Structured higher education can spur entrepreneurial ambitions: NYU study

Study stresses that apart from traits like personality and family history, educational practices may play key role in inculcating a mindset to launch a start-up


Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Bengaluru: Structured higher education, provided the environment is conducive, can spur entrepreneurial ambitions, according to research by New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The study will be published in the May volume of the The Journal of Higher Education.

While the education system is criticized for not preparing students for solving real-world problems, and lagging industry, with serial entrepreneurs like Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal Holdings Inc., funding students who drop out of college, this study stresses that apart from traits like personality and family history of entrepreneurship, educational practices may play a key role in inculcating an entrepreneurial mindset.

“This study disrupts the position that higher education may not be conducive to fostering innovation by suggesting that both personality and structured higher education experiences contribute to cultivating innovation potential among college students,” said Matthew J. Mayhew, associate professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt, in a statement announcing the findings of the research. “The good news is that innovative entrepreneurial intentions can be influenced by educators, regardless of the many differences in traits and experiences that students across cultures bring to college campuses.”

The research involved examining different education settings by surveying 375 US business undergraduates, 109 US MBA students, and 210 German students in a five-year business and technology degree in Germany.

The students were surveyed on personality dimensions, including extraversion and openness to new experiences, college experiences (example, challenging learning environments, relationships with faculty, and approaches to problem solving) and their intentions to innovate in an entrepreneurial capacity.

The researchers found that participation in both the German and the American education settings positively influenced innovative entrepreneurial intentions. To tap into the growing aspiration of young people to start up on their own, a number of universities around the world are offering degree and certificate programmes in entrepreneurship as well as online courses.

This augurs well for the measures being taken by the government of India to inculcate entrepreneurship right from schools. A big part of these measures are introducing open online courses, which can be scaled easily.

Although there is some dispute whether entrepreneurship can be taught, especially through online courses, education start-ups like Coursera Inc., which specialize in online courses, say they have seen good results for their courses on entrepreneurship.

“Our research suggests that the online learning experiences in our entrepreneurship courses deliver comparable learning outcomes to our face-to-face classes. We are seeing measurable improvements in learners’ entrepreneurial mindset, and entrepreneurial opportunity analysis skill sets, from our online entrepreneurship courses,” said James V. Green, director of entrepreneurship education, Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, who anchors an entrepreneurship specialization course on Coursera.