Fostering student innovation and entrepreneurship

What role do universities play in fostering student innovation and entrepreneurship? That was one of the questions posed to our panel today at the annual Guardian Forum event. This is a critical agenda – our capacity for innovation will be key to our overall competitiveness and productivity in the UK, as much of the Western world enters into a period of economic recovery. 

We already know that 80% of new jobs are in high-skill areas, placing universities and our graduates at the heart of the future workforce.

But, it will be the innovation and enterprise aptitude of our graduates that will be most central to the UK’s success. It will be how we exploit new technologies – such as graphene, composite materials, or the use of robotics – that will determine our future.

This is one area where there is a clear cross-party consensus! But we need to push this further – to ensure that our ideas of a successful graduate outcome, and those of the government and the public, are not constrained to securing a traditional ‘graduate job’.

Clearly as a sector, there is a differing emphasis placed on this across universities. And there are a variety of interesting ideas out there that will be more relevant or practical to some institutions rather than others – such as having a venture capital fund to invest in student start-ups, or using crowd-sourcing technology to engage partners and identify where to invest.

At UWE Bristol we are ideally placed as a regional hub for innovation and enterprise. We are located in a thriving and ambitious city-region, with a LEP that has been credited as the best in the country.

Whilst many universities can point to incubator spaces, enterprise internships and funding, student enterprise societies (at UWE Bristol – UWE InnovEnters and Enactus), workshops and masterclasses, and one-to-one advice, it is in embedding enterprise activity into the curriculum where the real wins can be made.

This year at UWE Bristol we introduced an exceptionally innovative new programme – Business (Team Entrepreneurship) – which challenges traditional ideas about a degree. Students work in a high-tech hub rather than a classroom, they have coaching sessions and workshops rather than compulsory lectures – and it is running a real business that drives the students’ learning.

The students love the programme. It has inspired and engaged those that might have previously been put off by the traditional format of many university courses. And already, some of our students have been to parliament to contribute to a report on future leaders and entrepreneurship. This is a great model that we are learning from across the University.

Indeed, I think it prompts us all to consider how we best foster the entrepreneurial spirit in our students – after all they are the leaders and shapers of the future.

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