Monday, November 2, 2015

Boosting Entrepreneurship in Australian Universities

Colin Kinner
The Australian Chief Scientist has released “Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia: A role for universities” (by Colin Kinner of Spike Innovation, 28 October 2015). This recommends universities engage with the startup community, have courses by entrepreneurs, have short courses, internships and overseas placements, support multi-disciplinary collaboration and experiential programs. However, Kinner does not place sufficient emphasis on how to integrate entrepreneurship in universities in a sustainable way. High impact programs by individuals tend to falter after an initial period of enthusiasm. I suggest we need programs grounded in educational design, particularly blended mobile learning.
This report studies several universities with impressive track records as breeding grounds for entrepreneurs, and finds the following common attributes:
  • Strong engagement between the university and the local startup ecosystem
  • Courses delivered by experienced entrepreneurs
  • Students given multiple opportunities for engagement— ranging from short courses to immersive programs such as internships and overseas placements
  • Programs support multi-disciplinary collaboration that includes STEM
  • Emphasis on experiential programs and learning by doing
  • Funding arrangements with government drive investment in establishing and delivering student entrepreneurship programs that operate at significant scale
  • Recognition and reward for academics who engage in student entrepreneurship activities
  • Programs based on modern startup approaches such as Lean Startup."
From “Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia: A role for universities” (for the Office of the Chief Scientist for Australia, by Colin Kinner, 28 October 2015).

Examples of Australian universality start-up centers mentioned by Kinner include the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre (University of New South Wales), iAccelerate (University of Wollongong), New Venture Institute (Flinders University) and Canberra Innovation Network (Australian National University, University of Canberra, UNSW Canberra, NICTA and CSIRO). Kinner also mentioned "Piivot" at University of Technology Sydney, but this appears to be more of a concept than a specific center. UTS has what I call the "UTS Innovation Building" which has their UTS Hatchery Pre-Incubator. Kinner also mentions  Ormond College (University of Melbourne), but this appears to just be a residential student college.

On Saturday I attended the Innovation ACT awards, run in conjunction with the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) for Canberra's university students (the team I mentored won an award). This meets Kinner's criteria for entrepreneurial courses (and more), being by entrepreneurs made up of short modules linked to longer formal educational units and supporting multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Unlike the other centres Kinner mentions, CBRIN is multi-institutional, allowing student from different institution to work together. The ANU has also linked Innovation ACT to its degree programs through ANU TechLauncher, with students about to do the technical part of innovation in their degree program and the business part in the Innovation ACT competition.

The report has a chapter on "Best Practice Entrepreneurship Education" (Chapter 4, Page 33). However, I suggest what Australia's universities first need is introductory entrepreneurship education. This is something which takes time to develop and the first step is to tell the students that this is an acceptable activity for them to undertake and will be recognize in formal educational programs. I don't agree with distinction between "high-impact entrepreneurship" and other types: just getting the students to consider this is a useful start. Experiential programs is the worthwhile approach, but before incubators and internships, I suggest that start-up competitions and short courses are a cost effective first step for students.

Teaching entrepreneurship requires entrepreneurs to be involved, however Kinner overlooks the role of educators in the process. Entrepreneurs tend to be good talkers, but not necessarily good teachers. Start-up programs can falter after the initial enthusiasm wears off. I suggest that these programs need to be designed like any other learning experience. In particular I suggest the use of the same e-learning tools and techniques used for university courses. These can now make use of mobile devices for blended learning. In this way the program can avoid being bogged down in mountains of post-it-notes and paperwork.

The Cambridge Model

Kinner lists the University of Cambridge as third in the world for its impact on creating and supporting technology innovation and the highest ranking non-US institution, after MIT and Standford University  (Figure 8, p. 35, 2015). The Cambridge approach is one which I proposed for Australian universities in 1998. Kinner points to the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (CfEL) at Cambridge University, which I made a brief visit to in July. However, Kinner fails to mention the decades of work which preceded this, referred to as "The Cambridge Phenomenon".

Boosting Entrepreneurship in Australian Universities with Blended Mobile Learning

I will speaking at the Australian Computer Society in Sydney, 6:30pm, 4 November on "Global Green Computing On-line: Evolving Content and Assessment for an International Moodle Course" and will add some comments on entrepreneurship and  blended mobile learning.

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