Creating an entrepreneurial environment
Social stability, economic prosperity, and cultural richness all depend on educational excellence. Over the past thousand years, European universities have been at the forefront of shaping art, science and commerce.
Today, global issues from climate change to economic uncertainty challenge these institutions to deliver knowledge with greater impact. Doing so requires the concerted effort of academic leaders, policymakers and the business community. Together, they can design the strategic priorities, incentives and structures for research breakthroughs.
Strengthening Europe’s educational system will take an entrepreneurial mind-set and reconsideration of how to prepare students – and faculty members – for the future. There is no shortage of areas where fresh thinking can drive progress. Achieving best results, though, means strengthening the “knowledge triangle” among education, research, and business, an idea central to the Lisbon Strategy and the Europe 2020 plan. Thus far, according to a recent European Commission report
, this remains a work in progress, while emerging economies are rapidly increasing their investment in higher education. Solving the “innovation equation” will take smart macro policies and campus-level initiatives, such as:
- Creating better incentives for universities to work together, harnessing their collective knowledge to produce new models of research collaboration and integration.
- Forging deeper connections among schools, business and government to prioritise research areas. Some important categories are laid out in the FP7, the EU’s Framework Programme for Research, which is the main instrument for funding research in Europe. Such clarity will foster research relevant for today and tomorrow’s labour markets. Alumni who are senior business leaders are one obvious segment for engagement.
- Designing action-oriented curricula, such as “incubator” courses in which students develop real ventures. The university, with alumni partners, could fund the best ideas. The student entrepreneurs would pledge some of their venture’s profits back into the university, spurring further scholarship.
- Developing more research-intensive business competitions, including ones focused on high-impact entrepreneurship. Business and government could support these efforts through financial awards, internships and job opportunities post-graduation.
- Fuelling academic innovation by revisiting prerequisites for professional advancement. Traditional faculty output, such as journal publication, could be augmented by activities that develop better ways to integrate theory and practice. Universities also can incentivise faculty to pursue more transformative, rather than incremental, research. The former often is seen as a professional risk, since it may take longer, diminishing the researcher’s overall output – a nontrivial factor in “publish-or-perish” environments.
- Cultivating diversity of thought as a source of new ideas. Beyond ensuring its academic strengths, universities should recruit and support talented members of underrepresented groups.
Universities should be centres of excellence where ideas and action come together to create broad social impact. These institutions should avoid pursuing too many potential research projects, lest they spread their resources thin and achieve only mediocrity. Rather, each should identify its strengths and chart a course in line with its expertise. This path should ensure a diverse research portfolio across European higher learning.
This article was originally published in Issue 9
of the Futures Magazine.