Book Review: Creating entrepreneurial universities:

As part of some committee work for the SUNY FACT2 Educational Transformation Task Group, I took on the task of reading and reporting on Creating Entrepreneurial Universities: Organizational Pathways of Transformation. Realizing that higher education is changing, the task group is looking for ideas and strategies to stay ahead of the change. Creating Entrepreneurial Universities provides many ideas that other universities and colleges could adopt to become more self-sustaining and less dependent upon government appropriations.

When Creating Entrepreneurial Universities was written, universities were encouraged to change curricula, attend to an increasingly diverse student body, expand their physical footprint all while watching their state appropriations shrink.

  • Increased demand for specialized occupations
  • Retraining needs throughout a lifetime
  • Higher expectations of higher education from industry and community
  • Knowledge outruns resources, e.g., chemistry produced over one million articles in two years

In my experience, higher education institutions move too slow to change. The plethora of committees found on typical campuses bogs down traditional decision making. Additionally, money is a huge driving factor affecting change. Most campuses depend upon state appropriations. Institutions need to take aggressive action to find more monies. Entrepreneurial institutions look to diversify their revenue streams.  Institutions also need to find and exploit a niche. “Being distinctive and purposeful is better than being all things to all people” (cited by Clark, 1998, p.136).

Clark outlined five elements of transformation:

  • Strengthened steering core
  • Expanded developmental periphery
  • Diversified funding base
  • Stimulated academic heartland
  • Integrated entrepreneurial culture

Strengthened steering core

The institution must become agiler in responding to a changing environment and demands. It needs a centralized managerial group with academic department representation. Yet, the group must be small to help move decisions forward.

Expanded developmental periphery

Institutions need to link with outside organizations. They need to work with organizations to solve real world problems. This expansion should focus on contract research, contract education, and consultancy. “In one form these units are professionalized outreach offices that work on knowledge transfer, industrial contact, intellectual property development, continuing education, fundraising, and even alumni affairs” (Clark, 1998, p.6).

Diversified funding base

To decrease reliance on government funding, institutions need to diversify their funding base. “To build a diversified funding base in a university is to construct a portfolio of patrons to share rising costs” (Clark, 1998, p.140). Diversified funding increases university discretion. This diversification can occur on many fronts:

  • Grants and contracts
  • Royalty income
  • Overhead charges
  • Student based funds
  • Renting space for meetings, conferences, etc.

Stimulated academic heartland

Within the five elements of transformation, this is the most likely place where change will fail. “If the basic units oppose or ignore would-be innovations, the life of the institution precedes largely as before. For change to take hold, one department and faculty after another needs itself to become an entrepreneurial unit, reaching more strongly to the outside with new programs and relationships and promoting third-stream income” (Clark, 1998, p.7). Additionally, departments have to be selective in the projects they choose. They cannot say yes to everything.

Integrated entrepreneurial culture

Institutions must integrate the concept of entrepreneurialism into day-to-day processes and operations.

Clark and his team chose five schools to report on. These schools include;

  • University of Warwick
  • University of Twente
  • University of Strathclyde
  • Chalmers University of Technology
  • University of Joensuu

Clark explained how each university addressed the five elements of transformation. The standout lesson was how each university looked for businesses and industry to partner with for research. They also looked for more revenue streams. The entrepreneurial institutions expected faculty and departments to bring in revenue or risk being eliminated. While it was easier for science and technology to earn money, the humanities and social sciences also learned how to make a contribution.

If you are looking for ideas to help advance your institution, I would recommend Creating Entrepreneurial Universities. Each of the five institutions served as a case study to think differently about a role of a higher education institution in the community. It also demonstrated that an institution could become self-sustaining through its own hard work and initiative.


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