Entrepreneur courses booming, but are they any good?
Jennifer Lewington, July 28, 2014, (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) — The business of teaching entrepreneurship is booming in Ontario and expected to surge further, but so far there’s been too little attention paid to results, according to a new study.
For-credit courses, business incubators and extracurricular activities in entrepreneurship are proliferating at the province’s 44 colleges and universities, notably in the past six years, according to the study for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), a government advisory agency.
In the study, three researchers from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education identified 174 entrepreneurship courses at Ontario’s colleges and 114 at universities, which account for three-quarters of 75 extracurricular activities at postsecondary institutions. But the study authors note that the “vast majority of programs” do not formally define the concept of entrepreneurship.
The proliferation of programs shows that “people are paying attention to an important issue,” observes HEQCO president Harvey Weingarten. “We think Canada needs to improve its performance in innovation and more postsecondary institutions are mounting programs.”
But he warns, “What we don’t have is a systematic evaluation of whether these things are working or not.” For example, he asks rhetorically, “Do students who take introduction-to-entrepreneurship courses [fare] any better than those who don’t take that course?”
He argues that colleges and universities should be responsible for measuring outcomes, such as tracking the creation of startup companies and identifying where graduates find employment, either for themselves or in established companies. Student satisfaction surveys, alone, are insufficient to judge the impact of these emerging programs on the labour market, says Mr. Weingarten.
“Academics always criticize governments because they spend money, start programs and never do a rigorous evaluation,” he contends. “It is an appropriate criticism and they [academics] should listen to the criticism and apply it to themselves.”
Departing dean reflects on his legacy
When Ryan Beedie and his father, Keith, donated $22-million in 2011 to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., the family name went on the university’s business school. But the money went to people-related initiatives at the school, including scholarships, support for student competitions and faculty salaries.
Mr. Beedie, president of Beedie Development Group, said the gift had “no strings attached” and credits outgoing dean Daniel Shapiro for shaping the dispersal of funds over an eight-year period.
“He was the one to take these resources and shepherd them and decide how to allocate them,” says Mr. Beedie, who earned his undergraduate degree from SFU.
“It was his vision for the school,” he adds, of Dr. Shapiro. “We had to have that confidence in him, which we had in spades.”
The dean, who just announced he will wrap up a six-year term (including one year as interim dean) at the end of August, cites the Beedie donation as the most significant milestone of his tenure.
“That’s mostly because it has brought us to the public’s attention,” says Dr. Shapiro. “Students started to point it out when they went to competitions. They always felt that people [had] treated them differently because they were from a school that didn’t have a name.”
Some of the donation went to create a program of “Beedie ambassadors” for 15 top undergraduates a year to attend conferences and community events and meet local leaders. Other funds paid for student attendance at competitions. In addition, $5-million was earmarked for a new student-run investment fund, one of the largest in Canada.
In initiatives unrelated to the donation, Dr. Shapiro expanded the school’s international footprint with increased opportunities to study abroad and a new executive MBA developed in partnership with counterpart institutions in the United States, Mexico and Brazil. Participants study at their home institution before completing the degree in intensive residency sessions at each of the other three schools.
He also oversaw the development of an executive MBA in aboriginal business and leadership that teaches core business concepts while recognizing the role of traditional aboriginal knowledge in decision making.
At 67, Dr. Shapiro says he did not want another five-year term and, though offered a contract extension, chose not to take it. He will remain on the faculty, where he will pursue his interests in Asia-Pacific issues and his work, as chairman, with the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries in Development, set up to help developing countries rich in resources to promote sustainable growth and reduce poverty.
His successor is Blaize Horner Reich, RBC Professor of Technology and Innovation at the school, who will serve an interim 15-month term to December of 2015. A university-led search for a new dean will begin shortly, according to a school spokesman.
As a donor, Mr. Beedie says he is delighted about his family’s role in raising the school’s profile. “There is not a week that goes by where I don’t see an ad or billboard or an interview in the paper,” he says. “I had this wow moment. Is this for real? Did we really do this?”