Social Entrepreneurship in a University Context: The Case of a Student-initiated Project to Improve Learning and the Learning Environment at Chalmers University of Technology
Conference contribution, 2001
Can a university create the conditions needed for making it possible for its students to develop an entrepreneurial attitude and behavior? This seems to be the case at the School of Mechanical and Vehicular Engineering, at Chalmers University of Technology, where the students themselves initiated, developed and managed a large-scale improvement project —the OMform project— started in the autumn of 1996. At large, the project aimed at changing attitudes and behaviors leading to an improvement of students’ learning, which includes their ability to be creative and initiative taking, as well as to communicate across interdisciplinary borders. The first part of the project spanned over three years and included more than 50 students. One concrete result was a major redesign of the School’s entire entrance floor, in order to create various forms of meeting arenas, such as a café, a library, group working space for 150 persons and several conference rooms’ -an investment of approx. 2 million Euro. Concept, design and architecture were created by the OMform project (i.e. by students) working in close co-operation with architects and other professionals, and with input from internal and external stakeholders.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the process by which students were able to take the initiative and to impact the development of their learning environment. This includes how the students developed innovative solutions, broke barriers to change, as well as how they managed to mobilize resources (financial and human) and to manage the entire process.
The data collection for this article consists of interviews with key actors, i.e. internal actors such as the leadership at University and School levels, faculty, students, as well as external actors such as architects and consultants. This data is supplemented by documentation issued during the project, such as minutes, guidelines, information brochures, and videos/tools produced and used during the process. The data from interviews and documentation was analyzed and contrasted to a personal process description by the initiator of the OMform project, focusing on critical incidents.
In the discussion section the question was asked if the environment at the university is conducive to social entrepreneurship or if it primarily depends on initiatives of exceptional individuals if something will take place? This question can be broken down into a number of sub-questions: First, to what extent are there factors supportive to initiatives by students? Second, to what extent do barriers or inertia to change through bottom-up processes exist within the university? And finally, what is needed to make things happen?
design of facilities