The university is dead; long live the university: Are universities the principle source of social capital for student and graduate entrepreneurs?
Paper i proceeding, 2016
This paper explores the role of social capital acquired by students during student and graduate entrepreneurial journeys at university. The objective is to understand how universities can facilitate social capital acquisition in the context of entrepreneurial learning. The study builds on a collaboration between three European universities: Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), University of Leeds (United Kingdom), and Universidad de Malaga (Spain).
1. What is the relationship between social capital and entrepreneurial learning? What is the added value as perceived by student and graduate entrepreneurs?
2. How can educators use the development of social capital to enhance entrepreneurial learning, particularly across formal, non-formal and informal entrepreneurial learning activities?
3. What are implications for the future of universities as centres of knowledge, creativity and learning?
The study is underpinned by relevant literature regarding entrepreneurial learning and education. It also addresses the impact of social capital on the development of entrepreneurs, and the research regarding the entrepreneurial university.
The study utilises a qualitative methodological approach, drawing on what is termed the critical incident technique. To start, student/graduate entrepreneurs were asked to map their entrepreneurial journey based on a timeline, specifying stakeholders whom they associated to critical events. This visual aid was then used throughout the interview, in which respondents provided a verbal history about their timeline and the critical relationships which had influenced their own entrepreneurial behaviour.
We selected 24 respondents based on three criteria: (1) they had to be a university final year student or in their first year of graduation (both undergraduate and postgraduate students from various subjects were selected); (2) they had to have been engaged in some entrepreneurial activity; (3) the sample was split 50:50 between individuals having completed some formal entrepreneurship education (credit-bearing courses) and individuals without any formal entrepreneurship education. Gender and country variables were also considered.
Data was analysed using narrative analysis of the individual learning, and social network analysis of the socialised learning (to address network and social capital developments). Building on social learning theory, socialised learning is understood to include observation and emulation of role models -role-sets- as part of an individual’s identity and legitimacy development.
Preliminary analyses of the data inform us that mentors known in informal and non-formal education events and incubators are the main source to ask for help when respondents feel they need to. Maybe because the interview is retroactive, respondents were aware of this need before it was too late; in fact, respondents were the ones who deliberately contact these people to ask them for help in their various entrepreneurial activities.
This paper contributes to knowledge and understanding by exposing a previously understudied value of social networking in entrepreneurship education at universities. At an institutional-level, it legitimizes university inclusion of social networking activities into formal and non-formal entrepreneurship education, and the encouragement of informal entrepreneurial learning. Moreover, at an individual-level, it motivates educators to embed these activities within the curriculum in order to facilitate entrepreneurial learning. Nonetheless, to more fully understand the student/graduate entrepreneurial journey, more research is needed. Future work should not only consider entrepreneurial activities as critical incidents, but also the relevance of other interactions in the entrepreneur’s life, leading to a greater understanding of their economic, social and cultural impact.
Social networking goes beyond simply building a contact list; it is part of the social capital necessary for the entrepreneurial journey. This study exposes a previously missing value of social networking in entrepreneurial education programmes. It encourages educators to embed social networking activities into the curriculum to facilitate entrepreneurial learning. The study highlights the importance of social capital acquired at university, as part of the student/graduate entrepreneurial journeys. This revitalises the role of the university as a key enabler of economic, social and cultural impact through student/graduate entrepreneurs. Thus, the university is dead (as was traditionally understood); long live the (entrepreneurial) university.