When you work with so many universities, you get to see many aspects of Enterprise Education, some good some bad. But there is one aspect which staff and students have issues with and its ERDF funded projects. These projects are designed by someone who normally has long gone to another institution and therefore the narrative is long lost on why they embarked on this journey, however across the sector we see a series of common issues:
Timing – When a student joins a university and wants to start a business on graduation. They pop over to the enterprise department and see what support is available for graduates and notice its “part funded by the EU”. The one question they forget to ask is “Will this be available in three years when I graduate”. If they did ask, the answer would be “I am not sure as its a three year project that started last year” or something like this. How can the student plan to start a business at that university if the support is not going to be there? The length of the project is not in line with the academic programme and the University has not committed to provide a portfolio of support for students with or without ERDF funding.
Journey – The journey through enterprise education and support to create a business is not a linear one. The education is needed at the point of most impact, i.e, just before they need to undergo that task. You need book keeping at the start and completing the business tax return at some point within the first year. Some students require a considerable amount of social media training within the execution of the marketing plan, while others need very very little. These rigid projects can not coup with this approach.
Support Blocks – The majority of ERDF project require support to be in six hours blocks, signed off by the student on paper (That’s the EU Eco credentials crashing and burning). This requires a fixed “we are going to tell you” how to run a business approach. This limits the support to providing six hours on each subject and forcng everyone to attend every session to build up a set of paper work which evidences the “learning”. Whereby setting the objective to get people to sign forms in person. The majority of staff are only concerned with getting students to sign forms. The use of mixed media and social peer development is important for any long term business development and yet does not fit into these six hour form signing blocks.
Scope – The requirements of the project requires the scope of the project to be limited, which is understandable. However, a students startup comes in all shapes and sizes, which may not fit within the scope. The money is set out in a way which 2 years ago made sense, but now the economy, technology and business trends have moved on makes little sense to conducts the project with this set scope. The projects need to be able to adapt to the needs to the customer while keeping the aim, to support students in starting a viable business.
Location – The majority of projects are based around a location, so within the region of the university. The funding for the project comes from two sources, the EU and the students fees. So if the student intends to develop their business back home in another region, then they are not eligible for support under the ERDF project. The university does not offer support in getting them on a project in their region and nor does the university offer to support the student with the part of the funding which they are matching with the EU. So this student loses out.
One Stop Solution – Students want to go to one person and get all the support available for starting a business. They don’t need several projects which work on different aspects of enterprise and are separate. The supermarkets know this, the government know this (www.gov.uk), so Universities need to understand this and develop the enterprise support personal to be a single team where students meet the first person and can get access to the portfolio of support available at this institution. The ERDF project can not be the only support available and there has to be more offered to ensure the needs of students is met.
I know these issues are not entirely placed by the EU, who need to understand why these projects are providing little long term benefits or culture change within the institutions. The majority of the problems lies with those that create the proposals, the managers of the project and their briefs. Basically it needs further development of a working relationship with people who understand enterprise education with those who understand how ERDF projects should and could be run.