Widening Participation and Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: BME learners
Widening participation initiatives aiming to raise the aspirations and attainment of under-represented groups in higher education tend to focus on tackling the ‘perceived deficiencies’ of widening participation students, with the assumption that there is something innately lacking in their capabilities. These types of approaches are problematic as they infer that the differential outcomes experienced by widening participation students are the fault of the students themselves. This therefore focuses attention on the student as opposed to critically interrogating institutional practices. In this respect, there should be a focus on challenging institutional practices and modifying pedagogical teaching and learning approaches to engage widening participation students.
Enterprise and entrepreneurship education has the scope to equip learners with crucial skills needed in today’s competitive labour market. Acquiring these skills does not necessary mean that the student will pursue self-employment; the transferability of behaviours, attributes and competencies involved in enterprise and entrepreneurship education can easily be translated into working for an employer, thus giving students who acquire these competencies an edge against students who have not been exposed to this intervention.
As employment rates for BME graduates are comparative low, embedding enterprise and entrepreneurship education within the curriculum, arguably becomes even more significant in providing learning and engagement opportunities that could give these students the option of starting up their own venture whilst at university or after they graduate.
Studies have indicated that inclusive teaching strategies are beneficial to widening participation students and can have a positive impact on student outcomes and student experience. Adopting such an approach would mean taking into account social justice and student diversity as opposed to linear approaches to teaching.
Although the field of enterprise and entrepreneurship education has scope to foster resilience, leadership and personal development for learners, it has largely ignored its application for use with a diverse range of students whose needs may differ from ‘traditional’ higher education students. For students from BME backgrounds embedding inclusive teaching strategies into enterprise and entrepreneurship education could contextualise learning and foster deeper understanding of skill acquisition and its overall application.
Higher education learners from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds may experience very different experiences whilst studying in higher education, including combining work with studying and maintaining caring responsibilities at the same time as completing their degrees. This difference in experience could be incorporated into learning and teaching practices which would be advantageous for institutions that are serious about supporting widening participation learners.
Adapting the curriculum and provision of enterprise and entrepreneurship education for BME groups need not be a labour intensive task for educators. There are a number of easy strategies that can be adopted which take widening participation learners into consideration such as:
- The use of diverse case studies as a way of moving away from practices that fail to take into account the different sociocultural identities of diverse students.
- Students could be exposed to a wide range of speakers, some of whom they could relate to in terms of commonalities in experience adding inspiration and contextualised encouragement.
- A range of events should be offered. Events scheduled at the weekend or in the evening may not be appropriate for students from widening participation backgrounds because of additional responsibilities outside of study.
- It is important to ensure that the enterprise and entrepreneurship education provision is student-led. Approaches which take into account the preferences of students could increase student engagement and ownership of learning. A bottom-up approach is meaningful in helping students to achieve their study goals and potentially, entrepreneurial aspirations.
- Social enterprise should be embraced within higher education institutions that are committed to widening participation, as research has shown BAME people are more likely to be involved in social entrepreneurship.
- Mature BME learners would benefit from bringing in their experiences into the learning and teaching process helping to relate theory to personal practice. This technique could allow for ‘threshold concepts’ to be understood quicker as well as applying enterprise and entrepreneurship capabilities in a more effective and meaningful manner.
Dr Yaz Iyabo Osho, GSM London
@DrYOsho / www.dryazosho.com / Instagram dryazo