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Entrepreneurship education in the UK: a longitudinal perspective


Harry Matlay and Charlotte Carey
UCE Business School, Birmingham, UK
Abstract
Purpose This paper sets out to critically evaluate contemporary entrepreneurship education initiatives in the UK. The authors seek to compare and contrast various entrepreneurship education methods, approaches and curricula as well as relevant outcomes, in the UK context. Design/methodology/approach Longitudinal case studies were used, over a ten-year period (1995-2004), to analyse in-depth qualitative data relating to the development and implementation of various approaches to entrepreneurship education, in a sample of 40 new and established universities in the UK. Findings A number of interesting ndings have emerged from this longitudinal study. It appears that conceptual and contextual as well as design and delivery factors can impact signicantly upon entrepreneurship education courses developed in UK HEIs. Furthermore, a number of actual and perceived barriers needed to be overcome or mitigated in order to facilitate a better understanding of stakeholder needs and contributions. Practical implications Measuring the outcomes of entrepreneurship education in the UK is still proving ellusive. This study provides a longitudinal overview of current entrepreneurship education initiatives in order to gain a better understanding of the scope and limitations of this type of educational programme. Originality/value This paper presents an empirically rigorous, longitudinal case study approach to a rapidly growing aspect of higher education in the UK. The richness of the emergent data offers a valuable insight into pertinent aspects of entrepreneurship education and stakeholder needs and contributions. Keywords Entrepreneurialism, Education, Undergraduates, Postgraduates, United Kingdom Paper type Research paper

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Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development Vol. 14 No. 2, 2007 pp. 252-263 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1462-6004 DOI 14626000710746682

Introduction In recent years, it has become fashionable to view entrepreneurship education as the panacea for stagnating or declining economic activity in both developed and developing countries (Matlay and Carey, 2006). This dominant paradigm is based rmly upon the premise that, in a mature economy, more and better entrepreneurship education will invariable result in a comparable growth in the quantity and quality of entrepreneurial activity (Matlay, 2006). Similarly, for nations in transition, entrepreneurial education has become a crucial element of the progressive curriculum on offer across private and state sponsored business schools (Matlay, 2001; Li and Matlay, 2005). Furthermore, entrepreneurship education is also hailed as the most effective way to facilitate the transition of a growing graduate population from higher education and into self-employment or salaried work (Matlay and Westhead, 2005). Thus, over a relatively short period of time, entrepreneurship education has nudged itself to the top of socio-economic and political agendas, where it currently represents a high priority imperative for government policy throughout the industrially developed and developing world (Mitra and Matlay, 2004). Although the

volume of entrepreneurship education research has grown considerable over the last few years, the dominant paradigm and related conceptual models tend to provide only a limited or biased insight into the complexities inherent in enterprise curriculum development, provision and assessment. Thus, ongoing research tends to suffer from a range of inherent conceptual and contextual shortcomings which limit its signicance, applicability and generalisation value (Matlay, 2007). Most researchers tend to focus on narrow aspects of entrepreneurship education and this strategy often produces a fragmented, snapshot picture of curriculum design and delivery (Shane, 2003). It should be noted that much of the mainstream entrepreneurship education research to date has carried out in business schools (Alvarez, 1996). Similarly, a large proportion of entrepreneurship education at university level is also on offer in business schools. As Shane (2003, p. 1) points out . . . the level of interest in entrepreneurship among business school students is also extremely high . . . every university campus, it seems, has a wealth of courses about how to start and nance new business. Despite such widespread growth in related supply and demand, there still exist a great deal of disparity in the quality of entrepreneurship education programmes on offer, including curricula design, delivery methods and forms of assessment. Furthermore, there is a marked paucity of research that focuses upon entrepreneurship education designed to be delivered outside business schools and for the benet of students specialising in subjects not directly related to business or graduating from other faculties (such as arts, health, music or built environments as well as engineering, electronics or computing). In the UK, the higher education system has expanded dramatically over the last two decades (Johnson, 2002). In contrast, however, the traditional graduate job market is in long-term decline, mainly due to the downsizing and restructuring strategies of large organizations and multinationals (Westhead and Matlay, 2004). Paradoxically, at a time when the demand for self employment, contract and non-traditional work is higher then ever, ofcial statistics highlight the disparaging reality that just one percent of all college and university graduates are engaged in enterprise (see BVCA, 2005). The growing controversy on whether it is the supply or the demand side of entrepreneurship education in the UK that is curtailing graduate enterprise is unlikely to be resolved unless stakeholders are provided with the full range of empirically rigorous research data that could inform focussed and effective intervention. In this article we set out to critically evaluate developments in entrepreneurship education in UK HEIs over a ten year period, between 1995 and 2004. The rst section includes a concise review of the specialist literature on entrepreneurship education. The second part provides an analysis of emerging results from longitudinal case study data collected over the period, across a matched sample of 40 established and new universities. The nal section outlines conclusions, implications and policy recommendations relevant to the UK context. Conceptual and contextual issues in entrepreneurship education There is a growing body of specialist literature that focuses upon entrepreneurship in general and entrepreneurship education in particular. This incorporates both quantitative and qualitative research and draws upon the emergent results of studies undertaken in a variety of contexts and geographical areas. In common with

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other rapidly expanding areas of academic endeavour, the specialist literature on this pertinent topic suffers from considerable conceptual and contextual difculties and this limits its applicability and generalisation value (Matlay, 2007). Conceptual and contextual clarity, empirical rigorousness and comparability of emergent results are of paramount importance to academic attempts bridging the entrepreneurship education and graduate enterprise chasm in the UK (Matlay and Carey, 2006). In this context, it would be useful to establish a common denitional platform which could represent a rm foundation upon which to build and expand the relevant knowledge base. Unfortunately, as a generic term, the concept of entrepreneurship has been used in a wide variety of contexts and currently covers a broad range of interchangeable meanings and situations. Such denitional diversity has not gone unnoticed and the search for conceptual and contextual convergence has resulted in increasingly complex models that claim to represent entrepreneurship in its many guises (Matlay and Westhead, 2004). Westhead and Wright (2000) argue that there is an urgent need for increased resources to be directed towards a better understanding of the factors that would increase the quantity and quality of entrepreneurs entering an economy. Others, however, point out that it is unlikely that a common entrepreneurial model could be developed to meet the specication and requirement of a wide range of observers and stakeholders (Bygrave and Hofer, 1991). From an educators perspective, Kuratko (2003, p. 11) believes that . . . entrepreneurship, or certain facets of it, can be taught . . . and business educators and professionals have evolved beyond the myth that entrepreneurs are born, not made. It follows, therefore, that individuals can acquire both the knowledge base and the portfolio of skills that are required to start, develop and grow one or more successful businesses (Matlay, 2002). General knowledge and skills can be acquired in a variety of formal and informal ways, by attending liberal as well as vocational education and training courses. In a workplace situation, much of the relevant knowledge and skills are gained through experiential and/or action learning. There are, however, considerable differences between general and entrepreneurial knowledge as well as in the skills requirements of entrepreneurs and those of salaried workers (Matlay, 2005). It should be noted that for the majority of entrepreneurs, nascent entrepreneurship represents the beginning of their entrepreneurial career. Wagner (2004) connects nascent entrepreneurship to individuals who are considering a career switch from salaried employment to self-employment status. Importantly, however, there are attitudinal and motivational aspects to this type of transition and nascent entrepreneurship invariably involves the acquisition of more specic knowledge and skills (Lazear, 2002). Thus, one can identify signicant differences between the knowledge and skills needs of entrepreneurial individuals and those of salaried employees working in organisations (Wagner, 2003). An entrepreneur would require a wider portfolio of skills and a considerably more extensive knowledge base in order to manage the start up process or support the growth and development stages of their business. In the average organisational setting, most employees would require a comparatively more limited portfolio of specic knowledge and skills, as dened by their much narrower job descriptions. Typically, a limited range of entrepreneurial attitudes and relevant knowledge could also be gained from work experiences. Similarly, some of the necessary

entrepreneurial skills could be acquired from Vocational Education and Training courses offered by HEIs and/or government sponsored organisations (Mitra and Matlay, 2004). It has been suggested that individuals working in small and medium-sized enterprises are more likely to gain entrepreneurial knowledge and skills than individuals employed in large organisations or multinationals (Gatewood et al., 2001). Furthermore, experiential and action learning in smaller rms can contribute to a signicantly higher propensity for employees to leave their employment and attempt the transition into self-employment (Mason, 1991). It appears that smaller rms tend to provide a wider, richer and more extensive business experience than larger organisations (Johnson, 1986). According to Parker (2004), successful nascent entrepreneurship is largely a function of business skills in general and relevant entrepreneurship education in particular. Furthermore, the perceptions of nascent entrepreneurs in relation to the success of their future business can not only be inuenced but also improved through relevant entrepreneurship education (Gatewood et al., 2002). In this context, Carter et al. (2003, p. 33) suggest that . . . greater insights about the factors inuencing an individuals choice to pursue entrepreneurial activity could lead to better designed economic and development programmes. Similarly, Hytti and OGorman (2004) argue that the impact of well designed entrepreneurship education upon nascent entrepreneurship should not be underestimated and call for more and better courses to be provided at all levels of the educational system. Over the last two decades, the number of entrepreneurship programmes targeting nascent entrepreneurs has expanded considerably, both in Europe and in the US (Gartner and Vesper, 1994). In the US, the initial expansion of enterprise related courses was underlined by students and accreditation bodies dissatisfaction with general business education on offer at university level (Solomon and Fernald, 1991). Similar reasons were presented for the expansion of entrepreneurship education in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other industrially developed and developing countries (Levie, 1999; Peters, 2001; Houston and Mulholland, 2003; Bell et al., 2002; Baharun and Ahmad, 2002; Li et al., 2003). At close scrutiny, how ever, it becomes evident that within the generic usage, entrepreneurship education incorporates diversity and heterogeneity in the number, quality and coverage of relevant courses (Solomon et al., 2002; Cox et al., 2002). As a result, the task of evaluating the performance and relevance of entrepreneurship education programmes as well as cross border comparisons become difcult and highly subjective (McMullan and Gillin, 2001). In particular, conceptualising and contextualising entrepreneurship education through discontinuous or opportunistic research is confounded by many intervening variables, most of which are difcult to identify or control (McMullan and Long, 1987; Gillin et al., 1996). Curran and Stanworth (1989) noted that, policy makers tend to promote entrepreneurship education in HEIs on the owed assumption that increasing the number of students with relevant theoretical knowledge can lead to a substantial growth in the number of nascent entrepreneurs entering the economy. Despite government rhetoric and the expansion in entrepreneurship education programmes on offer, the actual impact that such courses can have upon entrepreneurial activity remains to be empirically proven (Matlay, 2006). More importantly, however, there is a notable reluctance on behalf of course directors and educators to stray from perceived

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best practice in entrepreneurship education, as promoted by prestigious business schools in the US or to adopt more innovative, hands on approaches based upon country-specic needs and experiences (Matlay, 2005). Furthermore, Cox et al., 2002, p. 230 conclude that . . . much of the entrepreneurship research to date has not provided empirical support for the claim that completion of formal courses in entrepreneurship and small business management increases the likelihood that an individual will start a business. Block and Stumpf (1992) suggest that this could be due to aws in research design or inadequate outcome measures to determine student satisfaction, their attitudes towards curricula or variations of individual performance in entrepreneurship programmes. Gorman et al.(1997) argue that most research studies in this topic focus upon samples of students with existing predisposition towards entrepreneurship. By not employing a relevant control group of students without previous experience of entrepreneurship education or a nascent predilection, researchers render their results as biased and unrepresentative of the wider student population. Despite inherent research aws and generalisation problems, the continuous expansion in entrepreneurship education has contributed to the emergence of a relevant curriculum, together with a range of related delivery platforms and assessment methods. Considerable variations in course design, content and assessment, however, ignited acrimonious debates amongst various stakeholders, mainly in relation to course appropriateness and cost effectiveness. In this context, Charney and Libecap (2003, p. 386) argue that . . . approaches to entrepreneurship education have varied across colleges and universities from offering single courses in new business development or business plans preparation to integrated curricula that include marketing, nance, competitive analysis and business plan development. Furthermore, the passage of time and interceding events can confuse issues and render causal link between entrepreneurship education and new venture formation difcult to establish and analyse (Borjas, 2000). These issues and difculties are particular hard to mitigate when snapshot research methods are used (Cox et al., 2002). Longitudinal research studies using time series might prove more suitable for the analysis of the impact that entrepreneurship education has on the number and quality of nascent entrepreneurs entering the economy (Matlay, 2006). In this article we present the preliminary results of a longitudinal, ten year study of entrepreneurship education in a matched sample of 40 established and new universities in the UK.

Research methodology and sample Comparative longitudinal case study methods were used to collate, cross tabulate and analyse in-depth qualitative data relating to the development and implementation of various approaches to entrepreneurship education in the UK. A matched sample of case studies involving 40 new and established universities in the UK was selected and contacted on an annual basis during a period of ten years, between 1995 and 2004. The relevant annual research information was tabulated, analysed and mapped in order to provide comparative data for 20 new and 20 established universities located in England, Scotland and Wales.

Entrepreneurship education in UK HEIs Preliminary results from a longitudinal study (1995-2004) of entrepreneurship education in UK HEIs showed that during this period, all the 40 universities in the sample provided at least some small business and entrepreneurship education courses. It appears that during the rst ve years (1995-1999) period, new universities were keener and more proactive than older, established HEIs, in their offering of designated small business and entrepreneurship education courses (see Table I). For instance, 11 out of 20 new universities offered full time undergraduate courses in small business and enterprise development as compared to only 6 out of 20 established HEIs. The gap narrower in terms of part time courses: 8 out of 20 new universities and 5 out of 20 older HEIs offered this type of provision. Similar trends were in evidence in the case of the smaller sample of universities offering postgraduate courses in small business and enterprise development. In total four new universities offered full time and six provided part time postgraduate courses in entrepreneurship education. Only two older universities offered full time postgraduate courses in entrepreneurship education and four provided relevant part time modules. During the second ve years (2000-2004) period, the provision of entrepreneurship education has increased considerably. By the end of the 2004 academic year, the majority of HEIs in the sample claimed to be providing designated entrepreneurship education at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels (see Table II). Interestingly, new universities were still in the lead with 19 out of 20 HEIs providing relevant full time undergraduate courses and 14 offering part-time modules. At postgraduate level, 16 of these HEIs were providing both full and part time courses in entrepreneurship education. Old universities appear to have signicantly increased their provision of entrepreneurship education at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels: 17 HEIs in the sample offered full time undergraduate courses and 11 of these also provided relevant part time courses. At postgraduate level, 13 out of 20 HEIs in the sample provided full time courses and 12 of these also offered part time modules. Lack of perceived demand for entrepreneurship education amongst undergraduate and postgraduate students were cited as the main reason for not offering this type of courses across both new and established university. Lack of interest in
Undergraduate Full-time Part-time 11 6 17 8 5 13 Postgraduate Full-time Part-time 4 2 6 6 4 10

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HEI type New University (n 20) Old University (n 20) Total

Table I. Research sample, 1995-1999 (n 40)

HEI type New University (n 20) Old University (n 20) Total

Undergraduate Full-time Part-time 19 17 36 14 11 25

Postgraduate Full-time Part-time 16 13 29 16 12 28 Table II. Research sample, 2000-2004 (n 40)

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entrepreneurship amongst staff and shortages of relevant funding came second and third, respectively as reasons for non-provision. Conversely, when it was perceived that entrepreneurship education has become fashionable and government funding was made available through local and regional agencies, the provision of this type of courses increased considerably. A small proportion of HEIs in Scotland and Wales claimed to have other restriction imposed upon them, including regional and cultural factors that were not favourable for entrepreneurship and small business development. These applied mainly to rural areas where agriculture and hill farming dominated the socio-economic landscape. Over the period of the research study and across the whole sample, we could nd no signicant commonalities in the conceptual approaches to entrepreneurship education. It appears that each university decided upon, and used its own denition, of what represented entrepreneurship education at the time of provision. Importantly, we found evidence of a pragmatic uidity in both the concept and context of course delivery. Furthermore, the vast majority of the relevant provision was delivered across various departments in business schools. For instance, during the 1995-1999 period, only 3 of the 40 universities offered entrepreneurship education outside their business school, mainly in computing and engineering faculties. By 2004, just under half (18) of these university have expanded their provision to other faculties, in addition to those offered in their business schools, including art, nursing, music and built environments. In the rst half of the research period (1995-1999), the designated entrepreneurship education curriculum was dominated by a variety of traditional courses and independent modules, reecting the existing provision of general and specic business studies provision. An in-depth analysis of such modules and courses conrmed that these were mainly borrowed or adapted from current business provision running concurrently with entrepreneurship education. During the second half of the research period (2000-2004), the variety of relevant courses and independent modules prevailed, but more specic as well as relevant entrepreneurship provision was also in evidence. Typically, the curriculum included theoretical and practical courses and modules, as well as both general business education and specic entrepreneurship provision. There was a marked emphasis on business strategy, marketing, accounting and nance courses and similar modules. Business plans and successful entrepreneurship case studies were predominant across both new and established universities. None of these HEIs offered any placements or sector specic work experience for their students, either at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. Furthermore, for specialised MBA courses, the work experience requirement was related to general business, rather then specic to entrepreneurship or the SME sector. In planning, designing and providing relevant entrepreneurship education in these HEIs, the main emphasis appeared to be on exibility, relevance and customer satisfaction. Importantly, however, each course director and/or module coordinator seems to have justied and applied these criteria based on his or her personal knowledge and experience. We only succeeded in locating a very small number of providers (six in total) who claimed to have rst hand or direct experience of entrepreneurship or small business management. The reminder claimed to be familiar or versatile with relevant text book theory and related case studies. Just over one quarter (11) of the sample made regular use of guest speakers who were

selected from the local entrepreneurial community, although more than half (23) of the providing HEIs claimed to occasionally invite guest lecturers with relevant industry experience. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) varied considerably across the sample. During the rst half of the research study (1995-1999), much of the entrepreneurship education provision was delivered by traditional chalk and blackboard methods, with very little ICT or other innovative platforms in evidence across the whole sample. During the second half of the ten years period (2000-2004), we found evidence of a sample wide increase in the use of ICTs as well as other electronic platforms of curriculum delivery. These were mainly found at postgraduate level, in the delivery of both theoretical and practical aspects of entrepreneurship education. Signicantly, however, a large proportion of undergraduate and about one third of postgraduate provision of entrepreneurship education was still delivered by traditional methods of teaching. At this level, most of the teaching emphasis for entrepreneurship education was placed on formal lectures as well as a mixture of formal and informal seminars. A minority of HEIs (four) provided structured and semi-structured workshops and hands on assistance or coaching in business planning. In the majority of the HEIs in the sample, the assessment of both full time and part time entrepreneurship education courses followed the traditional undergraduate or postgraduate routes, respectively. At undergraduate level, assessment included mainly a mixture of subject assignments (typically, 20 per cent-40 per cent) and end of term exams (mostly, 60 per cent-80 per cent). At postgraduate level, subject assignments and end of term exams accounted cumulatively for about 50 per cent of the marks and the traditional master dissertation involved a substantial research based project chosen by students, on a topic relevant to entrepreneurship. There were very few departures from these typical postgraduate assessment methods, although in two of the HEIs in the sample there was an option for either a traditional dissertation or an extended business plan (representing a commensurable research project that involved both theoretical and practical aspects of a specic enterprise start-up). It also emerged that despite its relevance to nascent entrepreneurs, very few of the students opted for the Business Plan project (fewer than 2 per cent of students). It appears that course directors and dissertation supervisors tended to discourage postgraduate students from choosing this option, mainly for personal or expediency reasons. Conclusions and recommendations There is a consensus amongst policy makers, researchers and business observers in the UK that entrepreneurship education could signicantly increase both the number and the quality of graduate entrepreneurs entering the economy. The main premise of this stakeholder paradigm rests upon the assumption that the entrepreneurship education curriculum taught in UK HEIs can positively inuence a graduates attitude towards an alternative career path and simultaneously equip the would be entrepreneur with the necessary knowledge and skills to start up, manage and develop an economically viable business. A number of relevant nding have emerged from the preliminary analysis of a longitudinal study on entrepreneurship education provision in UK HEIs. It emerges that that by the end of the ten year period of the research (1995-2004), all the 40 universities in the sample provided at least some

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entrepreneurship education courses. The HEIs that were slow to offer entrepreneurship education during the rst half of the research period cited a perceived lack of demand from undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as amongst members of faculty staff. Shortages of relevant resources to fund such courses were also mentioned as a barrier to provision. Interestingly, when entrepreneurship education became fashionable and government funding made available, the provision of this type of courses increased considerably. A small proportion of HEIs in Scotland and Wales claimed to have been restricted by regional and cultural factors that were perceived as unfavourable for entrepreneurship education or small business development courses. Throughout the research period, we could not identify any signicant commonalities in conceptual approaches, and each university appears to have decided and used its own denition of what constitutes entrepreneurship education. We found, however, evidence of a pragmatic uidity in both the concept and context of course delivery. Although in the rst ve years of the research period the curriculum was dominated by traditional modules, during the second part of the study, relevant entrepreneurship courses have increased considerably. During the period, similar trends were evident in the use of ICTs as well as other electronic platforms of curriculum delivery, with most innovative approaches being applied at postgraduate level. Assessment of both full time and part time entrepreneurship education courses followed mainly traditional routes. At undergraduate level, there were subject assignments and end of term exams. At postgraduate level, subject assignments accounted for about half the marks and the balance comprised of a traditional master dissertation which involved a substantial research based project on a topic relevant to entrepreneurship. Conceptual and contextual difculties and snap shot research of variable quality have contributed to the emergence of a fragmented knowledge base and a growing debate on the impact of entrepreneurship education upon the UK economy. Denitional problems as well as conceptual and contextual divergence have left some stakeholders confused by the growing debate on entrepreneurship issues. Most importantly, policy makers are left to question the relevance and efciency of a growing number of entrepreneurship education courses as well as the viability of allocating further funding for this sector. In order to bridge the credibility gap that appears to affect this aspect of higher education in the UK, we suggest that more and better quality research is needed, on all the pertinent aspects of entrepreneurship education. The is a need for empirically rigorous, longitudinal research to measure the impact that such courses have on graduate entrepreneurship over time and across all sectors of economic activity in this country.

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Solomon, G.T., Duffy, S. and Tarabishy, A. (2002), The state of entrepreneurship education in the United States: a nationwide survey and analysis, International Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 1-22. Wagner, J. (2003), The impact of personal characteristics and the regional milieu on the transition from unemployment to self-employment: empirical evidence for Germany, r Nationalo konomie und Statistik, Vol. 223, pp. 204-22. Jahrbucher fu Wagner, J. (2004), What a difference a Y makes female and male nascent entrepreneurs in Germany, IZA Discussion Paper No. 1,134, Institute for the Study of Labour, Bonn, May. Westhead, P. and Matlay, H. (2004), Critical issues in graduate career choices, Working Paper No. 23, Global Independent Research, Coventry. Westhead, P. and Wright, M. (2000), Introduction, in Westhead, P. and Wright, M. (Eds), Advance in Entrepreneurship, Edward Elgar, Aldershot. Further reading Lambing, P.A. and Kuehl, C.R. (2003), Entrepreneurship, 3rd ed., Pearson Education, Upper Saddle River, NJ. Westhead, P. and Wright, M. (1998), Novice, serial and portfolio founders: are they different?, Journal of Business Venturing, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 173-204. Corresponding author Harry Matlay can be contacted at: Harry.Matlay@uce.ac.uk

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