Chapter 4. Building entrepreneurial capacity through teaching and learning

This chapter expands on the findings presented in Chapter 2 with a focus on teaching and learning. It gives an overview of the national level approaches and initiatives in this regard, namely the teaching and learning recommendations in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 and the establishment of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education. The chapter analyses various approaches to enhance the capacity of students for entrepreneurship and reviews the role of higher education institutions in lifelong learning. The chapter also discusses the role of education in translating scientific research into societal relevance and presents good practice examples of how to incentivise student participation in knowledge exchange activities.



Teaching and learning are central activities of higher education institutions (HEIs). Former boundaries to researchers and societal engagement are starting to blur and new synergies are emerging. Quickly emerging new modes of learning are putting traditional approaches in education to the test. The “flipped” classroom, in which teachers and students occupy changing roles in teaching and learning, is an umbrella concept for the emerging practical applications of the need to rethink the education mode (OECD, 2006). At the same time, there is a growing societal demand for HEIs to translate research results for and communicate them with the wider public. No single HEI, and indeed the higher education sector as a whole, can any longer claim the paramount discovery and repository of knowledge. HEIs in their responses to this shift seek to expand their organisational capacity around useful and problem-centred sources of knowledge, making space for transdisciplinary research to discover, explore, co-create and disseminate knowledge in novel ways (Armbruster, 2008).

Across the globe, acceptance for the shared responsibility in ensuring graduate employability is growing and the expected role for HEIs in this is to provide a balanced combination of knowledge and practical skills. Government funding for higher education is getting increasingly tied to demonstrated impact of education on the transformation of learners into, what in public discourse is called “T-shaped professionals”, with cutting-edge and deep discipline-specific knowledge as well as a broad set of cognitive, non-cognitive and metacognitive skills. This combination of knowledge and skills is what helps individuals to demonstrate initiative, rely on judgement, while showing empathy and taking into account possible consequences, learning via trial and error processes, and creating own job environments. Often, these attributes are used to describe an entrepreneur (Frese, 2009). Building on this broader understanding of an entrepreneur, in 2008, the European Commission launched a large-scale initiative to promote the sense of initiative and entrepreneurship as one of eight transversal competencies, which can and should be developed through formal education and lifelong learning activities. In response, many governments have given HEIs a (funded) mandate for this.

Analysis and findings

Ireland’s systemic approach to enhance excellence in teaching and learning

With 60% tertiary attainment amongst the age group 30-34 years by 2020, Ireland has set itself the second highest EU2020 goal within the European Union.1 Since 2003, the country has been moving steadily towards this target from an initial 35.1% to 52.3% in 2015. Ireland has very favourable demographics with the highest proportion of the population under the age of 15 in the European Union. Students participating in higher education are expected to grow by nearly 30% over the next 15 years, from a current base of 215 000 (DES, 2015).

To facilitate the growth of Irish higher education, the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 provides a set of recommendations. The aim is to create the framework conditions, which allow HEIs to respond effectively to the increasing industry demand for high-order knowledge-based skills, the changing profile of students, and the need to render research more relevant for development and growth. With regard to teaching and learning, eight recommendations were put forward; several of which have been widely or fully achieved to date (Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1. Teaching and learning recommendations in the Irish Higher Education Strategy

Source: Source: DES (2011).

Significant efforts are underway to allocate resources and develop performance metrics which reflect the parity of esteem between teaching and research. A new annual survey of student engagement provides feedback to institutions and is reported on at national level.

The expansion of places in higher education has also provided more opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Aside from standard entry routes, there has been an increased focus in recent years on lifelong learners through initiatives such as the ICT Conversion Courses and the Springboard Programme (see Chapter 1). The provision of academic, social supports and guidance that enhance the motivation, engagement and performance of students, as well as collaboration between the HEIs and further education providers has helped create new pathways.

The National Framework of Qualifications provides with the multi-ladder system several routes of access, progression and transfer with credited exit routes and re-entry options (see Chapter 1). This is particularly well received, by mature students who have a greater need to achieve a balance between their work, family and educational lives, as well as by employers who want to offer their staff flexible educational opportunities. Increased focus on recognition of prior learning also benefits these students.

Various initiatives are underway to better prepare first-year students for their academic learning experience and enhanced emphasis is given to the development of skills required for effective engagement in society and in the workplace. The quality assurance framework has been reviewed and further developed, involving subject experts from the academic community under the co-ordination of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). As part of this, all HEIs are expected to offer development support and training opportunities for their teaching staff.

To support HEIs in ensuring that every teacher has an opportunity to contribute to the change processes in education, in 2012 the Irish government introduced the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education (Box 4.1). The National Forum is a sectoral network which pools resources and efforts directed at advocacy, connecting excellent practice, collaboration, and the mobilisation of expertise. It is an important stepping stone in connecting, developing and mainstreaming already existing and new initiatives.

Box 4.1. Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education

The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education was established in 2012 by the Minister for Education and Skills to enhance the quality of the learning experience for all students in higher education, be they full-time, part-time or flexible learners. The National Forum maintains a continuous dialogue with students, teachers and managers in all higher education institutions in order to shape the future directions of the higher education sector in Ireland (e.g. “Teaching for Transitions”). HEI leaders, managers, staff and students are involved through positions in the Forum’s board, awards, such as the teaching heroes (see below) and act as local Forum contact points.

To date, the National Forum has undertaken:

  • A comprehensive review of digital platforms, e-learning capacity across the entire sector and of professional development activities for teachers and managers supporting teaching and learning;

  • A student-led teaching award programme, which is an evidence-based professional award fellowship system subsequently feeding into a national professional development framework; and

  • A series of research and dissemination activities in the form of reports, insights, talks, jointly organised seminars and other events and scholarships.

Source: Source: Interviews with representatives of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education in Ireland during the study visit in October 2015.

The National Forum collaborates regularly with one or more HEIs for the organisation of research and dissemination seminars. These events focus on student engagement and learning techniques to promote more effective teaching. Typically, these events are a combination of lectures, demonstrations and workshops. A recurring focus has been on innovation in assessment approaches, for example, the exploration and articulation of mental models, which steer the teacher’s understanding of assessment and its impacts on the students’ learning.

Students and staff from all HEIs are involved in a new award which identifies and celebrates student-nominated teaching excellences. The Teaching Hero Award, started in 2014, is the only student-led national teaching award in Ireland. The awards are a collaborative effort of the National Forum and the Union of Students in Ireland. The 2016 theme of “Inspiring and Innovating” asked students to identify teachers who have engaged with new ideas and practices to enhance their learning experience resulting in 800 nominations and 37 award winners.

Engagement and knowledge exchange activities in higher education

Engagement can be an important catalyst for organisational innovation, the advancement of education and research, and local development. HEIs play several roles in their communities and one of their key functions is to support and drive regional, social and community development; they are a force for social transformation. HEIs are often one of the major employers in a locality and by their existence will impact on the local economy and social wellbeing. Their impact is universally recognised in this context (see Chapter 5).

As societal, economic and cultural themes change over time, the research system has a key role to play in the process of reflection, analysis and charting future paths. Not only the content of research, but the manner in which the research is conducted is arguably equally important to ensure good outcomes. The Irish University Association and the Irish Research Council have documented a wide range of research initiatives in Irish universities that fulfil these central premises (IUA and IRC, 2016).

An entrepreneurial HEI is a highly active player with a strong presence in the community. The HEIs visited and reviewed as part of this report all demonstrate excellent and promising practices across these aspects. An example is the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). Since its establishment in the early 1970s GMIT has been one of the principal providers of higher education in Galway city and the western region. It has a strong, well-established and widely recognised tradition in innovative academic programmes, applied research and development activities and engagement initiatives which have contributed greatly to the economic, social and cultural development of the region. With its regional distribution there are many parts of a large rural area that GMIT has reached out to using community based outreach approaches. As part of an inclusive education strategy, GMIT is working with further education providers in the region on course development, as well as on student transfer and progression arrangements.

Some of the current local and community initiatives include GMIT’s voluntary student teaching programme, which commenced in 2003 and was designed to get students involved in teaching in local primary schools. Junior Achievement Ireland provided the training for this. GMIT has already begun enrolling some students who experienced this programme during their primary education and who were taught by the approximately 500 GMIT alumni involved in the initiative (Box 4.2). From this initiative, a wide range of social enterprise activities were also spun out. GMIT has developed a social enterprise module whose use across the HEI is growing. Also worth mentioning is the CANSAS project in mechanical engineering, which allows students to interact with secondary school pupils with a view to raising interest in science and technology through a project focused on designing and developing a mini-satellite.

Box 4.2. Junior Teaching Ireland at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology

In 1995, Ireland joined Junior Achievement, a global initiative for the development of entrepreneurial skills amongst students in primary and secondary education. The Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) has become Ireland’s Midwest crucible of the Junior Achievement global initiative.

Junior Teaching Ireland is a voluntary teaching initiative which started at GMIT in 2003. Students in their fourth year, who are enrolled in an entrepreneurship course, go out to primary and second-level schools and teach younger kids. Over 12 000 primary school children took part. This year GMIT welcomed first year students who first heard about GMIT when they were themselves in secondary education and experienced as pupils the Junior Teaching initiative.

Source: Source: Interviews at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology during the study visit in October 2015.

In Limerick, the excellent collaboration between the University of Limerick (UL) and the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) has led to a growing number of innovative joint activities in education and research (see also Chapter 3). Key to the success of this partnership is the joint commitment of the two HEIs to regional development, complementarity and trust. Educational outreach initiatives of note include Limerick for IT (Box 4.4), and Limerick for Engineering which target second-level school pupils and their parents with activities such as “Engineering weeks”, “Engineer for a day”, and the “Open days for parents”. These are particularly promising initiatives to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects amongst female pupils. Also, several activities are underway to promote interest in information and communications technology (ICT) programmes and awareness of the industry and related career opportunities. Since 2012, LIT senior management has promoted the national Coder Dojo initiative, with workshops organised on campus at weekends for children from primary and second-level schools. The programme is delivered by volunteers from industry as well as LIT students.

LIT wants to become Ireland’s most accessible HEI. Currently 30% of newly enrolled students are mature learners and the percentage of students that receive a state grant is above the national average (65% versus 45% nationally). LIT has also enrolled double the national average of students with a disability (9%). Existing pathways from further education providers, via the various agreements signed with its surrounding education and training boards, are noteworthy. For example, in art and design programmes the transition from further to higher education is facilitated by providing students with a common first year as a kind of “diagnostic phase” where students can work out where their specific interests lie. In particular, the community activities under development by LIT in Moyross are a promising avenue to increase participation in higher education in a community where it was almost non-existent (see below).

The role of education in translating scientific research into societal relevance

A common demand of research is that it is of high scientific quality and that it is relevant to society. Whereas the first part of the demand is incontrovertible and central to the assessment of research proposals as well as the evaluation of academic research, the second part concerning the societal relevance of research, however, is not self-evident. To follow the argumentation it is useful to differentiate between the process of research and its outcomes. The latter are subject to circumstances that go beyond the control of the researcher, unlike the research process, in which the researcher formulates the research questions. This process should, as Bouter (2008) reminds us, “always be accompanied by a reflection on the expectations in terms of relevance to society”.

A notable initiative in this regard is CARL, the Community-Academic Research Links initiative at UCC. Since 2010, important pieces of research have been produced and implemented, some of which have impacted also on national policy. CARL researchers work with not-for-profit voluntary and community organisations on a range of research topics. Selected research projects are intended to result in practical applications. One example of this is a checklist for Munchausen Syndrome patients, which can be used by family members and care personnel as a first diagnosis tool. As part of the research agreement, students, community partners and UCC academics agree that completed research reports are posted online. CARL is now extending its activities within all four colleges of UCC.

The University of Limerick (UL) has commenced with the development of case studies on research impact. To this end, the Vice-President for Research has brought together groups of researchers from different faculties and worked with them in order to develop an understanding of “what” impact is and “how” it can be measured. This is an excellent example of emerging good practice which could be mainstreamed across the Irish higher education system and abroad. It includes the preparation of case studies and stories about the impact of some of the research and, how and where this can be demonstrated, for example by translating research findings into practical guidelines and tracking the practical implications of using those guidelines on developments in policy design and implementation. Training is offered and templates are available to raise impact awareness and thinking when formulating research activities. UL is actively working on its impact agenda in anticipation of a greater focus in this area. This comes in response to and in anticipation of the wider trends of the impact agenda (in Europe through the Horizon 2020 funding, and in the United Kingdom with the Research Excellence Framework), rather than being reactive to any future developments in Ireland in terms of a possible impact “policy”.

Enhancing student participation in knowledge exchange activities

In general, providing incentives and removing administrative barriers are fundamental for raising the interest of students to participate in knowledge exchange activities. There are several obvious reasons to engage in these activities, for example, gaining experience and contacts, European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), etc. Depending on the intensity and duration of these activities, students may, however, also encounter administrative barriers. For example, additional work placements or starting up a business might require a suspension of studies or an extension of the enrolment period, which might not be compliant with existing study regulations. There are various learning points from the HEIs visited.

Many staff members of the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) sit on community partnership boards and students are encouraged to get involved in volunteer work, for example through GIVE, an all-campus initiative, in which students commit hours to voluntary work (e.g. 6 000 hours in the last academic year). An HEI-wide database exists which records which external boards and community groups staff are members of. A President’s award recognises staff and students for their community outreach and engagement activities. In particular, the community activities under development by LIT in Moyross are a promising opportunity to increase participation in higher education in a community where it was almost non-existent. At present, on the northern part of the LIT campus a wall of about three meters height separates student housing from the Moyross neighbourhood. This has created a physical distance, which – paired with social distance (Boudon, 1974) – negatively affects perceptions of the feasibility and desirability of (higher) educational options. Children living in Moyross are aware of the distance between the academic world and their own. LIT has recognised the wall’s symbolic dimension (it reaches a height of four metres in places) and is working with Limerick City Council administration towards its removal. In the meantime, the wall could be used for artistic expressions, giving LIT students and youngsters from Moyross an opportunity to engage in community work and to transform the wall into a symbol of collaboration and pathways into higher education.

A notable initiative, which provides students with recognition for achievements during work placements, is the UCC Works Award. Introduced in 2012, it offers a diploma supplement and an award for outstanding achievements for students who undertake either a campus student/work placement, volunteer with a not-for-profit organisation or become an active member of a student society at UCC for a minimum of 40 hours. UCC Works providers can sign up online by providing a letter of interest. They are expected to allocate a supervisor/mentor to support and mentor students, ensure that students have a sufficient level of responsibility to learn the required employability skills from the experience, and provide students with clear written documentation outlining their duties, goals, learning objectives, supervision arrangements and work schedule. The career service supports UCC Works providers in this process.

A similar initiative is underway at Dublin City University (DCU). The Uaneen Module formally recognises and rewards students for their “external” achievements and meaningful contributions to campus life. It is managed and administered by DCU’s Student Life Office. It dates back to 2000 and since 2004 up to five ECTS credits can be awarded to students on Diploma Supplements in recognition of 125 hours participation in relevant external or campus life activities. Assessment is based on a learning diary submitted by the student. Students who achieve a First Class honour in the Uaneen Module and who, additionally, achieve a First Class honours result in their degree, are considered for nomination for the Chancellor’s Medal.

Work placements

Multinational corporations often have structured programmes for the early identification of future employees and, to this end, make use of work placements and co‐operative education arrangements. In contrast, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often lack a good understanding of the (contractual) opportunities and their implications. This is backed up by the results from the 2015 National Employer Survey, which covered employer organisations of various sizes and sectors and accounting for an estimated 12% of the total graduate recruitment. Large and/or foreign owned companies were found to be more likely to establish a relationship with an education provider to source graduates than small organisations (71% versus 42%). The primary reasons for establishing a relationship with an HEI as a source of future graduates were: near proximity, existing relationships with previous graduates who are now employees, and specific offerings such as internships, placements and work experience programmes (HEA et al., 2015). The National Skills Strategy includes actions and targets for increasing work placements (DES, 2016).

Promoting the opportunities around work placements and co-operative education and building a good understanding of the implications and benefits are central tasks for the career services in HEIs. In particular SMEs will welcome such support as it reduces the firm’s costs and resource allocation. An effective organisation of work placements requires the HEI’s support, centrally and at department level, in terms of i) sharing information internally because host organisations prefer to have single interlocutors, ii) facilitating the supervision of students, especially related to academic requirements and co-tutorship arrangements, iii) providing assistance to the intern during the work placement, iv) making sure that experience reports cover the twin objectives of supporting the student in reflecting on the learning experience, and informing other students and teachers about it.

All HEIs in Ireland recognise the enormous value of co-operative education for student learning, strategic research collaboration and professional education. Recent policy analysis and advice work carried out by the “Roadmap for Employment-Academic Partnership”2 (REAP) project, funded through the Higher Education Authority (HEA), developed a model for co-operative learning arrangements. REAP helped to establish the following responsibilities and commitment in co-operative learning arrangements for HEIs, students and employers (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2. Organisation of co-operative learning in Irish HEIs

Source: Source: Author’s own work, adapted from Sheridan and Linehan (2011).

At the University of Limerick, co-operative education is considered crucial for creating dialogue and partnerships with employers and has led to a range of extensive forms of collaboration with industry. To this end, problem-based learning is an underpinning educational principle at UL. The aim is to offer students, from early on in their studies, multiple opportunities to experience problem-based learning, despite high student-staff ratios in some of the courses. Every student spends at least six months in a work placement environment. Work placement opportunities are also available in incubator firms. UL’s incubation and business acceleration facility also supports new entrepreneurs in the organisation of work placements, so that these work placements are as fruitful as the learning experiences provided in established local firms or multinational corporations.

LIT is the only HEI in Ireland which offers a full year of work placement as part of its Level 8 (Honours degree programme) in construction. Of particular note is the work-based learning support provided for third-year students in the Built Environment department as part of their year-long placement in industry (Box 4.3). An electronic diary has been developed for students to record tasks and to monitor the development of their competencies while in the work environment. This allows supervisors to quickly analyse what tasks are undertaken by students and the progress they are making. The competencies that students should gain while on placement were defined by the department. The department also publishes regular reports on the needs of the construction industry in the region, gathering skills requirements data from alumni contacts who now hold key positions in the industry.

Box 4.3. Electronic diaries for co-operative learning at Limerick Institute of Technology

The Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) offers the largest specialised centre for property, quantity surveying, and construction, as well as civil engineering education and training, outside of Dublin. Students in the Honours degree programme on Built Environment, offered by the School of the Built Environment have a year-long placement in construction and civil engineering companies during their third year. For this period, the school seeks to find a balance between the needs of student and employer. While it is important for the employer to immerse the student in practical learning experiences on the job, it is also important for the School of the Built Environment to record competency-based learning which the academic mentor can supervise. A solution was found in using electronic diaries. Students are required to fill in an electronic diary throughout the placement period. With this diary, they can record online what they learn, in terms of competencies or other learning instances.

Teachers have real-time access to the diaries and can continuously monitor the learning progress of their students, in addition to the on-the-spot monitoring as part of arranged visits. Furthermore, the online dairies are recorded and thus immediately and automatically saved which makes tracking of students’ activities and learning easier and more accessible for the teachers. In the online diaries particular attention is given to the development of soft skills. This has had a positive impact on the employability of students. The diary method has contributed to this by making supervision of students easier and making it possible to track their development in real-time. Teachers are able to react to what they find worthy of reflective intervention with the student. Also, students train their reflection and writing skills.

Enrolment numbers have remained steady throughout the years of the economic crisis despite the reduced level of activity in the construction industry. This is due, in part, to applicants from a trade background taking the opportunity to achieve a higher level qualification suited to managerial level positions.

Source: Source: Interviews at Limerick Institute of Technology during the study visit in October 2015.

Workplace opportunities are also a central element of education at UCC and are provided in the majority of undergraduate programmes. Pre-placement preparation is available in the form of extra-curricular weekly placement classes, in which students are coached in preparing their curriculum vitae and reviewing those of their peers. Speed networking events are also organised to coach students for interviews. These activities have been appraised by both students and employers as very effective in lowering the number of unsuccessful interviews. Replication across all colleges, with smaller group sizes, could be considered, and a similar initiative to support reflection upon learning during work placement could be introduced replacing the debriefing session in the fourth year, which is too short and often held with too large a group to allow for full reflection and peer learning.

At DCU, an interesting approach to enhance peer learning and reflection is the Structured Mentorship Programme, co-organised by DCU Alumni and the Career Service. The programme runs for six-months between October and March and pairs second-year students with alumni mentors for the purposes of career and personal development. Alumni and students are matched based on their areas of professional expertise, DCU course and areas of interest. Alumni mentors are asked, if possible, to provide their student mentee with a work-shadowing day as part of the programme. Structured Mentorship involves a number of events on campus for both mentors and mentees. Mentors apply through the Alumni Office, and the Careers Service puts out the call to the students. Employers value highly the experience which students gain from this initiative in view of their expected effectiveness of the learning experience when connecting the graduate to somebody in the company who would help him/her learn.

Meeting the needs of employers and students

According to the 2015 National Employer Survey, in terms of satisfaction, employers were very satisfied with graduate recruits across a range of workplace and personal attributes. These included ICT skills, teamwork, communication, adaptability and flexibility, positive attitude and energy. A lower level of satisfaction was noted for foreign language capability, entrepreneurial skills and business acumen/awareness.

Approximately 40% of employer organisations indicated that there were skills not currently available that are required now or in the next five years. The main skills cited were engineering, languages, ICT and specific quantitative skills.

All HEIs visited are involved in embedding enhanced employability skills across all programmes and many have identified distinctive graduate attributes related to the particular teaching and learning strategies and programmes of the institution. Several learnings emerge from the reviewed practices. The core mission of DCU is based on four pillars: Transformation, Enterprise, Translation and Engagement. This reflects clearly the commitment towards enhancing the transformation of individuals and organisational structures, understood as one of the largest impacts of higher education, which cannot be captured by simple metrics. DCU’s senior management have started to look for options to document transformational processes. As a result, all undergraduate students have individual e-portfolios. DCU is a forerunner in this field. A number of institutions are developing an e-portfolio approach to allow students to have attestation of generic skills acquired throughout the full duration of their undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education has recently started to promote the introduction of e-portfolios widely across the Irish higher education sector.

At DCU, students can use their e-portfolio to monitor personal development in the following six key attributes: i) Creative and Enterprising, i.e. being innovative and problem-solving as well as adaptable and willing to pursue new ideas; ii) Solution-Oriented; iii) Effective Communicators, that is, to negotiate effectively, to collaborate, and to influence others; iv) Globally Engaged, in terms of being locally and globally aware, to value tolerance and cultural diversity, and to be committed to civic engagement; v) Active Leaders; and, vi) Committed to Continuous Learning in the spirit of inquiry, reflection and evaluation. Support is offered in the form of workshops and online resources. DCU alumni can keep their e-portfolios to use in their on-going development.

Another example is BEST (Building Education Success Together), an intensive introductory course at DCU, organised for first year students one week prior to the start of lectures, in all Business School programmes and in some programmes of the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies. Students learn team-working skills, reflect upon their learning styles, familiarise themselves with the Campus and get to know their classmates in a relaxed environment. Part of the BEST programme is a computer-based business simulation game, in which students make decisions about running a virtual chocolate company. The team that wins is the one which has made a significant profit on their investment. A conceptual broadening of this exercise could be considered, for example, by looking into the socio-economic and environmental impacts of their decisions along the production chain. BEST is a notable initiative in terms of building awareness and commitment to DCU’s four strategy pillars. An expansion across all faculties and bringing together students from different schools and departments could also be considered.

Dundalk Institute of Technology has also, for a long time, championed the development of entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours amongst staff and students and this is manifested in a variety of innovative programmes and initiatives. These include paperclip challenges, smartphone app competitions, a peer to peer student entrepreneurship enterprise programme and the development of a BSc in Engineering Entrepreneurship.

Learning beyond traditional lecture hall settings

Learning goes beyond traditional lecture hall settings, and is moving into a more digital world within the classroom and beyond, on and off campus. All HEIs in Ireland support flexible and blended learning, corresponding with the national objective to enhance the flexibility and responsiveness of higher education through the provision of open and distance learning as significant elements of study programmes.

An example is the Open Education Unit programme at DCU championed by internationally recognised academics. It offers several blended learning programmes designed to suit mature and international students who already have the capability to learn online. These programmes provide a much deeper and wider focus than distance learning and enable students to feel as close and engaged as on-campus students do. Negotiations are underway with HEIs in China to develop a course that prepares students studying in China with a locally tailored curriculum to continue their education at DCU.

One way to expand the suite of digital courses and modules across a wide range of study programmes is to assist academic teams, through the deployment of specialist technological staff, to aid in the design and development of digital course elements. Also, the work of those, who have pioneered such technologies in their teaching, should be analysed in order to learn from what they have done, and to work out support mechanisms for others who would benefit from deploying such technologies. Similarly, the time involved in developing video lectures etc. must be realistically assessed, and staff allocated the appropriate period of time during their working week (i.e. to develop one hour of a video lecture takes considerably more time to develop than an hour of a lecture to be delivered in person).

Lifelong learning

The Irish higher education sector has great growth potential in lifelong learning and continuous professional development. In the last decade, HEIs have, with some exceptions, focused primarily on the traditional 18-24 year old student (due in no small part to demographics) and in providing upskilling and reskilling opportunities for the unemployed. There is a growing recognition that more opportunities need to be provided for those already in employment to upskill and reskill to stay in employment, change career or start their own business. The Limerick for IT initiative, implemented jointly by the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology is an example of the provision of lifelong learning opportunities (Box 4.4).

Box 4.4. The Limerick for IT initiative

The strategic development plan for Limerick city and the wider region, Limerick 2030, identified the need for an information technology (IT) skills framework that will enable job creation and leverage the knowledge based economic potential of Limerick, given the dominance of the IT sector in the region. In January 2014 major industry in the Limerick region, including General Motors, Johnson & Johnson and Kerry Group, together with the University of Limerick, the Limerick Institute of Technology, Limerick City & County Council and IDA Ireland, formed a unique IT skills partnership “Limerick for IT”.

The primary focus was to lead an employer-led skills specific project that would assess future skills needs in order for multinationals to secure further operational mandates and activities, thereby creating a virtuous circle of emerging skills and jobs. Therefore, the key role of the partnership was to build a pipeline of job-ready IT graduates to meet global and national needs.

The first task of the group was to identify critical skills that could expand operation mandates. As a result, tailored education and reskilling programmes were developed and delivered through the University of Limerick and the Limerick Institute of Technology. This has resulted in two major expansions in Limerick with the creation of over 200 jobs since January 2014 and with potential for a further 1 000 jobs over the next three years.

Source: Source: Interviews at Limerick Institute of Technology during the study visit in October 2015.

With national level initiatives, such as the Springboard Programme (see Chapter 1), efforts have been enhanced to create financial and policy incentives for HEIs to organise lifelong learning. Initially, the focus was on the unemployed. Eligibility for programmes is being widened given the fall in unemployment. The Centre for Adult Continuing Education (ACE) at UCC is an example of how Irish HEIs have engaged in lifelong learning activities. Having a dynamic and responsive unit currently with 20 full-time staff has proven to be crucial in allowing ACE to offer its all-round service from programme writing and academic approval processes, to staffing arrangements and the recruitment of participants. Initially an intensive consultation process was undertaken to gather information about local employer needs. Close collaboration with UCC senior management helped to streamline the programme approval process and to introduce cost sharing mechanisms. This helped to raise interest at departmental level and academic participation in teaching the programmes, particularly amongst early career staff.

In October 2015, 900 students from all over Ireland received certificates, diplomas, higher diplomas, postgraduate diplomas and masters awards in a wide range of academic disciplines from ACE. Demonstrating to industry partners the value of knowledge and involving them in programme design are key success factors for ACE. For example, the higher diploma programme in Leadership Development has been taken up by senior managers from multinational corporations and large Irish firms. Recently, a programme for family business sustainability for SME owners and managers has been launched. In addition a range of community education programmes are offered at lower fee rates to facilitate participation. Some of the programmes are unique, for example, a programme in mental health in the community, and enrol students from all over Ireland. ACE also organises UCC’s Springboard activities and, where possible, aims to integrate or link these courses into mainstream academic programmes.

Supporting entrepreneurship

The 2014 National Policy Statement on Entrepreneurship in Ireland (DJEI, 2014) assigns an essential role to the education and training system in re-enforcing positive perceptions of entrepreneurship and in fostering a culture that celebrates entrepreneurs and legitimises the entrepreneurial career path. This is further supported by the National Skills Strategy and its strong focus on entrepreneurship (DES, 2016).

At the HEI level entrepreneurship education is offered across the sector in various formats and across many disciplines. In all the HEIs visited and reviewed for this report there was clear evidence of the central role of students in the higher education system and the desire to help students develop entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours. Course modules and programmes in entrepreneurship originated from the business schools within the HEIs and increasingly these have been adapted and transferred into other disciplines.

Fayolle (2013) reflected on some key educational and didactical issues around entrepreneurship education and concluded that it is too often perceived as a “factory producing startups”, with an emphasis on functional dimensions and business-planning. A greater focus is needed on soft skills such as relational, conceptual, organising and commitment competencies in order to shift the approach towards developing (future) entrepreneurs, who are capable of thinking, acting and making decisions in a wide range of situations and contexts (Man et al., 2002). For this shift to happen, closer collaboration is needed between researchers and educators on methods in entrepreneurship education to embed the development of an entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurial thinking (Carsrud and Brännback, 2009), entrepreneurial action (Frese, 2009), entrepreneurial method (Sarasvathy and Venkataraman, 2011), effectuation and causation (Sarasvathy, 2001), and bricolage (Baker and Nelson, 2005).

In all HEIs visited and reviewed for this report, several excellent and promising activities are underway in this regard. Dedicated and professional entrepreneurship teams have introduced new initiatives and brought in international partners. Also, increasing efforts are directed towards capturing and measuring the impact of entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurship education is fully backed by senior management. President’s awards dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation are effective initiatives to recognise and reward students and staff for their achievements and to motivate followers.

There is growing interest in entrepreneurship at all levels of study and several student societies and associations are actively promoting an entrepreneurial culture. Students interviewed, in general, felt that entrepreneurship was still heavily linked with business and commerce rather than with creativity and innovation. A wider understanding of entrepreneurship could be nurtured by campus-wide activities open to all undergraduate students. Entrepreneurs Anonymous at UCC is an example (Box 4.5). At some HEIs, there is a clear commitment from senior management to extend the concept of entrepreneurship and make it more relatable to students. The ENACTUS network at DCU has been pioneering this through a greater focus on social entrepreneurship.

Box 4.5. Entrepreneurs Anonymous at the University College of Cork

Students at the University College of Cork (UCC) have started the Entrepreneurs Anonymous initiative, which is not to be confused with the global initiative Entrepreneurship Anonymous. While the global initiative targets nascent entrepreneurs and those with a clear intention to start up a business, UCC’s Entrepreneurs Anonymous takes a more encompassing and “low‐key” approach. The overall aim is to encourage and facilitate exchange and discussion of ideas, which could lead to entrepreneurial activities in the broadest sense.

Entrepreneurs Anonymous is a creative space for like-minded people to explore entrepreneurship. Members organise get-togethers and wider networking events to share experiences and ideas. An example is the “Unpitch” sessions where students and other interested people get the chance to present an entrepreneurial idea in a casual and no‐pressure environment. Presentations last five minutes followed by five minutes for Q&A. These sessions are more brainstorming sessions amongst peers than a pitch presentation to potential investors or customers.

The friendly and supportive environment helps students to build self-confidence, presentation skills, and learn the difference between assertive and reflective assessments. Entrepreneurs Anonymous at UCC is present on various social networks.

Source: Source: Interviews at University College of Cork during the study visit in October 2015.

Some of the entrepreneurship courses at undergraduate levels at the HEIs visited have more than 200 students. High levels of student intake may be useful to widely spread an overall interest in entrepreneurship; however, more opportunities to learn in smaller groups and interdisciplinary settings are needed for interested students to advance their projects, for example, by bringing together business and engineering students. There is great potential in Irish HEIs to spearhead developments in this direction, as suggested by the various efforts to incorporate the activities of the student societies and associations, who seek to expand engagement beyond business and marketing studies through hackathons and cross-campus initiatives.

The aim of building a cross-campus understanding that entrepreneurship is as much about processes and services, and not only about widgets and objects is very much alive at UL. Leading this is Design@UL, which connects a wide range of local, national and international partners and offers interdisciplinary education and creative learning spaces. Fourth-year design students collaborate in Real-World Studio Projects with companies on their innovation challenges. The aim is to design new products and business concepts. A “design manager”, who is part of the UL teaching staff, facilitates the process. Students have “dummy” presentations in advance of going out to present to the companies. From second year onwards, students build up to this level of interaction by working on their soft skills. Current partner firms include multinational corporations, large firms and local start-ups.

DICE (Digital Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise) is a first-year module at DCU which has been offered since 2012 and has involved over 350 first-year and nearly 200 postgraduate students annually from the faculties of business and computing. Students are taught through team work, live webinars, project work and mini-conferences with speakers and attendees from the wider business community. Students start by identifying what types of learning work for them. Synchronous online learning is enhanced by creating websites and blogs, for example on WordPress, and with the completion of a personal blog at each of the mini-conferences. A structured research programme runs alongside this (Box 4.6). This type of activity could be offered to all students.

Box 4.6. Digital Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise at Dublin City University

The Dublin City University (DCU) has developed a first-year module, Digital Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise (DICE), to enhance students’ digital technology skills as well as teaching entrepreneurial skills. The aim of DICE is to expose students to industry and different modes of learning as early as possible. DICE seeks to develop students’ skills in key areas in order to prepare them for the reality of the business world. In particular, within the DICE module, students are encouraged to identify what types of learning work for them. DICE students have access to blended learning (e.g. on WordPress or PRINCE2 Project Management), live webinars, peer-learning during project work and mini-conferences with speakers from the business community.

The mini-conferences deal with topics such as using mobile marketing, cloud computing and social media for venture (start-up) activities. Students keep a personal blog on each of the mini-conferences and are encouraged to self-reflect on the learning outcomes of those conferences and on other activities. DICE students also participate in the development of a mobile app in a cross-faculty team utilising cloud computing technology. This is supervised by postgraduate students, who have completed the Next Generation Management module.

The Next Generation Management is a module available to Masters students at DCU. The aim is to develop meta-cognitive skills that allow students to become innovative, critical thinkers as well as adaptive, flexible and pro-active in the management of projects. Four pillars guide this process: raising awareness for global and societal issues, training in digital media communication, and personal as well as career development. Students work on a “reflective portfolio”, which contains a personal development plan and a description of personal opportunities for development.

Source: Source: Interviews at Dublin City University during the study visit in October 2015.

UCC has created a cohesive approach to entrepreneurship for postgraduate level programmes. Central to this is IGNITE, a one-year programme, which offers a wide range of support for students to start their own businesses. IGNITE lasts nine months and offers participants a scholarship of EUR 5 000, technical seminars and networking events, access to a “hot desk”, which is a work space with information and communications technology facilities, and one-on-one business mentoring from leading entrepreneurs in Cork, as well as support from “Coaches on Campus”, which are academic staff that offer coaching and mentoring. Technology intensive ideas can, for example, be developed during a placement in one of the research centres at UCC.

Spreading entrepreneurship education across campus

Academic staff at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) recognised, in the academic year 2012/13, the need to systematise the desired change in mindsets and entrepreneurial behaviours, and started a formal programme to embed specific competence modules in all programmes. The academic Council was supportive and a programmatic review exercise was started in each of DkIT’s four schools to make sure that all programmes contain some element of entrepreneurship. To support this, the all-campus Entrepreneurship Enterprise Working Group was established under the Academic Council. Its activities have moved from general promotion of its objectives of encouraging cross-HEI academic developments in entrepreneurship education to an audit-type role ensuring course development and review includes entrepreneurship learning opportunities.

Another example of spreading entrepreneurship education across campus is the “Market-Link Entrepreneur” programme at LIT, which is offered to students from all faculties. The programme is designed to encourage students to develop business ideas, and involves a series of business workshops. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of students from all departments in recent years coming forward with business ideas.

The Quercus Talented Students Scholarship at UCC celebrates extraordinary talent and links UCC with families, second-level schools and other local stakeholders. One of the award categories is entrepreneurship and innovation; others are academic and sporting achievement, active citizenship and the creative and performing arts. Applications for the awards can come from prospective undergraduate students and current UCC students. Successful applicants receive a year-long and renewable scholarship worth up to EUR 10 000 per annum. Quercus entrepreneurship and innovation scholars are expected to act as Idea‐Ambassadors who widely spread the entrepreneurial mindset and culture.

Another notable initiative is the Blackstone LaunchPad at UCC. In collaboration with the Blackstone Foundation, which is based in the US, a shared learning space is under construction in the library building with grid spaces and whiteboards for creativity exercises and presentations. The aim is to offer maximum access to students, ideally 24/7. This will also involve a repurposing of the entire building for which UCC has committed resources. It will also be important to fully integrate the facility into UCC’s structures, including staffing arrangements, which will include both UCC and Blackstone employees.

Strengthening local entrepreneurship ecosystems

The presence of multiple HEIs in close proximity or even within the same city provides an excellent opportunity to build local ecosystems for entrepreneurship. The system performance framework could build on this and encourage HEIs to increase activity and collaboration in this area. This could be supported by targeted funding,

An example that offers relevant learnings is the 4Entrepreneurship initiative in the city of Munich (Box 4.7).

Box 4.7. The “4Entrepreneurship” in Munich

The Technical University of Munich, the Ludwig Maximilian’s University of Munich, the University of the Federal Armed Forces, and the Munich University of Applied Sciences are collaborating in the “4Entrepreneurship” network, which provides various opportunities for students and staff of the four HEIs to take part in entrepreneurial activities at all the institutions in the network.

In 2010, the Social Entrepreneurship Akademie (SEA) was established as a joint initiative by the four university-based entrepreneurship centres in Munich as part of “4Entrepreneurship”. SEA is used to stimulate entrepreneurial thinking across all university disciplines. SEA positions social impact as a strategic decision for organisations []. Under the slogan “Education for societal change” this network organisation educates social entrepreneurs or social change-makers. Founding members and partners include the four universities plus 10 strategic partners: the BMW Foundation, Herbert Quandt, Bonventure, Vodafone Foundation Germany, Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, HypoVereinbank, Telefonica, kfw-Foundation, Bertelsmann Foundation, Hans Sauer Foundation, Siemens Foundation, and Unicredit Foundation. In 2013 SEA had more than 220 000 likes on Facebook and established over 15 international partnerships with similar initiatives.

The potential to systematically organise knowledge exchange and resource pooling was tested in 2013. FutureLAB of Architecture started a 3D house printing initiative with students from the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Huddersfield in the UK; Tokyo University and Chiba University, Japan; the Technical University of Munich and the MUAS. After 60 hours of 3D printing, the first printed house was ready for around EUR 60 000 [].

The “4Entrepreneurship” hosted the “Global Venture Summit” in Munich in 2016, a global outreach event for start-ups, innovators and top-investors from all over the world.

Source: Source: HEInnovate (2017b).


Stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship through education plays an important role in Irish higher education and entrepreneurship education is offered across the sector in various formats and across many disciplines. In all the HEIs visited and reviewed for this report there was clear evidence of the central role of students in the higher education system and the desire to help students develop entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours.

Course modules and programmes in entrepreneurship originated from the business schools within the HEIs. Increasingly these have been adapted and transferred into other disciplines and in some cases adopted across a multiple of disciplines within HEIs. Efforts should be increased to organise education activities on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, which involve students from different faculties and departments in the form of (optional) interdisciplinary modules throughout the duration of their studies. These activities develop “soft” skills which enable students to communicate in entrepreneurial terms outside of their traditional disciplinary silos and make graduates so valuable to employers. They should be embedded into the curriculum, rather than organised as “add-ons”.

The organisation of interdisciplinary idea generation workshops, which bring together researchers, students and knowledge users can be a good starting point for more collaboration across disciplines. To engage staff, a specific award could be introduced for interdisciplinary achievements, such as the development and application of conceptualisations, theories, sources and methods that are drawn from different disciplines in order to define and resolve problems in novel ways. It will be important to link these activities with the case studies on (research) impact. In this regard, training for staff and students will be important to develop impact awareness.


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← 1. Luxemburg has, with 66% tertiary attainment in the age group 30-34 years, the highest target amongst the EU-28 countries; Italy has, with 26%, the lowest target (EUROSTAT).

← 2. REAP was led by Cork Institute of Technology and involved as partners Athlone Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute of Technology, Sligo Institute of Technology, Tallaght Institute of Technology, the National University of Ireland, Galway, the University College Cork and Waterford Institute of Technology. See for a rich repository of project findings, guidelines and case studies.