Fostering innovation among students

A university that fosters an entrepreneurial environment must encourage students to engage in open dialogues and debates, take calculated risks and become tolerant of failure.

Why should students completing their high school join a university or a college and pursue higher education? If you ponder about this question and ask a middle-class parent to answer this question, he or she would say, ‘To get a job and get settled in life.’

Should the purpose of universities offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees just be ‘giving good jobs to the graduating students?’ The answer is a big ‘No’. Universities and institutes offering higher education must ensure that students achieve higher-order cognitive skills, are encouraged to challenge prejudices, are given an opportunity to deep dive into a subject that they are passionate about. Most importantly, foster innovation and create an entrepreneurial mindset.

With the ranking of universities and the placement of students being the prime focus of many higher educational institutions, not many of them focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. To focus and create an entrepreneurial mindset, higher education institutions must enable all members of the academic community to apply new knowledge in action, rather than just controlling the teaching-learning processes and publish papers in academic journals! With a lot of emphasis being given to research output, many universities have become centres for publishing papers which have no practical relevance.

A university that fosters an entrepreneurial environment must encourage students to engage in open dialogues and debates, take calculated risks and become tolerant of failure. Universities must also focus more on the long-term process of moving ahead in the learning curve rather than just the accomplishment of short-term outcomes like placement, grades and university ranks.

There are many institutes which offer programmes in entrepreneurship and family-managed business. However, there are a very few institutes which blend innovation and entrepreneurship in their course offerings. While choosing a university or a college, students must consider an institute that encourages and promotes innovation and entrepreneurship. Instead of forcing students to focus solely on taking term-end examinations, the institute should base its assessments on practical and innovative courses like Design Thinking, Creativity and Problem Solving, Global Mega Trends, Social Entrepreneurship etc.

Mentoring students

Universities have been trying to promote innovation and entrepreneurship endeavours among students by creating entrepreneurship cells which provide support to students. Many institutions conduct B-plan competitions and also encourage students to participate in such contests where they showcase their ideas and also win seed money for their start-ups. Universities collaborate with private sectors and investors to design industry-relevant courses and help in practical knowledge transfer to students. Universities provide a platform for students to showcase their business plans to angel investors and venture capital firms. There are some universities which also give a live entrepreneurial experience to students by making them run a small entrepreneurial venture for a short period, giving them the targets for sales and turn over. Such activities help students help learn the ‘real challenges’ in running an entrepreneurial venture.

Universities and institutes of higher education nowadays have incubation centres which give incubation space to start-ups. These incubation centres get funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. The DST-funded incubators play a vital role in helping the entrepreneurs, by giving the office space and also help them get connected to the right mentors and investors. 

Some institutions offer deferred placements to those students who have failed in their start-ups. This immensely helps students as it becomes a safety back up for students. Some institutes of higher education make those who didn’t do well in their start-up to share their experiences with others’ who are planning to create their own start-up. This helps students learn from others mistake so that they don’t repeat the same in their start-up journey. To do this in a structured way, some B Schools conduct a unique activity called “Learn from My Story” where entrepreneurs who have failed in their start-ups share their learning with other budding entrepreneurs.

Universities have innovation labs, which are created in partnership with corporate houses. These innovation labs offer a platform to the students to innovate, and they are equipped with the state-of-the-art equipment. Also, institutions encourage and support students to create and register their venture and offer legal and administrative support for the same.

Getting exposure

Another distinctive way universities foster innovation and entrepreneurship is by giving an opportunity to their students to participate in global exchange programmes with national and international institutes which offer a relevant curriculum in innovation and entrepreneurship. Such programmes broaden cultural and professional horizons of students and give them a close peek into entrepreneurial subjects taught at international institutes, and bring forth networking opportunities.

Although there are many processes and curriculum changes that have been brought in by some universities, it is still a very long way ahead for universities to promote innovation and entrepreneurship mindset among its students. It is an audacious endeavour for universities to expect all its students to opt out of placements and kick start their own enterprise.

Universities need to bring a massive cultural shift in the way academics are perceived among students and parents. It is imperative for both students and parents to understand that a good job alone should not be the ultimate aim of higher education. Rather, higher education should be seen as a platform to bring out the entrepreneurial mindset in a student and it has to be nurtured right from school education.

There is a lot that Indian universities can do in creating an entrepreneurial mindset in their students. Right from offering new programmes, to training of faculty members to adapt to new educational approaches, to being innovative in teaching, learning and evaluation, universities have to wake up to the reality that industry 4.0 is bringing in to the education space. Universities must inculcate in their students, the habit of taking calculated risk and encourage students explore the new horizons. Unless students develop their risk-taking ability, they will not be able to explore and innovate. Universities must also bring radical changes to examinations processes and focus must be given to experiential learning. It is a long way to go, but with the rapid changes that are hitting the industry and with extreme automation, universities will be forced to relook at their legacy process and reinvent themselves for good.

(The writer is director, Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune)

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