Creating entrepreneurial campuses: a call to action for higher education institutions

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On 27th June, I had the honour of representing Enactus UK at the Westminster Higher Education Forum’s keynote seminar on ‘Developing student and graduate entrepreneurship’. Based on my experience at Enactus UCL, I spoke about how universities can create an entrepreneurial campus, and provided my perspective on the role of student societies. What follows is a summary of what I spoke about, and my thoughts on the event.

Before I carry on, let me introduce myself. I’m Jamie Mui: a recent UCL BSc (Hons) Economics graduate and former Team Leader of Enactus UCL. I spent the last three years at Enactus UCL laying the foundations for our consultancy arm, supported the start-up of two social ventures, and bolstered our institutional support. 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to create an entrepreneurial environment for students, particularly around social enterprise. When designing projects and new divisions for the society, the key question that I’ve kept at the back of my mind is this: what systems, frameworks, and incentives need to be in place to encourage entrepreneurial talent on campus?

What do universities currently do to create an entrepreneurial campus?

From my knowledge and experience at UCL, university entrepreneurship activities fall under three broad categories:

1.    Universities teach entrepreneurship. At UCL, there are a number of optional modules that students can take as part of their degree studies. They act as a great classroom introduction to the entrepreneurial skills that employers now demand so highly. However, learning about entrepreneurship isn’t enough: you have to practise failing at it (often many times), before you succeed. Some universities provide an Enterprise Placement Year, so that placement students can gain a more concrete experience in this regard.

2.    Universities provide activities through their centres for entrepreneurship. These include offering short courses, alongside providing mentorship and office space for start-up founders. UCL Innovation and Enterprise also run an intense two-week programme known as Social Start Up, where students work in interdisciplinary teams to build a social venture, tackling global problems, such as the lack of clean water and sanitation.

3.    Student societies promote entrepreneurship through their own initiatives. Students across campus join societies to populate their CVs with relevant experience, as well as to do something meaningful with their time at university. Enactus is a brilliant example of one of those.

What can universities do more in this space?

Student societies contribute so much towards creating an entrepreneurial environment on campus. Keeping this in mind, I have three recommendations to offer to higher education institutions: 

1.    University faculties need to do more to connect lecture material to real-world problems. UCL’s Global Citizenship Programme is a great case study of how this can be achieved.

2.    Universities and entrepreneurship centres need to get out there and aggressively fund entrepreneurial activities and societies. Look at how Enactus programmes in the UK have flourished over the last few years! If universities care about creating enterprising students and graduates, then students need to be given the chance to collect experience, and tangible impact.

3.    Cultivate a culture of problem-solving, collaboration, and experimentation – because that’s what enterprise is about! Universities and their careers services need to debunk the myth that only start-up founders are entrepreneurs. Collaborate with student societies to help promote enterprise as an attitude to problem-solving in the university.

Call to action

Student societies play a huge role in creating an entrepreneurial campus. Leaders in industry and higher education institutions need to work together with organisations, like Enactus, to achieve this.

Now, more than ever, universities need to get behind the next generation of future leaders and problem-solvers. You only need to look at results that Enactus programmes around the world have achieved to show you that when students put their minds to it, they can crack social problems, improve lives, and empower individuals.

The event provided some very refreshing thoughts on social enterprise in the higher education space, as well as giving me the chance to meet some very inspiring individuals. Thanks again to Enactus UK for giving me an invaluable opportunity to offer some of my opinions on such a large platform!