Views and challenges on innovation and entrepreneurial education in Europe

Bullet Point summary:

Summary Ideas:

  • Knowledge production without innovation processes can’t provide solutions to human needs.
  • Innovation processes without entrepreneurship cannot create progress at societal level.
  • The three concepts, knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship, are interlinked in a process.
  • The science-innovation-entrepreneurship process is not linear, as it is influenced by external factors and management differences across European states.
  • The EU has launched several initiatives[1],[2],[3] that have helped to make the process more efficient but new challenges constantly arise.
  • Euroscience´s Science Policy Working Group would like to emphasize the role of entrepreneurial education as a key element to maximize the impact of the science-innovation-entrepreneurship process on our society.

Why innovation and entrepreneurship are important – defining the concepts

Scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship have been the main engines of societal development since the early time of the industrial revolution. They generate substantial benefits and provide practical solutions to acute issues within the society.

Science creates knowledge that has no boundaries[4]. The stock of knowledge produced is a shared heritage and is the basis for progress. Innovation is the capability to transform knowledge into new solutions that stimulate progress and growth, while entrepreneurship, or better said, the “entrepreneurial approach” is the skill in starting new businesses, especially when this involves grasping new opportunities. This links specific capabilities with the business element and the ability to identify new opportunities in terms of new products, processes or services[5].

EuroScience, the European Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology, considers innovation and entrepreneurship as fundamental values. With such a perspective, it is a moral duty for all of us to “prepare” the new generation of skilled people.

Positive feedback loop between knowledge production and economic growth. The diagram depicts, in a simplified manner, how the production of knowledge leads to economic growth via innovation and entrepreneurial approaches which financially reverts back into the production of knowledge via public and private reinvestment. Entrepreneurial education is an essential element that strengthens the loop.

The European scenario

In spite of the intimate link between scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship, Europe faces constant and persistent difficulties in the transformation of research outputs into solutions that generate economic growth, create jobs and address human, societal and environmental needs.

In the 1995 Green Paper on Innovation, the European Commission already identified serious bottlenecks and has since implemented a large number of policies to address these issues. Nevertheless, we observe that the situation is not alleviated as reflected in the most recent Communication on the European Research Area for Research and Innovation[6].  Europe is being challenged with a constant and increasing competition in a globalized world. In this competitive arena, Europe needs a new paradigm to preserve its appropriate share, both by taking into consideration its previous contribution to the development of global science and technology, as well as taking advantage of potential synergies within the European Union.

We consider that not all processes that permit the transformation of the stock of knowledge into solutions to the benefit of society are efficient. There are still marked differences between EU member states: Cultural, legislative and infrastructural issues are all contributing to such a fragmented situation. These differences are affecting the capability of Europe, as a whole, to exploit the existing potential in terms of knowledge creation and innovation. This is exacerbated by barriers to exploiting scientific research through innovation and entrepreneurship.

The challenge: to reinforce the necessary links

The challenge we are currently facing is how to reinforce the links between research, innovation and entrepreneurship and how to streamline the path between them.

Neither research, nor innovation, in themselves, make any sense without an ultimate goal, namely, their transformation from immaterial concepts into material physical concepts (products, services) and solutions that cover social needs of communities (local, regional, national, global).

The engine through which research activities, transformed into innovation, leads to practical application is clearly Entrepreneurship.

Policies, properly regulated national legal/fiscal frameworks, dedicated infrastructures, interested and equal partners as well as the presence of an efficient capital market, the need for resources to finance basic research and the exploitation of scientific results to develop innovation are the necessary framework to activate and facilitate the process but the crucial ingredient is the entrepreneurial approach of the researcher.

For the above reason, EuroScience´s Science Policy Working Group is particularly interested to consider the role of entrepreneurial education[7]  in reinforcing the Research-Innovation-Entrepreneurship chain.

Entrepreneurial education in general curricula

Many European universities are offering single entrepreneurship training modules as “stand alone” courses or optional modules usually categorized as “transferable and soft skills” components of the “standard” curricula. Still, we must outline that vast differences exist among the different European countries on the role that such modules have in the context of the career pathways, content, training credits and, last but not least, in terms of rewarding both the acquisition and the use of knowledge and competencies developed in the “normal” scientific activities. Such know-how is frequently ignored in the assessment of students/researchers in academic settings.

We consider that there is an urgent need to overcome limits and problems that are negatively influencing the adoption of such cultural elements as standard components in curricula. Here, we would like to emphasize that the lack of entrepreneurial culture and attitude, particularly within the staff employed in research and in technological and scientific faculties, is also an obstacle, which is preventing the European system to maximize the impact of outstanding research results that are developed.

The way forward – unlocking the potential of entrepreneurial education

As we observe that the efforts of the past two decades still did not produce sufficient results in the development of the European entrepreneurial attitude and culture, EuroScience´s Science Policy Working Group calls the European and national policy actors as well as European universities and research institutions to:

  • Address the fragmented European higher education system, where components on some of the key instruments for development are working in different, and in some cases, non-coherent ways and align policies and regulations to overcome this situation.
  • Provide support to initiatives that outline the positive social role of innovation and lift up the role of the entrepreneurial approach as the key element to drive the innovation process; defend the role of innovation in our society and act at the cultural level in order to increase the awareness of all the European citizens of the role of innovation.
  • Educate a new generation of scientists with a better set of competencies and increased knowledge and act in order to improve curricula for students that will put greater emphasis on entrepreneurial and innovation management components.
  • Call for reward of the use of such skill set and define pan-European guidelines to this aim
  • Further simplify/promote the exploitation of scientific results in coherence with the other European, national and regional initiatives.
  • Stimulate common cross-regional and cross-country initiatives to better train the next generation of scientists and innovators on a comparable level of European entrepreneurship culture.
  • Promote cross fertilization across knowledge boundaries.
  • Emphasize the social role and status of science graduates so that they can utilize their own skillset to solve a particular problem through an innovation process.
  • Provide a permanent honest analysis of the development of entrepreneurship and implementation of the related above policies across the EU.

All these points aim toward a paradigm shift regarding the role of entrepreneurial education. We do not have to change the culture but rather enrich the actual culture with a key component: the idea that we can solve the problems that surround us.

This article has been conceptualised and written by the members of EuroScience Science Policy Workgroup on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. For more information and if you would like to contribute to EuroScience Science Policy Workgroup, visit the website or contact Teresa Fernandez.

[1] European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)

[2] European Innovation Council (EIC)

[3] European Universities Initiative (EUI)

[4] Science The Endless Frontier A Report to the President by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, July 1945

[5] Azim, MT and Al-Kahtani A.H. Entrepreneurship Education and Training: A Survey of Literature. Life Sci Journal, 2014;11(1s):127-135.

[6] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions – A new ERA for Research and Innovation. Brussels, 30.9.2020. COM(2020) 628 final.

[7] The role of entrepreneurial education has been emphasized several times by independent experts in respect to the implementation of the EU Lisbon Strategy: e.g. European Education and Training Systems in the Second Decennium of the Lisbon Strategy, Independent report submitted to the European Commission by the EENEE and NESSE networks of experts, June 2008, or European Parliament Directorate General for Internal Policies Policy Department A: Economic and Scientific Policy Employment and Social Affairs The Lisbon Strategy 2000 – 2010 An analysis and evaluation of the methods used and results achieved Final Report 2010

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