Guest blog by Dr Yaz Iyabo Osho
One of the challenges in teaching enterprise education is ensuring that teaching is embedded in action and active learning, and that students are exposed to the experiential learning opportunities which can help hone their enterprise skills, entrepreneurial capability and knowledge. The very basis of action learning enables students to work on real problems individually, as a team or as an organisation.
As is well-known, enterprise is more than just entrepreneurship; it is about fostering a range of skills that can make students the preferred candidate at an interview and beyond. It also cultivates an attitude of risk-taking, creativity, resilience and self-reliance which stands them in good stead in the turbulent voyage of business start-up or the equally choppy shores of employment.
At present, the field of enterprise education is vibrant with a growing community of academics and practitioners who regularly share best practice on a range of key issues, such as embedding enterprise and employability in the curriculum, exploring the value of enterprise education and building a bank of QAA mapped enterprise resources.
Working in a truly widening participation institution as a programme leader in Enterprise and Small Business Development at GSM London, I have found it crucial to foster to embed practical realities of entrepreneurship within the curriculum. In an institution where the majority of students are from a BME background; first in family to enter Higher Education; come from a low socio-economic background; have caring responsibilities; are in employment whilst studying full time and are mature learners, it is even more important to maximise the opportunities given to time restricted students.
Research has shown that students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds may lack the soft skills, confidence, human capital and personal networks which are crucial within the context of enterprise, employability and entrepreneurship (Brown, 2007; Reitz, 2014)
Eighty-five percent of foundation and first year students at GSM London have the study goals of either starting a business or growing an existing business. This finding is significant for a number of reasons:
Firstly, a glaringly obvious implication relates to the motivations of students wanting to take control of their employment situation, which is unsurprising given that BAME graduates are 2.5 more likely to be unemployed compared to their white peers. There is also “massive pay gap” that is experienced by black workers that widens as they achieve more qualifications.
While taking the leap into self-employment can offer a welcome alternative to joblessness and disproportionate pay, it can also trigger both the push and pull results of self-employment, for instance, offering the graduate autonomy, a better quality of life. It can, conversely, result in an ill-prepared venture resulting in business failure due to push factors.
Limiting the risk of failure, a second implication could suggest that not content on continuing on the path of an entrepreneur, our student entrepreneurs are also motivated in obtaining academic knowledge to support their business ventures. This is not surprising given that many students have boldly stated that they want to use their studies to verify actions taken in their businesses. Some have also expressed frustration at failed ventures in the past and want to learn what they “could have done differently” before they take the plunge again.
BME student entrepreneurs not only have to contend with the issues mentioned above, but also have to successfully negotiate the multiple identities and demands (parent, employee, business owner, mature student) upon them whilst undertaking full time study and should be thoroughly commended.
Providing support through enterprise education should therefore be multi-faceted targeting the needs of a distinct student group facing specific challenges. Support mechanisms include a range of activities such as, a business incubator which offers guidance and free business workshops, exposure to a range of business events on and off campus and access to Nat West Start-Up business advice. Indeed, the campus at GSM London hosts the Nat West Start-Up bus during term time and student engagement is extremely impressive The targeted support is also benefited from the expertise of Enterprise Manager, Nick Howe, who understands the needs of GSM London’s students. Howe has met with many students on previous visits and is a self-confessed BAME business advocate.
Mirroring the statistic above, Howe met with a range of students who had established businesses and also those who wished to start-up in the near future. When asked about the practicalities of student start-up, Howe cautioned that “anyone can start a business” but it is important to have a business that will survive and as such, starting a business is “not the right thing for everyone.”
Taking the time to study for a degree can offer the breathing space to assess if business start-up is a suitable pursuit. To help in this process, students are encouraged to hear from a range of business owners, including those that they can relate to in terms of business type and also ethnic background. It is arguably important to contextualise learning opportunities where possible to be framed within the context of issues that will affect students on a daily basis when they start up their businesses. Moreover, it is incredibly beneficial for BME student entrepreneurs to establish a wide variety of networks, including those from a varied background, thereby fostering the social capital that is needed within widening participation student groups.
Third, it is imperative to embed opportunities within the curriculum for students to partake in real-world challenges which develop entrepreneurial and problem solving skills. For instance, Virgin Lifestart is launching a new online resource which aims to build entrepreneurial and employability skills at the same time as offering real-world entrepreneurial challenges from companies such Samsung and Virgin Money. Fortunately, Enterprise and Small Business students at GSM London are part of this pilot project and this can students’ opportunities and entrepreneurial capabilities. The Virgin Lifestart and GSM London collaboration also presents a great opportunity to share best practice with other HEIs who are involved in the pilot.
Adopting an integrated approach to embedding real-world opportunities into the curriculum will continue to be a central concern in the running an enterprise degree programme, thereby marrying theoretical considerations with the practical know-how which is needed in enterprise and entrepreneurial education.
Lastly, through the incorporation of teaching and learning resources which have been already mapped to core competencies needed in entrepreneurship and employability, not only enhances the curriculum, but also takes aim at some of the key issues and challenges surrounding widening participation in Higher Education insitutions, such as retention, progression, attainment and the overall student experience. Research has shown that making the link between employability and academic tasks can be advantageous for widening participation students. Likewise, integrating students’ rich experiences of entrepreneurship within learning and teaching opportunities can help foster a student-led community of practice and can also tackle issues relating to self-confidence and self-esteem. Indeed, mature students enter into Higher Education with a wide-variety of skills which are of benefit not only to their peers, but also to the lecturer in their teaching approach. This could provide a relatable framework in which to understand abstract concepts and scenarios central to coursework assessment.
In my role as a programme leader, I have recently joined the HEA’s community of practice on retention to discuss and explore issues around supporting student success. I hope this will enhance my own professional practice as well as to provide a space in which to shape ideas and share best practice. To tackle some of the issues faced by students from a widening participation background, it is incredibly important to focus on solutions that are based on students’ needs, approaching widening participation from an intersectional approach which takes into account the intersection of a variety of forms of identities and discrimination, which encourages a variety of interventions. These interventions therefore need to be tailored towards the needs and specificities of student body therefore avoiding a one-size fits all model of approach.
Brown, Sue (2007) Leadership and Legitmacy: The Transformation Audit 2007, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, London
Hollifield, James et al. (2014) Reitz, Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, Third Edition, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California