Enactus – entrepreneurship at the heart of education
Only recently has 'entrepreneurship' become a firm fixture in HE vocab, says Loughborough University V-C, Prof Robert Allison
Universities have long been aware of the need to ensure their graduates are well-prepared for the world of work. Today, studying at degree level has two principal benefits. First, it provides an in-depth understanding of a subject and with that the development of subject-based skills such as numeracy, oral and written fluency, and the capability to undertake critical enquiry. Second, it allows students to acquire the skills and experience sought by employers – teamwork, initiative, tenacity and creativity, for example.
The first post-university step for many graduates is a career with an employer. Increasingly though students have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and are branching out on their own, starting up businesses and venturing into self-employment. Indeed some embark on such a journey while they are still at university, using support networks to test ideas, identify markets and take the first steps in bringing products and intellectual property to market.
The innovative spirit has always been present in the UK student population but it is comparatively recently that ‘entrepreneurship’ has become a firm fixture in the higher education vocabulary. Initially it was seen as an ‘add on’; an opportunity available to students outside their degree. Today enterprise and entrepreneurship are becoming embedded within the curriculum, sometimes as part of well-established modules but increasingly as a stand-alone part of a programme of study. In some cases, whole degree programmes now exist with entrepreneurship at their core, something that was a rarity 10 or so years ago and non-existent before that. In short, this is now being seen as an integral part of preparing students for their progression into the world of work.
[The Enactus programme] offers [students] a supportive network through which they can explore and develop their ideas
Loughborough University London, our campus on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park that we opened two years ago, is a perfect example. From the outset we put entrepreneurship at the heart of the degree programmes we offer there. Our students are able to explore and develop their innovative ideas through taught modules, a ‘live’ project and work-based learning opportunities. They learn from the most influential thought leaders and creative innovators and are exposed to the very latest thinking. Those wishing to start their own businesses are supported in making use of incubation and accelerator space and are able to seek advice and mentoring from successful entrepreneurs.
Our aim at our London campus is to inspire the entrepreneurs of tomorrow by nurturing their talent, incubating their ideas and supporting them into the marketplace. The result is graduates with the confidence, risk appetite and determination to start up on their own.
The Enactus programme, in which we have been participating since 2007, is among the opportunities provided for our Loughborough-based students. It offers them a supportive network through which they can explore and develop their ideas.
Universities have a responsibility to ensure they nurture the talents of their students
Every time I meet the Enactus Loughborough teams I am full of admiration. They are focused, driven, passionate and proud; they care about the world, they are principled and want to make a positive, tangible difference, at a local, national and global level. As I write, one group is working with supermarkets to redirect their usable surplus food to people in need. Another has developed a new type of briquette from waste sustainable materials, which burns more safely and efficiently than traditional counterparts; the team aim to empower disadvantaged women in India to create, market and sell the new briquettes.
Each year I watch the students’ knowledge, understanding and assuredness grow and I am immensely proud of all that they achieve.
UK universities are full of dynamic, energetic and passionate people, who have the desire and commitment to make a difference. Universities have a responsibility to ensure they nurture the talents of their students, to make sure the country’s graduates, as our future leaders, have the skills and qualities that will not only help them to achieve their dreams but will also make the world a better place.
Enactus UK supports over 3,000 students through youth social action each year in 56 universities to transform their employability, outlook and skillset to deliver 228 enterprise projects in the UK and overseas.