Nǐ hǎo  from China

Written by Jon Powell


I have recently returned from representing EEUK and speaking at the 3rd annual International Conference for Entrepreneurship Education Ecosystem (ICEEE) at Changsha, Hunan province in China. I was honoured to be the opening keynote for this conference and presenting on the Enterprise Education ecosystem at UK universities. I was also joined on the delegation by fellow EEUK Director Dr Susan Laing who was providing case studies and models of how enterprise education is embedded in the curriculum in the UK. And former EEUK Chair and Honorary Fellow, Dr Simon Brown who was speaking about industry and academic engagement, impact and examples of how supporting the development of an entrepreneurial mindset can lead to positive commercial outcomes for universities and industry alike. Friend of EEUK and a former keynote speaker at IEEC Margherita Bacigalupo was also presenting on the Entrecomp Framework.

The conference was attended by around 400 delegates from universities and colleges across China. The delegates were all enterprise educators and would fall into the three EEUK Fellowship pathways as being mainly academics, being practitioners or being influencers in their organisations or communities. We are hoping that in developing strong links with the ICEEE conference there will be opportunities to share good practice between the communities of enterprise educators in the UK and China. So if you would like to develop links with universities in China or are interested in attending the ICEEE conference in the future, perhaps in a delegation with EEUK, then please let us know!

After presenting at the conference I was invited to visit four of the local universities, Hunan University, Hunan University of Science and Technology, Hunan University of Finance and Economics and Hunan College of International Trade and Industry. I could say my favourite was Hunan University of Science of Technology as they offered me a visiting Professorship but they were all outstanding institutions in their own right and were investing heavily in resources and staffing to develop enterprise and entrepreneurship education both within and outside their curriculum.

A common theme was that they support students to form project teams to work on commercial projects or social enterprise challenges. Mainly these are experiential opportunities rather than student/graduate start-ups and are entered into an array of entrepreneurship competitions that are sponsored by the private sector or organised by the government. All the universities had some kind of enterprise zone and incubation space for these groups to work from, with many having incubation space in each of their academic schools. Where these projects do turn into commercial start-ups then the universities like to stay connected to the alumni and try and engage them in mentoring of the student groups.

There was a clear difference between the QAA adopted language for enterprise and entrepreneurship education in the UK and the use of language in China. In China they refer to entrepreneurship rather than enterprise and it wasn’t always clear whether the driver was to develop as many start-up businesses for the economy or to develop the potential of the individual through the vehicle of enterprise education.

One of the main challenges that the universities raised with me was how can they improve their engagement and develop better links with local businesses. I had one of those rare moments of clarity (aided by regular breaks for the translator to work her magic) and suggested that there is a three step solution to this challenge:

Step 1 – Invite them in. Reach out to entrepreneurs and small businesses with an offer and invite them into the university. Entice them with Entrepreneur in Residence positions, honorary titles, free space to work and meet in and free parking. Reach out to your alumni first then expand through their networks.

Step 2 – Develop a gateway. Universities aren’t always that accessible and don’t always have an obvious door to knock on. This includes our websites which are student recruitment focussed and so very often impossible for businesses to navigate. If needs be, create a separate website with different search engine optimisation so you don’t impact on student recruitment. Create a dedicated role or team of professionals to go out, to network and perform a first stage triage or diagnostic with businesses before referring them to the right person to speak to in the university. So when your early adopters from stage 1 start referring on your behalf, they have someone they can introduce the business to.

Step 3 – Shout about how good you are. Once you have some early adopters and successes and a gateway in place then it is time to start putting yourself forward for awards, developing partnerships with local networking organisations and sponsoring events. You don’t have to be the best, you just need to sound like you are the best (I hate to say it but some awards aren’t as robust as our NEEA awards).

I will be following up with the universities I met and visited during my trip to ask if they would like to develop closer links with any EEUK member universities. So watch this space and I hope you will take the time to mingle and make new contacts with the Chinese delegates at IEEC2019. The phrase to remember is nǐ hǎo  (knee how = Hello) and not  gān běi (ganbei = Bottoms Up), especially if you are drinking Chinese wine (circa 50% proof).

Jon Powell, Chair of Enterprise Educators UK