“Both the professional environment and society are changing rapidly. There is a growing need for critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills. Educational institutions need to help students to become more creative and enterprising. However, some entrepreneurship training courses in Europe are still focused on local conditions, offering monodisciplinary management training. They are often not focused on the development of new skills and competencies demanded in the labour and international business markets, as a result of which the level of students’ entrepreneurial skills and competencies is insufficient,” says Modris Ozoliņš, Head of International Programs at RTU Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management.
RTU has already created a strong innovation ecosystem, which offers knowledge, mentoring, local and international support tools, so that every student has the opportunity to develop innovative thinking, creativity, entrepreneurial skills and create new products and services or start a business already during their studies.
By changing the learning process in general, focusing on developing entrepreneurial skills in students, improving organizational management and leadership skills, offering the opportunity to work in transdisciplinary and international teams in close connection with the real business environment, a sustainable and international business ecosystem will be strengthened.
Creating a handbook
RTU in collaboration with the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences (the Netherlands), the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Finland) and Anglia Ruskin University (UK) have developed a Transdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Training Handbook to promote change in entrepreneurship education across Europe. It offers a wide range of tools and insights based on academic and practical experience that teachers are free to use to develop entrepreneurship training programs. The handbook is also available in the Latvian language.
It has been developed in the ERASMUS+ Strategic Partnership project “European Entrepreneurship Training Community”. RTU FEEM is the lead partner of the project, responsible for the research part of the project. The preparation of the handbook was coordinated by the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences; and the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences set up an e-platform to facilitate the functioning of an international business ecosystem made up of students, universities and industry. The network provides possibilities for communication, development of long-term strategic cooperation, exchange of experience and good practice, etc.
The ERASMUS+ Strategic Partnership project focuses on the development of business methodology taking into consideration the current practice of Latvia, the UK, the Netherlands and Finland, with a special focus on teaching entrepreneurship to students in various fields, incl. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Underestimated business ethics
Prior to the development of the handbook, a transdisciplinary study on entrepreneurship education was conducted in the project partner countries exploring the competencies of entrepreneurs and managers, as well as the views of universities and business support institutions on achieving them. Taking into consideration the rapid development of the start-up environment in Latvia, RTU FEEM researchers decided to focus their study on start-ups and institutions that support the development of early-stage business, such as incubators, accelerators, and universities implementing entrepreneurship programs.
Latvian entrepreneurs consider the ability to cope with uncertainty and risk, as well as motivation and perseverance, planning and management to be the most important competencies. Ethical and sustainable thinking, financial and economic competence, and creativity are valued as less important competencies, says Tatjana Ņikitina, RTU FEEM researcher. She also points out that start-ups in Latvia, the Netherlands and Finland are similar in their assessments. “It is logical that motivation and perseverance are among the most important competencies, without them there is nothing to do in business, regardless of the country’s development and economic heritage,” she says. The reasons why sustainable thinking and financial and economic competence are underestimated may vary from country to country. If ethical values are the norm in Scandinavia and do not even seem worth mentioning, Latvia’s business environment is evolving and not all young entrepreneurs understand socially responsible and ethical business. “Although we talk a lot about ethical principles, socially responsible business and social activity, we need to continue educating society,” says T.Ņikitina. M. Ozoliņš adds that twenty years ago, there was little talk of responsible management in entrepreneurship training; everything changed after the global economic crisis, and now these principles are integrated into education. On the other hand, if the target group of the research were extended to include experienced entrepreneurs, there would probably be given more weight to financial and economic competence, he continues.
The opinions of Latvian entrepreneurs do not always coincide with the assessment of higher education institutions and business support institutions. For example, educational institutions and incubators, just like entrepreneurs, value learning through experience. This competence is also valued most in Finland, which shows that the emphasis on entrepreneurship training in Latvia and Finland is similar. Competence in dealing with uncertainty and risk is equally valued by start-ups and institutions, but motivation and perseverance, as well as planning and management are not considered by institutions to be a competence that would be very important to develop. “This is probably due to the assumption that entrepreneurs need to take these competencies for granted,” said T.Ņikitina. She believes that in entrepreneurship education it is necessary to focus on competencies that entrepreneurs perceive as important but whose current level is insufficient.
Already now, as emphasized by Madara Māra Irbe, lecturer and research assistant at the Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management, business support institutions respond flexibly to the demand, adapt to the needs by providing up-to-date training, workshops, etc. She also adds that the study not only assessed competencies, but also examined the good practices of each country, the offered entrepreneurship training programs, the opportunities for transdisciplinarity and international cooperation, how much students entering universities already know about entrepreneurship, etc. “Finland and the Netherlands have longer experience in entrepreneurship education, a stronger innovation ecosystem, and richer financial support, but over the past five years, Latvia has made a huge progress in this field. A support infrastructure has been established and a wide range of programs is offered. RTU Design Factory can be mentioned here as an example – it is an innovation and business platform with the best-equipped prototyping workshop in the Baltic States and with a team of highly qualified experts and scientific support for entrepreneurs, managers and students who can create innovation ideas, high value-added products and engineering solutions. There are other great examples in Latvia, too,” notes M. Ozoliņš.
The methodology has been tested
After the study on entrepreneurship education, the researchers concluded that it was not appropriate to create “one super methodological material fit for everyone”, as the situation and traditions differ from country to country. That is why a handbook was developed. The methodology was also tested at partner universities, and virtual student business camps were organized at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.
The project “European Entrepreneurship Training Community” (No.2018-1-LV01-KA203-046974) is funded by ERASMUS+ and own resources.
RTU FEEM is the largest faculty of RTU with more than 4,000 students obtaining higher education in various fields of economics and business. This year the faculty celebrates its 55th anniversary.