinary activities and helping students to combine their studies with their entrepreneurial intentions. 

Organising interdisciplinary activities 

All of what is needed to successfully implement a new idea can be learned. To effectively help nascent entrepreneurs developing the competencies they need for this, education and training programmes have to include both technical and social skills. Ideally, such training should be available for all interested students, regardless of their area of study, because many innovative and viable business ideas are likely to arise from the combination of technical, scientific and creative studies. A main challenge in organising interdisciplinary activities is their dependence on faculty buy-in. Not all faculty members view entrepreneurship as relevant to their field, and therefore they will perceive it as being pushed outside of their comfort zone.

How to get faculty buy-in? A simple and straight-forward approach would be to invite all colleagues that could potentially collaborate in an interdisciplinary module to share their views on entrepreneurship. You can use for this HEInnovate, a free, online questionnaire tool that gathers the views of different stakeholders around specific issues and produces instant reports that show agreement and disagreement and highlight hidden opportunities as well as areas for improvement. Try it out on 

Helping students combine their studies with their entrepreneurial intentions 

Students who start-up a business during their studies risk abandoning their studies. HEIs can help students get through the “drop-out valley” by, for example, allowing them to suspend their studies as they start-up their business, and/or by giving them the chance to focus part of (or all of) their entire graduation thesis on a research question that is related to the start-up. 

However, the decision to start-up a business may not occur during studies or directly after graduation. Rather, it often takes place after an initial period of employment during which graduates gain experience in how businesses and markets operate. Students thus may not look for start-up support in the first case, but for education activities that stimulate their creativity and require the application of knowledge to solving real-world challenges. 

As these activities are often extra-curricular in nature, it is important that students have the possibility to document the competencies and skills developed in such activities, for example with diploma supplements or other certificates, in particular when they decide to delay their start-up and to initially look for a paid job. Another way is to provide students with a tool to self-assess these competencies and skills. An example is Dublin City University (DCU). All its students have access to individual e-Portfolios, which can be used to monitor personal development in six key areas. Students are encouraged to be:

  • Creative and enterprising, i.e. innovative and problem-solving, as well as adaptable and willing to pursue new ideas
  • Solution-oriented, i.e., marshalling available resources 
  • Effective communicators, i.e. able to negotiate effectively, to collaborate, and to influence others 
  • Globally engaged (in terms of being locally and globally aware), to value tolerance and cultural diversity, and to be committed to civic engagement; 
  • Active leaders
  • Committed to continuous learning in the spirit of inquiry, reflection and evaluation


Category : entrepreneurship education Posted : 25 January 2017 14:01 UTC
About the Author
Andrea-Rosalinde Hofer, Economist, OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development

Andrea Rosalinde Hofer has worked on promoting entrepreneurship through education for the last decade, initially focusing on the role of universities in promoting entrepreneurship through educational activities and start-up support measures. Around 100 higher education institutions have been involved in peer-reviews, surveys and capacity building seminars. The OECD LEED criteria list of good practice in university entrepreneurship support emerged from this; it was incorporated in, a EC-OECD guiding framework for entrepreneurial and innovative higher education institutions. Recently, the OECD work on Skills for Entrepreneurship, which Andrea is co-leading, included earlier levels of education. The aim of Entrepreneurship360, a major initiative of the EC and the OECD, is to establish a development and support tool for primary and secondary schools, and VET colleges to enhance their efforts in promoting entrepreneurial education through more and better teaching and enlarged learning environments. Andrea has led more than 20 OECD peer-review teams, designed innovative approaches to capacity building and (co-) authored several working papers and book chapters on reforms in transition economies, policy frameworks for local entrepreneurship and innovation support, and the role of universities in local economic development. 

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