Department of Management

Tensions between entrepreneurship and a university education: An ethnographic examination of entrepreneurship education in HE

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The notion that a university education is a public good and the key to national economic growth is widely accepted. Universities have two core activities, one to research and the other to teach. Balancing these core activities is articulated and legitimised through discourses that seek to establish the value and goals of university education. As academics the combination of these activities leads us to pose questions about the goals of our teaching and whether what we teach is of value to our students. Whose values are legitimised through our teaching? On the other hand discourses about encouraging enterprising behaviour and growing entrepreneurs also match up with the public good and economic growth for the nation. In the past decade there has been a significant increase in the number of entrepreneurship courses being offered throughout Higher Education. What do these courses offer and why is there an increasing interest in entrepreneurship? For more work on the growth of entrepreneurship courses and a review of the current research see for example Pittaway (2012). A cursory glance at the content of these courses reveals a number of goals and a range of methodologies. The goals can be divided into three main groups i) to provide students with knowledge about entrepreneurs - transmission of knowledge ii) to provide students with business knowledge to start up a business –allow them access to entrepreneurs and give them work experience inside companies – situated learning or iii) to allow students experience of being entrepreneurs by giving them access to growth houses and incubators where they are able to develop ideas and to receive mentoring from onsite experts – experiential learning. Less recognized is a fourth type of course which appears to combine some elements from the first three types but also adds an element that combines academic skills with the creation of value through a reflective learning process.
Drawing on an ethnographic case study of entrepreneurship courses at a Danish university carried out in the fall of 2012 this paper examines two Masters Level courses, one in the Business School, the other in the Humanities. Each teaching session was observed and notes taken and later written up. Following each teaching session the educator was interviewed and asked to reflect on the teaching. The educator reflected on whether goals were achieved and whether the students responded in ways which were different to the expectations of the educator. All interviews were digitally recorded and later transcribed.
The entrepreneurship group, a core of five experienced academics, has individually and collaboratively developed innovative pedagogies over the last ten years that are designed to focus on the learning process as a central element in their teaching. This is what they term ‘teaching through entrepreneurship.’ The phenomenon of teaching ‘through’ is unpacked and analysed in this paper. The analysis suggests that the focus on learning as both an individual and social process goes beyond narrow definitions of entrepreneurship. The findings suggest that students appear to achieve a transformation of self that touches on previous (forgotten) goals of education and learning that are linked to ‘bildung.’ The transmission of knowledge is acknowledged in university settings as being the ‘norm’ for teaching and that this kind of course achieves something emancipating and productive.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2013
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventOxford Ethnography and Education conference - Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Sep 201318 Sep 2013


ConferenceOxford Ethnography and Education conference
CountryUnited Kingdom

    Research areas

  • entrepreneurship, ethnography, education, learning, Higher Education

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