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China has lessons to learn from the UK when it comes to entrepreneurship education

14/04/2016  -  2.15

By Karen Bill, Chair of Enterprise Education UK (EEUK), Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise at the University of Wolverhampton and a Director of Athena Swan, championing female academics.

At the invitation of the ChiKaren Billna-Britain Business Council, I recently presented to a high-level Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education forum in Tianjin, one of China’s four provincial-level municipalities. My topic was ‘Entrepreneurship Education in Higher Education in the UK’.

We were fortunate to visit Nankai University’s Public Innovation Space where we saw incubation facilities and spoke with students who had set up their own businesses. Here, student teams from business, fine arts, chemistry and technology backgrounds have created small, profitable businesses. One business we spoke to was an art and design company developing really innovative sketches of University maps. Social entrepreneurship is also evident at Nankai, whose students harness their skills to help local farmers market their products.

But while there are numerous examples of enterprising students, embedding entrepreneurial education into courses is an area where China can benefit from the UK.

During the visit a few facts really stood out:

  • In Tianjin there is only one university and one college that have established an entrepreneurship school on campus with full time faculty.
  • The majority of leaders in Tianjin’s HEI system know about entrepreneurship education in the US but not in the UK. There are NO text books on the subject.
  • Almost all universities and colleges in Tianjin have one course about entrepreneurship and the content is about business planning and the pedagogy traditional.
  • There are 4-5 universities and colleges in Tianjin teaching the course of KAB (Knowing About Business) ‍ introduced by International Labor Organization (ILO) and its pedagogy is more student-focussed.

One of the issues evident is that China has very entrepreneurial people but little focus, at present, in helping them understand enterprise through education. And, then there is the challenge of the very traditional curricular and exam based focus which is counter intuitive to developing enterprise education. 

Despite the importance and scope of the above issues, entrepreneurship and innovation research relevant to China and other transitional economies, as you would expect, are still embryonic. 

I got the impression during the short visit that China looks up to the UK as somewhat of a role model as they recognise that we have been through an economic crisis, have employment pressures and recognise entrepreneurship education  as a pillar of academic and economic development.

However, this needs to be a two-way collaboration and there are opportunities in which UK educational institutions and businesses can accelerate their activity in China and for institutions and businesses to forge partnerships.