Lord Young’s Enterprise for All
Lord Young’s Enterprise Education Review has been published today. Over the last nine months I’ve been involved in that Review, as part of the HE advisory panel. Whilst Lord Young has suggested these are “our ideas not his” I feel considerably less ownership of the resulting document than I had hoped to.
I agree and support many of the principles of this document but I have reservations about the implementation. Many of the problems we identified as an HE group appear here, but the nuanced solutions we sought to complex problems of metrics, ecosystems, connectivity, and institutional differentiation have not appeared. This may simply be naivety on my own part.
It is however genuinely satisfying to see government recognising the significance of enterprise education and the increasing value of fostering an enterprising attitude through the education process. Lord Young is a very passionate and authentic supporter of what we do and his expertise and enthusiasm should be credited. We have also witnessed an increasingly more nuanced understanding from government that enterprise is about more than just start-up entrepreneurship.
There are also some good case studies - so well worth reading!
The challenges for government in the HE sector are considerable and are chiefly about herding up existing good practice and trying to recommend something coherent that feels novel. This is difficult because the enterprise practices that have emerged over the last decade and more are rather diverse, which is what happens when enterprising people are left to their own devices. In many ways this review has been easier in the school and FE sectors and has struggled in a hugely autonomous HE sector. The danger is that where government can get us to agree is often at the lowest common denominator of principle and practice, and as such much of the sector has already moved on to greater (but more individualistic) things…
The two key elements of the review are the Future Employment and Earnings Record (FEER) and the Enterprise Passport.
The FEER is a new metric for the university league tables that prospective students use to select degree programmes. By using HMRC employment data for graduates in the 10 years following graduation, BIS is proposing to offer differentiating detail between the earning power and pattern of different programmes of study (and by implication between studying at different universities too).
Whilst choosing a degree and university is increasingly seen as a financial investment, and whilst universities do currently engage in some obfuscation about the value of their offer to prospective students I worry about the implications and implementation of this metrics.
Many of us have long sought a better measure of student employment data than the Destinations of Leavers of HE (DLHE) which takes place just six months out. By using HMRC data over a decade the picture of what graduates really go on to do could become much clearer. It should also give us a more accurate picture of graduate start-up rates. I can applaud this. However, I work at an institution that has a lot of ‘advantaged’ students with good personal networks and resources to fall back on; most of these students will do well regardless of what the university can add to them. Our grads will likely earn well regardless of their degree. Other institutions’ grads may not earn as well despite their degree potentially transforming their earning potential… IF the value-add offered by an institution and course is captured I will again applaud. However, if we start to see crude measures of future earnings being used as a way to measure universities and programmes then I fear for the sector.
I personally find the idea that prospective students will rate their degree choices by future earnings pretty abhorrent and that we will have lost something special about the degree experience. Universities are not just about employability and providing ready-made employees.
Lord Young acknowledges this concern and was quick to suggest this was not his intention. However, he felt it would take time to work out how to use it best. Like his Start Up Loans scheme, I worry that the first iteration will lack sector sensitivity and rub an awful lot of people up the wrong way before it matures into something I can begin to support as an educator.
The proposed Enterprise Passport is a digital record of approved enterprise activities in which a student has participated at some stage in their education from primary school onwards. The ambition here is that this becomes an addition to the CV and a mark of skills competency for employers. The formalisation will help educational institutions take this seriously and future employers can use it as a selection aid.
I wholly support the principle of recording enterprise achievements and trying to develop a pipeline through the educational system right through to employment. My reservation is about what makes the list of activities that are endorsed? This is not yet clear. We don’t yet know who is deciding and on what criteria an activity is enterprising. We strongly recommended the review take up the definitions of enterprise and entrepreneurship education framed by the QAA’s ‘Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: Guidance for UK HE providers’ - but this seems to have been a missed opportunity. At present all the definition of those terms seems to come from Lord Young himself despite the expertise available to him. The Passport may well create a ‘verification’ model for some forms of enterprise education that so far is based on no real research into what works.
There are four specific recommendations for HEIs:
Firstly the availability of an elective enterprise module available to all students. Great! I do wholly support this although it is the lowest common denominator activity and these ‘bolt-on’ open units are often poor relations to enterprise programmes that are embedded into degree disciplines. Students and staff seem to respond better when enterprise is contextualised as part of their discipline. Likewise elective units attract the self-selecting entrepreneurs and we should be taking more hostages and converting them. Nonetheless a positive step.
Secondly an active and supported enterprise society in every university. Great! I wholly support this too. I would also stress that enterprise societies by themselves are not a complete solution, they are another basic fix for largely self-selecting students and only part of a genuine ecosystem. I am pleased to see that NACUE’s objectives and metrics are being reviewed to ensure sustainability of the societies that emerge. I would like to see more acknowledgement of the role of educators in delivering this kind of activity alongside societies.
Thirdly, Business Schools that hold Small Business Charter status are encouraged to develop start-up programmes for commercial and social enterprises. Lord Young does acknowledge that not every university has a business school, let alone a chartered one, and this is a weakness in an otherwise well-principled idea. Start-up programmes are increasingly emerging in universities but they often have no relationship with a business school. If the Small Business Charter evolves beyond its business school initial bias then I am supportive. The need to link the elements of the enterprise eco-system (business schools, enterprise societies, incubator spaces, students’ unions, and social enterprise) is key, the devil will be in who leads this at each institution…
There is a continued push towards universities becoming conduits towards Start Up Loans; despite the sector largely feeling that recommending loans is something we find unethical and unwieldy as educational institutions whose students have already incurred enough loan debt. I would still want to see more focus on alternative sources of start up funding.
Finally the Duke of York will be patron to a new ‘E-Star’ award that acknowledges universities delivering strong enterprise outcomes for their students. This will be a new category for universities added to the National Business Awards each November and starting in 2015. It will acknowledge good practice from universities in supporting enterprise through the work of their societies, their graduate start-up numbers, their support provision - but strangely seemingly not their curricular provision despite that being celebrated in the review’s attached case studies. This seems positive, although again the devil will be in the detail. Exactly what the criteria will be and who the judges are remains to be seen.
Overall there is a lot of potential here - and probably that is potential to do good. My worry is the implementation of many of these initiatives; if they are done quickly and crudely then the damage will be substantial. If the nuances and diversity of the sector is recognised then actually it could be transformational in terms of the significance and coherency of enterprise education in UK HE.
I should stress that this is only a review, a set of recommendations, that government need not even endorse…
Have Universities got it all wrong?
Our students seem to really rate our annual enterprise ‘bootcamp’ - Spark - check out their feedback!
Our annual Spark programme is just about the best thing we do. It’s short, sweet, and gets amazing feedback. However it’s cost-effective only on the basis of the ripple effect it creates both in student engagement and staff morale, but it has become a lynchpin in the annual strategy nonetheless.
In 2012 and 2013 100% of feedback gave the course 4/5 or 5/5 for being ‘enjoyable’, ‘interesting’ and ‘useful’. The 5/5 rating has hovered around 90% for about 5 years. The feedback also highly rated the course for ‘motivation’, ‘inspiration’ and ‘skills development’.
In 2013 the students that attended Spark gained over 30% greater confidence in how to build a business around their own ideas. This has been a gradually rising statistic since 2008. Interestingly students initial levels of aspiration and confidence have dropped every year but they all end up at the same final level each time! We think this is because Spark is increasingly just one thing we do and some of the more entrepreneurial students now get their support by other means and Spark is more of an ‘entry-level’ activity.
Enterprise boot-camps and crash courses are hardly innovative these days, almost everyone seems to run one, but ours is around a decade old and I’m currently engaged in planning the 7th event of my tenure! It’s been held in seven different venues and has varied from a 3.5-day long weekend model to an almost 5-day week long model, but the basic structures and elements are pretty much unchanged.
Ours always starts with the Confucius Quote: “Do a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and always ends with a Dragons’ Den finale with a cash prize and a reminder of that Confucius quote! We stress that good businesses are built on a passion and not on get-rich-quick motives. You’ll need a geeky level of passion to get through the tough times that no amount of money could bait you through.
We always the start the programme with a day or two of general enterprise introduction, with team-work exercises, values exercises, and a lot of brainstorming. Then we get all the participants to give very quick pitches and form up into teams for the remainder of the programme. The latter half of the programme is expert start-up guidance and interactive sessions developing ideas ready for the Dragons.
We have young entrepreneurs share their stories every evening, and we invite local professionals and entrepreneurial alumni to come back as Dragons and judge the entries on the final night. We used to just have pitches in the finale but we’ve moved to an exhibition model with the Dragons wandering the stalls and grilling the would-be entrepreneurs. This is more engaging for the entrepreneurs and more demanding on the teams to field all the questions!
We include some live challenges, some physical activity, and some challenges to go and ‘make stuff’ and ‘talk to a real customer’.
The ideas are usually a pretty mixed bag as most emerge in a very short time; but we do stress that Spark is just a practice run for the real thing. We get social and commercial ideas in roughly equal measure and we also get a pretty decent gender balance on the programme too.
The cost-benefit analysis will nonetheless always say we spend a lot of staff time and money on just 40 students for just 5 days. However, those students have had a fantastic record of joining enterprise societies and Enactus groups, of running those groups, and of being fantastic ambassadors and champions for what we do.
They have a ripple effect in a wider student population. It’s also a great way to involve our alumni and local business professionals and alumni who continue to give back and support our work. They love the intensive atmosphere and the energised students. It’s good for our own staff because it is so energising and helps us build genuinely engaged relationships with the students that encourage them to continue to work with us on their ideas throughout the year.
Its our passion, and it keeps our flames burning each year. It also genuinely seems to spark fires in others.
HEI enterprise education is a problem for Government
Since December I’ve been part of the HE ‘expert’ group for Lord Young’s Enterprise Education Review due later this year. Prior to that, I had a year representing the HE Enterprise Education sector to BIS on behalf of EEUK. My experiences of dealing with government have left me a little disheartened and frustrated of late.
When I first started visiting the halls of power I was simply pleased to be there! First visits to government buildings are quite exciting initially, but fundamentally there are lightless and tired meeting rooms the world over and the governments’ are no different.
What became apparent to me quite quickly was that actually most agents of government are, like the rest of us, trying very hard to look more competent than they are. It doesn’t help that they move civil servants around just as they start to know a portfolio, which has happened to me twice with BIS now. Just as good people really got their teeth into the issues and began to perceive what was fluff and what was critical to success they got moved!
One of the problems of this perpetual motion is that everyone is looking for quick wins – to have an impact before they’re moved on (and possibly up or down based on their recent wins). Similar is true for both ministers and mandarins, quick results are king.
There are two major problems with this; firstly that quick wins tend to be lowest-common-denominator and largely valueless or even retrograde to anyone who has solved the issue locally long before. Secondly, the first answer to any question is rarely the most creative, it’ll be a re-hash of something tried and tested and obvious. Somehow we’ve got a system which prioritises the least innovative and least sustainable solutions to the problems we have in delivering sustainable innovation!
Higher Education seems to be a particular problem for government as regards innovation; largely because we’re not only autonomous from government in a way that schools and colleges are not, but because we run very autonomous operations ourselves. Government genuinely struggles to understand HE staff when we say “we can’t just make things happen” in our institutions… which is why the ‘one-size-fits-all’ models that external agencies pitch to government both a) get funded because they look easier than what the sector itself says and b) ultimately fail to deliver embedded and sustainable change, because they fail to put down institutional roots or garner institutional buy-in. HEIs are complex bureaucracies, engineered to deliver a liberal learning environment for the most part, but that makes them difficult to herd around.
In my most recent visits to government we’ve talked a lot about how to embed enterprise and entrepreneurship education still deeper in institutions. I believe we have to some degree plateaued, business schools and enterprise societies will only get you so far, genuine cross-curricular embedding and institutional buy-in is still far from universal. To get to that next level of change we need to pull bigger levers to move senior managers to strategically commit – i.e. money and metrics. However, no-one seems to have the appetite for this in the halls of power – or not until after the 2015 election anyway…
The world is increasingly asking HEIs to dismantle their silos of research and their narrow degree programmes, but the narrow focus of academic work is resisting this passively and actively, unless the bigger levers of institutional behaviours start getting pulled we’ll be plateaued here for a while yet…
The Power of Generosity
The Playable City
I’ve blogged a couple of times now about my interest in civic entrepreneurship. Last Monday I went to a BBC-sponsored day of workshops on the theme of ‘Digital Bristol’.
The city-region is something of a powerhouse for creative digital activity with not just the BBC and it’s diaspora of associated businesses, but four universities (Bristol, UWE, Bath and Bath Spa), and a wealth of both creative and computing talent.
One session that really grabbed me was on a collaborative project around the 'Playable City' and I’m mainly going to use this blog to share a load of cool ideas and videos that certainly got me thinking.
The central idea was to use fun/play/games to create new relationships between citizens and their cities. These activities should not only be engaging, but also enhance and improve the ‘use’ of the city. The project is very much rooted in the use of technology and IBM’s interest in the future of cities. With more people worldwide now living in cities than not living in cities, finding new ways to enable and engage urban populations is a challenge.
We started off with a concept video from Microsoft about the speculative use of technology in 2020. It’s rather impressive - but also a bit cold and clinical! A good degree of human interaction seemed to be lost and some of the ‘fun’ of waiting/being lost in a new place was definitely missing.
Compare that with some of these ideas for using technology to improve urban life:
See also the much-cited 'TheFunTheory' site for several more wonderful examples of digital technology improving civic life.
This last project was particularly compelling for a variety of reasons:
- the ‘animation’ of existing street objects to explore how people interacted with the city
- the deliberate use of SMS rather than smartphone functionality to make sure this wasn’t just ‘the preserve of hipsters’
- the way that technology and inanimate objects actually recycled human experiences to one-another - you’d actually learn what other REAL people had previously told the lamppost!
A few people observed this ‘could only have happened in Bristol’ - we have a reputation for this kind of madness.
However, the team behind Hello Lamppost are going to take it out to Austin Texas in the new year. Supposedly Austin has a city mantra - ‘Keep Austin Weird’ - just amazing!
It’s definitely convinced me that Fun/Play and the use of digital technology ought to be amongst the provocations for my own civic entrepreneurship work with students.
I know - I’ve missed a week again! But I have in that time blogged for the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services about the Witty Review - but I’ll also repeat it here for non-AGCAS people:
Not particularly Witty Review has implications for Enterprise and Employability Staff
Many colleagues will be aware of the Report for Government authored by Sir Andrew Witty this October – ‘Encouraging a British Invention Revolution’. It should be stressed from the outset that this is closely associated with the report authored by Sir Tim Wilson in February 2012 – ‘A Review of Business-University Collaboration’.
In an initial read as an educator or adviser working in enterprise or careers you could be forgiven for wondering where any reference to people and skills are in this report. It is very much a strategic technical paper that takes as its focus a revision of the ‘hard’ infrastructure of British innovation – how we encourage and fund high-tech innovations through to being sustainable businesses. Witty however suggests early on that the ‘people’ side of the argument has been covered by Wilson. Personally I think this is a missed opportunity to reiterate the significance of the vital capacity-building role that education and support services play in getting innovative people into the economy rather than just their ideas. The single most important output of universities remains bright young people – but that’s not obvious in this report.
I also believe an opportunity has been missed to discuss a wider base of outputs – not just high-tech innovation but social, civic, and cultural innovation too.
Nonetheless, there are some sections of interest and value to colleagues in enterprise and employability.
Witty’s 3 ‘philosophies’:
- Enabling better funding flows: revising how innovation is funded to reduce internal competition and help the UK compete in a ‘global race’ to produce innovation-rich businesses
- Creating ‘arrow projects’: identifying and supporting areas where the UK is globally competitive to translate more of those research breakthroughs into real businesses
- And most importantly for us… Strengthening the ‘3rd Mission’ of universities to engage in economic development – particularly through SME engagement and technology invention
Getting more high-tech ideas out of the research labs into production, and getting more connectivity between ‘innovative SMEs’ and universities dominate the remaining report. There are thus two big areas of importance for the enterprise and employability staff in institutions:
- Developing support for postgraduate researchers as future innovators (within start-ups, spin-outs, industrial research, and increasing impact-driven academic research). Whilst this report doesn’t stress the skills and people, they are critical to building innovation capacity and connectivity for institutions. This does also trickle down to undergraduates too – if we can skill them up for roles in innovative companies that will also support this agenda.
- Developing relationships with SMEs. Whilst Lord Young might be pushing the Business Schools to lead on this we all know that this agenda is actually pan-institution. We need to help our students better understand and connect with SME opportunities and we need to help SMEs navigate the university landscape to get the talent they need to succeed in scaling up. I do recommend reading the whole of Witty’s Chapter 4 on this subject (from Page 32).
In both these areas if your remit does not include postgraduates or SMEs then identify who does do it so you can collaborate to take advantage of a renewed focus in these areas.
So – some of Witty’s recommendations highlighted and digested:
Recommendation 1 includes a reference to universities reporting formally on their ‘3rd Mission’ activities (i.e. economic development engagement) each year. This could be something that enterprise and employability activity might use to highlight its contribution as a ‘capacity-builder’. In some institutions the majority of business engagement may well be through a Careers Service so watching how this recommendation is taken up will be interesting.
Recommendation 4 suggests expanding the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) from £150M per annum to £250M per annum. Given that most enterprise divisions and teams, and a good proportion of supporting activities in Careers Services, are funded from HEIF this is encouraging. Witty makes a point of saying that HEIF needs to be more secure. He doesn’t suggest broadening it back out again to include institutions that lost HEIF funding in the last round, but he does advocate a ‘sharpened’ set of metrics to encourage SME engagement. We will all watch this develop with interest.
Within Recommendation 4 he also suggests increasing ‘Impact’ as a percentage of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) – from 20% to 25% for the 2020 exercise. This means that more academics will be looking to find ways to apply their research and drive innovative activity from it. This is an opportunity for enterprise educators in particular to highlight enterprise and SME engagement as a route to impact.
Recommendation 5 suggests creating a single point of entry for SMEs into an institution – to encourage engagement and reduce confusion for time-limited SMEs. There are suggestions of providing a ‘triage’ service or arguably even a ‘concierge’ service for SMEs. I do actually endorse this but I would stress the need for enterprise and careers staff to make sure they are involved in how their institution might implement this! If Lord Young is looking at Business Schools to take a lead here we need to make sure central services are not cut out of the loop.
Recommendation 6 suggests that much of the money for the above will come from the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) who will be spending European Structural Funds on this agenda. This means the money for some of our activities is likely to emerge through local bodies rather than national bodies. If you’re not already in touch with your LEP you really ought to be! In Recommendation 7 Witty suggests that universities should be co-chairing their LEPs to make sure connections are made. I fear a real patchwork effect here.
It should be stressed that this is only a set of recommendations and Government is by no means obliged to act to implement any of it. Supposedly the Secretary of State for BIS has already described the recommendations as “expensive”.
This is by no means an authoritative breakdown so I’d recommend reading the Executive Summary of the report for yourself – but hopefully I’ve picked out some key themes and trends.
Last night I found myself teaching enterprise to a group of Brownies (the junior bit of the girl-guide movement, not a group of pixies) here in Bristol. One of my work colleagues is a Brownie leader and had asked me for advice on a project and I ended up volunteering.
I volunteered because I like a challenge - and actually the prospect of teaching enterprise to 20 primary-school-age girls filled me with more terror than any number of undergraduates. How was I going to get the right messages across in a simple enough way? I couldn’t bear the idea of over-simplifying the message, but at the same time I had to engage the audience at an appropriate level.
It was great! I’d have photos but you can be arrested for taking photos of Brownies I suspect! But after an hour we had incredible levels of noise and a half-dozen flipcharts covered in ideas - including some really really good ones! There was one in particular I won’t share as I wouldn’t want to infringe the possible patent!
It really showed me that even very young people can have great ideas for businesses. Whilst they might struggle to deliver on those ideas commercially the ideas and insights are still impressive. And this is enterprise as a means to an end - education through enterprise.
I used three of the products from Concentrate Design who I remembered from TV’s Dragons’ Den as a product designer for schoolchildren. I used the rucksack-seatcover, lunchbox, and anti-smell sportsbag as printed case studies and asked the girls in groups to answer these questions:
- what problem does it solve?
- who is it for?
- would you buy it? if not why not and if so why?
This went really well and we got to discuss the basis of new businesses as solving problems or filling gaps, target markets, and customer decision-making - just because it exists doesn’t mean you’d buy it because there are alternatives.
Then we asked them to answer another set of questions about their own ideas:
- Think of some problems and gaps in the market - silly as you like - just lots!
- Think of some ideas that solve the problems and fill the gaps - again silly as you like!
- Give each idea one tick if it actually might work, two ticks if you actually know how to make it, and three ticks if you are able to make it yourself.
- Pick the most ticked idea that you all like the most and answer these next 2 questions:
- Who is going to buy it?
- And how can you test it before you spend lots of time making lots of them?
Basically we did some ideation, focused on solutions for problems, highlighted some feasibility issues and even used a little ‘lean start-up’ practice!
I suspect some of the pattern was lost on the audience but I felt satisfied I’d not grotesquely distorted the theory for the audience!
Some of the ideas were more imaginative and insightful than my undergraduates have come up with - maybe something here about trying to be creative rather than trying to be right!