Reporter 462, 26 February 2001
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Higher Education Policy Unit
Enterprise learning: an analysis of questionnaires distributed to students of the three White Rose universities during the 1999-2000 session
Dr David Wilkinson
Analysis conducted by HEPU at the University of Leeds on behalf of the White Rose Centre for Enterprise
Involvement in enterprise activity before entering university *
Involvement in/awareness of enterprise activity at university *
Innovators and entrepreneurs *
Definitions of an enterprising student *
The outcome of this initial audit of student expectations and experience will serve as an important benchmark for the work to be developed by the White Rose Centre for Enterprise (WRCE).
More importantly, perhaps, it has also revealed a much higher level than expected of prior experience among university entrants. We can build on this and we will respond to the expectations that this new generation has of the contribution that their university learning and teaching can make to their innovative and entrepreneurial capacities.
A receptive audience provides an even better likelihood of good returns on the investment that Government has made in Science Enterprise Challenge. But it also represents a challenge to us to ensure that the new enterprise learning is made an effective and integrated part of the student curriculum in science and technology and no longer an uneasy adjunct.
Director of Enterprise Learning
White Rose Centre for Enterprise, Sheffield
This report forms part of a comprehensive audit of Enterprise Learning in the three White Rose partner universities (Leeds, Sheffield and York). That audit was intended to establish benchmarks for teaching (current provision related to enterprise) and learning (student expectations and experiences of enterprise) as part of formative evaluation for the work of the WRCE.
Although there is a wealth of literature on the subject, the emerging field of entrepreneurship has yet to crystallise into a generally accepted theory or even produce a clear definition. This is further compounded by its perceived differing discipline-dependant emphasis (Bull and Willard 1995). With origins dating back to the Capability and Enterprise movement and "Enterprise in Higher Education" initiatives of the 1980s (Tight, 1996), enterprise and entrepreneurship have been much written about. Enterprise has, however, enjoyed relatively little substantial coverage in recent years. In terms of journal articles, the British Education Index (BEI) database reports 72 published papers containing reference to entrepreneurship for the period 1986 to 1996. The ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) database reports 409 published papers for the same period.
In 1997, the Dearing report recommended that universities should encourage entrepreneurship through innovative approaches to programme design (NCIHE 1997) and the 1998 Competitiveness White Paper also favoured an appreciation of entrepreneurship in HEIs. Government interest in the subject led to the Department of Trade and Industry's Science Enterprise Challenge initiative. Science Enterprise Challenge, first announced in the Chancellor's budget on 3 November 1998, was designed to fund universities to develop their scientific excellence and commercial dynamism in the hope of promoting scientific entrepreneurs and commercialising first rate university research. With this a key focus has become one of assessing/documenting/recording student attitudes to and perceptions of enterprise in order to develop and enhance course materials relating to the subject.
The White Rose Centre for Enterprise is part of this national programme to create 12 Centres of Enterprise, involving 34 universities, which foster the commercialisation of first rate research and ideas. The Centres will further the UK's reputation for research and innovative thinking and create prosperity by turning more research ideas into commercial reality. They will also help staff and graduates to look at their chosen subject in the broader context of application and instil within them an understanding of the innovation process with an ability to recognise enterprise opportunities.
The White Rose Centre for Enterprise joins together the potential of the three partner universities in Leeds, Sheffield and York. It works with an academic community that already enjoys a world class reputation. WRCE intends to extend the capability of the universities to commercialise their ideas, to spin out new companies and to develop their existing base of internationally competitive research.
The ideas of enterprise and innovation permeate science teaching within universities. Although vital to a successful career in research or business, the current curriculum only occasionally identifies these core ideas as potential skills in themselves. This report describes how undergraduates at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York view enterprise in their own curriculum and details their prior and continuing experiences of it.
Tight, M. (1996) Key concepts in adult education and training, London: Routledge, p115
Bull, I and Thomas, H "Towards a Theory of Entrepreneurship" in Bull, I and Thomas, H and Wilward, G (ed) (1995) "Entrepreneurship – perspectives on theory" Elsevier p1
Department of Trade and Industry (1998) Our Competitive Future: Building the knowledge driven economy, The Stationery Office, London. Command Paper 4176
NCIHE (1997) Higher Education in the Learning Society: Report of the national committee, The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. Recommendation 40
Each university distributed a short questionnaire to a selected sample of first year and final year students in a number of their schools/faculties. In this, considerable assistance with co-ordination and administration has been provided by collaborating departments in all the institutions and the office for Strategic Development at Leeds, the Careers Service at Sheffield and the York Award office at the University of York.
Briefing notes were provided for those co-ordinating questionnaire distribution. These set out the background to the Science Enterprise Challenge (SEC) project and the intention of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to fund a widening curriculum-based appreciation of business needs and practice in a disciplinary context. Additionally, the notes provided further context relating to the questions contained within the questionnaire.
Questionnaires were distributed in Biology, Earth Sciences, Psychology, Engineering, Geography and Business. By selecting a diverse sample of respondents, from various discipline areas, general and broadly representative views and experiences of enterprise could be gathered. The questionnaires were administered during timetabled sessions and were completed and returned at the end of the session. This helped achieve a 100 per cent response rate in many cases.
Preliminary work indicated that there were local differences in ‘enterprise’ provision across the three universities. Therefore a generic research instrument (questionnaire) was developed and amended where necessary to embrace these differences and to encourage comments on their effectiveness. Whilst this approach provided a rich source of data it made comparison between (and sometimes within) institutions less straightforward. The analysis provided here by HEPU consequently draws responses into themed areas. Where possible, responses have been grouped and responses to broadly similar questions have been combined.
All of the questionnaires distributed in the WRCE survey focused on select themes of policy interest and asked questions relating to these. The themed areas included:
Involvement in enterprise activity before entering university
All learners were asked if they had previously been involved in some form of enterprise activity. Examples offered to stimulate responses included taking part in a Youth group, society, club etc. Of those responding to this question (n=901), 30 per cent had been involved in some enterprise activity prior to joining university. Detail of this activity included experience gained through a wide variety of activities such as ‘business enterprise’ competitions, school or voluntary organisation work – such as assisting with School Council work, working with community groups.
A broad coding frame was developed to accommodate the variety of responses. Analysis of the responses within this indicates that Young Enterprise activities were the most popular activities undertaken (see Figure 1 below). 'School activity/group' work included such responses as: 'selling candles as part of GCSE Business Studies' and 'managing vending machines in 6th form areas'. 'Voluntary/community work' included such responses as: 'working in local social services' and 'community action group work'; and 'Other' activities included: 'Brownie/guides' and 'Scouts'.
Figure 1 Activities undertaken before entering university
In the majority of cases, respondents were involved in these enterprise activities during 6th form education. Roles within the activities varied from assistant work to those with management responsibilities - although fewer indicated the latter.
Within this theme, respondents were asked if their school/college was involved in any school/youth group/enterprise or company activity. Of those responding to this question (n=545) 49 per cent indicated that their school or college had been involved in some kind of activity. The majority of positive responses to this question indicated that institutions were involved with Young Enterprise activities. For ease of analysis responses to this question have been coded and grouped and the results are provided in Figure 2 below. 'Other' activities included: 'Sport club' and 'Youth centre work'.
Figure 2 Activities undertaken by school/college
Involvement in/awareness of enterprise activity at university
All respondents were asked about their involvement in or intention to become involved in enterprise activities while in higher education.
First year students were asked if they would like to become involved in enterprise activities whilst at university if it was integrated with their degree and with the marks counting towards their degree. Of those responding to this question (n=382), 74 per cent of first year students indicated that they would wish or intended to become involved in an enterprise activity at university.
Final year students were asked if they had been involved with any enterprise activity whilst at university. Of those responding to this question (n=430), 36 per cent of final year students had taken part in some kind of enterprise activity whilst at university. Activities undertaken as part of such provision included:
Although some respondents indicated that they had been involved in these activities for the duration of their degree programmes, most became involved during their final (3rd) year.
Those respondents who were not involved in any enterprise activity at university were additionally asked if they were aware of enterprise activities at their institutions. Of those responding to this question (n=124), 45 per cent were aware of such activities at their institution.
Innovators and entrepreneurs
All respondents were asked about the role of innovators and entrepreneurs in business. Specifically, they were asked if they would have chosen/be interested in a module looking at the role of innovators and entrepreneurs in business. Most respondents indicated that they 'may be' interested or were 'very' interested in such a module, as shown in Figure 3 below.
Figure 3 Interest in a module exploring innovation and enterprise
Definitions of an enterprising student
All respondents were asked to define an enterprising student. The responses were wide and varied to this question and, where possible, they were coded into broadly similar areas. Some responses were beyond useful coding and have therefore been included within the 'Other' category. Examples of responses within this category include: 'a rich one', 'a cheat', 'thinks business', 'a dead one', 'Richard Branson', 'one who never works but still gets a 1st'.
Of those who responded to this question (n=153), 34 per cent indicated that an enterprising student was skillful, innovative or one who showed initiative. Figure 4 below shows the full breakdown of responses.
Figure 4 Definitions of an enterprising student
Although most responses were short some students provided clearer definitions of an enterprising student. Three examples were:
"One who makes the most of their situation, seizing opportunities, being creative and innovative. Not being restricted by what other people do, or what people think of as the 'norm', the right way of doing things."
"Someone who challenges the norm and is constantly trying to (turn) their many ideas into practice."
"One who is broad minded, dynamic and innovative, willing to think unconventionally in a highly motivated fashion."
These comments indicated that for some students their experience of enterprise was variable. In some cases perceptions had not been clearly formulated or in others they had not had a great deal of prior experience of enterprising activities. This was highlighted by comments made by final year students to the question 'Do you feel that your experience at university has helped prepare you for a role in the Enterprise economy?' Typical examples are provided below:
"This is a fallacy for the majority"
"I've had no contact with anything 'enterprise-like'"
"I'm a biologist not a businessman"
"What is the 'Enterprise economy'?"
The number of responses to each question varied, reflecting the respondents' involvement with and experience of enterprise.
Of those responding to each question area: