Entrepreneurship, HE and the Recession

20 02 2009

entrepreneur_recessionThe debate rumbles on. Does the present economic downturn hold opportunity for entrepreneurs, or is the situation too bleak to yield success? Can entrepreneurs lead economies out of recession on a wave of innovation and start-ups?

Governments and business have high expectations. The higher education sector must also contribute to bolstering entrepreneurship and economic recovery.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has already responded, launching its Economic Challenge Investment Fund (ECIF) to enable higher education to respond rapidly to the needs of employers and individuals during the economic downturn.

Ten larger collaborative proposals will be supported by up to £1 million each in HEFCE contributions. A further 40 smaller proposals, normally up to £500,000 each from HEFCE, will be approved after the 27th February deadline as part of this £50 million scheme.

Announcing the ECIF on 27th January, Professor David Eastwood said: “The new initiative is designed to meet urgent and short-term economic challenges facing individuals (whether in work or unemployed), new graduates and businesses. We are looking particularly to help small and medium enterprises.

“Higher education has never been closer to business. The strong links developed over the past few years put universities and colleges in an excellent position to make a flexible response to current economic challenges at a time when it is vital that we continue to invest in enterprise and skills.”

A vice-chancellor’s perspective

Just before Christmas, several vice-chancellors were called to a meeting with Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham MP to discuss how higher education can contribute to bringing the UK out of recession.

One who contributed to that meeting was Professor Tim Wilson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, a university that places its relationships with industry at the heart of what it does. Professor Wilson advocated ‘Innovation Vouchers’, such as those already piloted in the West Midlands, where businesses can “spend” a sum – say £1,000 – at a university to get support and advice on specific issues.

“What a fantastic way not only to get universities to support small businesses, but also to get small business expertise into universities,” Professor Wilson said in an interview with Lucy Hodges in The Independent on 29th January.

He also supports ‘Training Vouchers’ for people who are made redundant to improve their skills through short university courses; and he promotes the idea of universities welcoming more ‘spin-in’ companies which need to be helped in the early stages of start-up and development. “This is one of the biggest opportunities the university sector has ever had to make a real impact on economic regeneration,” he said.

Towards a ‘new entrepreneurship’

In principle, ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ should determine what new opportunities are available and seek out the resources needed to exploit these. Easier said than done. A leading thinker on entrepreneurship, Professor David Rae, Director of the Centre for Management & Business Research in the Lincoln Business School, suggests that universities are well placed to contribute to the development of a ‘new entrepreneurship’, “led by education, in which social responsibility, environmental sustainability and the practice of ethical and moral frameworks become integral”.

In his inaugural lecture at the University of Lincoln on 28th January 2009, Professor Rae examined whether ‘entrepreneurship’ is ‘too risky to let loose in a stormy climate’. He revealed that he graduated at the cusp of a recession in 1981 and founded his first business a decade later during the recession in 1991, but acknowledged that the challenge seems greater now.

“The ability of graduates to find jobs and start their careers, and of entrepreneurs to run their businesses successfully during a recession, is of great concern,” he said. “I hope this lecture will start a debate which is urgently needed on what better ways we can create which enable us to do these important things and what the contribution of the University can be to achieve this in the next few challenging years.”

Professor Rae, who is ISBE‘s Vice-President for Education, offered three “suggestions to advance the development of entrepreneurship in the new era. One is the value of mutual and collective enterprise[…]. The second is the need to use latent resources to regenerate economic activity. The third is the role of learning in creating the new entrepreneurship.” In examining the role of learning, Professor Rae stated: “I believe that Higher Education has a responsibility to work with business people and wider communities to create and apply knowledge which leads to new solutions, and at this time that is more critical than ever.”

He added that: “Students need to be enterprising to create life and career opportunities by being resourceful and imaginative in applying their skills and talents to a range of opportunities.”

Rae concluded that: “The University can provide an intellectual and creative arena where different models of enterprise, economic activity and value creation can emerge and be taken forward into the community by our students. We cannot do this alone and we welcome people from business, communities and public sector agencies to work with us.”

With the ECIF fund and a prioritised and more proactive approach to business, many universities are seeking to respond to the challenges of the new global economic environment, an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace, and changes to research funding. The work of organisations such as the NCGE will prove a valuable catalyst for improving collaborative links between HEIs, business and government.

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Challenging Graduate Career Opportunities

28 01 2009

Graduates are facing a very tough jobs market. The ‘Class of 2009’ has already had to contend with gloomy predictions of a serious shortfall in the number of graduate jobs available when they finish their degrees this year. But it’s not all gloom and doom if you’re creative and entrepreneurial.

Some of the more entrepreneurial graduates in sectors where competition for jobs is fiercest are already taking defensive action to create their own start-ups. The NCGE’s Flying Start Programme for the Creative Industries, held in Bournemouth earlier this month, received over 100 applications for 33 places from as far north as Yorkshire.

Graduates chasing vacancies at the UK’s largest recruiters will find fewer opportunities on average. High Fliers Research, whose 14th January report – The Graduate Market in 2009 – surveyed 100 firms, found that recruitment targets have been cut by 17% for this year since the latest graduate recruitment round began in September 2008.

Last year graduate recruitment fell by 6.7% rather than rising by the 11.8% predicted by the recruiters themselves. Banking and finance were particularly badly hit. Skilled staff taken on by leading firms will drop by 7,000 to around 33,000 this year.

Mike Hill, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU) and Graduate Prospects, said recently: “Graduates should not panic. There are lots of jobs out there, but they will be harder to get because more people will be going for them.

“There are more jobs for graduates now than there were 10 years ago,” he added. It is also important, Mike recommends, for HR managers to take a long-term view when faced with current financial pressures. “When we emerge from this recession we will need all the talent we can muster.”

Some areas are bucking the trend, according to the High Fliers research report. There are now 51% more entry-level positions for graduates in the public sector and 17% more roles in the Armed Forces. Accountancy remains a strong prospect, preparing to offer 20.9% of all graduate jobs in 2009.

A BBC Briefing for concerned graduates listed seven top tips from HESCU and Graduate Prospects include:

  • Take advice
  • Broaden your horizons to related professions
  • Consider paid or unpaid work experience
  • Do not be too proud to use contacts to get a first break
  • Do not be too proud to take a job you think may be beneath you
  • Be imaginative

and

  • Consider setting up your own business.

Seasoned entrepreneur Sir David Tang has criticised global pessimism in the face of recession. In a recent opinion piece he recommended we shed negativity and think about finding solutions. He called on governments to force banks to lend to small businesses.

The Government is taking action on a number of fronts. In addition to its recent support package for small businesses, a new campaign – Science: So What? (So Everything) – launched today at 10 Downing Street underlines the continuing need for science, technology, engineering and maths subject areas among many graduate employers. Technology and innovation are seen as key drivers for economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Professor Dame Wendy Hall is spearheading another campaign by the Royal Academy of Engineering to attract more engineers from diverse backgrounds. She said: “The financial turmoil and the recession actually give us a huge opportunity to entice people who have studied engineering and science away from the City and back into innovating for the future, which is where they are badly needed.”

For those graduates among the 400,000 due to graduate this year who remain unemployed for more than six months, it has been reported that DIUS Minister John Denham is proposing paid three-month internships with leading firms and is inviting more of all sizes, and from the public and voluntary sectors, to take part. But details are still being worked out.

In the Government’s New Opportunities White Paper, it was also announced last week that a more streamlined package of support for those unemployed for six months or more pursuing self-employment is to be introduced.





Business start-ups continue to grow

16 11 2007

Despite the concerns expressed in recent research by the ESCP-EAP European School of Management and the University of Sheffield, the official data confirms that new business start-ups continue to be established faster than existing companies wither and die, indicating that the fertile conditions enjoyed by enterprise since the mid-1990s are still in place.  The estimates of the number of enterprises registering and de-registering for VAT in 2006 were published this week by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR).  These figures are regarded as one of the key measures of business activity, and the number of start-ups has now risen every year for the past 12 years, with 21% more VAT-registered businesses in the UK than in 1995.

The data were published as start-up activity was being celebrated across the UK under the banner of Enterprise Week. Business groups welcomed the increase in business start-ups but warned that the credit squeeze, combined with the government’s proposals to raise capital gains tax and scrap taper relief, risked undermining the entrepreneurial spirit.

“Despite the increasing number of hurdles and burdens being placed in front of entrepreneurs, the attraction of private enterprise is still strong,” said David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce.





HE Facts & Figures

21 09 2007

Universities UK have just published the 2007 version of their annual publication Higher Education in Facts & Figures: Summer 2007. This contains authoritative data about the HE system, including student and staff numbers and student subject areas. For example, there are now 168 HEIs in the UK and 106 Universities, and public expenditure on tertiary education institutions as a percentage of GDP was 0.8% in 2003.

An updated version of the companion publication Higher Education in Facts & Figures: Research & Innovation is also available.





UK slips back in graduate numbers

21 09 2007

Britain‘s higher education system is expanding less rapidly than that of many of its economic competitors, a report (Education at a Glance 2007) from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warns today. Although the report reveals that the UK’s educational performance ‘remains strong’ and that investment has increased strategically, it also shows that the UK is falling from third position in 2000 to tenth in 2005.  [Source: Guardian Education]