A recent paper by Tim Mazzarol for the Centre of Entrepreneurial Management and Innovation prompts a number of questions that relate to the purpose of entrepreneurship education, and how it is supported by the university sector. Mazzarol argues that there is too little by way of policy support for the development of entrepreneurship, innovation and small business management. Universities, he suggests, are missing any clear strategic emphasis on innovation, entrepreneurship and small business management.
How do these findings stack up with the recent research by Dr Allan O’Connor from the ECIC on issues of purpose for entrepreneurship, examinations of entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the role of entrepreneurship in transitioning economies?
With respect to the policy argument, Dr O’Connor supports Mazzarol. He says Australian policy in this area has over the years tended to focus on the research and discovery end of the innovation equation without much regard to the education needs of entrepreneurship and small business to carry that research into application and onto market penetration. Furthermore, policy has waxed and waned, leaving little by way of sustained and consistent focus on entrepreneurs and small business to for it to gather momentum as an innovative sector. Without a pipeline approach and acknowledgement that needs change as a business grows and develops the results can be that many businesses start but very few blossom and worse, even less blossom on our shores. This is not to ignore the element of natural attrition as it is a fact that not all business that start are destined to survive and prosper but at the same time acknowledgement of the need for infrastructure that support those businesses that have signs of promise means that policies need to support and encourage the supporters, financiers and market mechanisms that facilitate business growth. These areas have attracted too little attention.
Dr O’Connor says that Mazzarol is half-right with the finding that Australian universities place too little strategic focus on entrepreneurship. There is a common view among entrepreneurship academics that entrepreneurship and small business principles need to be introduced across broad curriculum areas to ensure that graduates are business ready; an oft heard gripe from employer groups is that graduates are not. This also suggests that our focus needs to be on what it takes to work and survive in start-up and small business environments and not only be governed by the learning and teaching associated with big business and the multinational corporate sector. In other words starting a business is a unique experience to managing small business which is a different experience again to being employed as a cog in a large corporate machine. As education providers we need to strengthen the provision of entrepreneurship education that will respond to the greatest need. However, paradoxically, this may not be the same as the education with the greatest demand. This raises issues for any university on its entrepreneurship strategy, including marketing, vision, purpose and ultimately decision-making. It is not a lack of strategic focus on entrepreneurship that is the issue in Dr O’Connor’s view, a focus on entrepreneurship will not be for all universities, but a lack of thinking about entrepreneurship strategically. Depending upon its strategic context, engagement in entrepreneurship will vary in focus and be in different forms for any particular university. The important thing is to ask the strategic question about what type of focus, if any, should a university have?