Impact in the 2020s: A new era for enterprise education?

Written by Dr Richard Tunstall


As the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, daily news headlines about the latest infection rates and death toll are frequent reminders of the effect it has had upon the lives of so many around the world. While these figures remain abstract to some, they are very real to those for whom family lives have been turned upside down. 

After those awful headlines, the other impacts of the pandemic increasingly become apparent. Failing businesses, debates about how to enable school pupils to ‘catch up’ and the changes in our own lives serve as evidence that the world as we knew it has changed. While the hope of a vaccine solution to the health crisis is closer than ever before, the social and economic impacts will continue to be felt long after. 

In our educational institutions, those of us in entrepreneurship education experience these wider impacts too in our own work. Not only do we face our own personal home circumstances, but also see first hand the impact on our colleagues and students who struggle with these circumstances in their endeavours to further their education as they pursue their own aspirations for the future. 

The impact of Covid-19 is wide, deep and personally felt. This may seem miles away from the use of the term ‘impact’ in higher education, so often viewed as a ‘bolt on’ to university strategies. Yet, now the impact of university research has also been transformed as Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group dominate the headlines with their work on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vacccine, thousands of researchers work on Covid-19 studies from the UK government’s call for research, while health and medical students join their tutors supporting hospitals and care needs.

Impact in universities has never been so important. This is seen in enterprise education where educators have rapidly transformed their delivery of courses. Countless hours of effort continue to be invested into converting to online delivery, rapidly learning new technologies to deliver the best possible remote learning experience for students. Beyond the curriculum, those in careers services, startup centres and incubators have been transforming their delivery, building new platforms for student business support and working tirelessly to ensure their entrepreneurs feel connected to their communities and advisors.

Impact is everywhere, but the sense is often that this is an emergency response, that soon we can abandon all this and get back to normal. Yet so much has changed and so much has been learnt that the impact imperative seems unlikely to be going anywhere soon. The need for entrepreneurs may be greater than ever before as the world grapples with the twists and turns of Covid-19 mutation response, the toll on wider public health, societal distress and economic and industrial disruption.

Our role as entrepreneurship educators will remain to not only support the education of our students, but to provide them with a pathway to realise their full potential. New ideas and solutions to address the problems the world will continue to face will come from the students we support today. The development of strong sustainable new ventures and social enterprises will support the revitalising of disrupted economies and social challenges. The outreach of student-led associations and societies will create more visible impacts on local communities. The engagement of educators and students with local industry will help bring new ideas to small businesses finding their way through current crises to new opportunities.

Impact is increasingly being recognised as important. AACSB’s refreshed 2020 accreditation standards introduces Teaching Impact as a new measure. QAA and Advance HE’s enterprise and entrepreneurship frameworks bring a renewed focus on enterprise education as an approach to not only improve graduate destination outcomes but also as a response to wider global challenges.

The 2020s will form a new chapter for enterprise education as a key force in universities to respond to the challenges of the global pandemic and generate new forms of impact which support society’s way forward. Working harder will not necessarily be the best response, and our personal lives and those of our nearest and dearest will also need care and attention. Instead it is working smarter, to embrace innovations, champion change, support our colleagues across institutions and collaborate across our communities, finding new ways forward that will help to create a positive impact for all.

Dr Richard Tunstall, Director of EEUK and Associate Professor of Enterprise, Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies, Univerisity of Leeds