The competences issue in the entrepreneurial university
The entrepreneurial university – conceptual background and added values
Universities need to identify an adapted approach for the new challenges they are facing today. While preserving their fundamental missions, they should start operating, to some extent, as any other service provider. The peculiarity of their status derives from the specific features of the products they are offering: competences and knowledge. If these competences and knowledge are not relevant for market needs, they cannot be exploited fully and cannot gear competitiveness. Universities should interact with the economic and social sectors, an interaction which would become the key pillar in developing the proper market for the university outputs. Furthermore, this interaction becomes crucial for universities by providing the necessary information about market needs (valuable inputs for planning research and education activities and for making the outcomes relevant and tradable on the market), while facilitating the transmission of new knowledge and the common definition of various joint activities.
The universities’ offensive manifest in their coming-out ‘on the market’ was met with different attitudes. Most stakeholders welcomed this initiative, considering it as a natural process, a long expected imperative, which will augment awareness of a professional category, the university category that seems to have hidden from the public eye for quite a long time. The entrepreneurial university represents a perspective which, as the supporters of the recent evolutions claim, will stimulate higher education institutions and will make them truly useful for the present society. On the other side, the opponents of academic entrepreneurialism consider this direction of reform to signify the end of university autonomy and of the academics’ independence, announcing the continuous diminution of standards, perverting of research by financial interests, as well as an irremediable end of academic culture.
And yet, pertinent answers to these perceived threats can easily be found: openness towards the market represents a natural movement for the universities which will thus be able to face effectively the steep increase in education demands determined by new economic development.
Of course, all the positive aspects mentioned above do not negate the fact that valid criticism of entrepreneurialism can be addressed and taken into account. Still, present circumstances definitely modify the status and the functions of the contemporary university, forcing the need of looking for adequate approaches. The entrepreneurial university can be accepted as an appropriate solution for the dilemmas mentioned above, while the possible difficulties and risks of the new approach should be treated as such.
The main feature of the new university might be defined as the search for a balance between the demands it faces and the resources it possesses. The entrepreneurial university represents the proactive university which demonstrates an interactive attitude towards the economic environment and which successfully balances scientific and managerial competences. By accurately assessing its role, such a university becomes an open system interacting with the external environment where it performs its actions and acts accordingly. However, it has to add to its classical missions related to research and education that of systematic and institutionalized transfer of knowledge through specific channels: technology transfer, continuing education, and son on. With this aim, the university has to adopt an entrepreneurial attitude to managing people, knowledge, and expertise. At the same time, it has to build institutionalized structures for interacting with the economic environment. Through its activities, the entrepreneurial university is able to generate resources to self-fund its own development.
The concept of ‘entrepreneurial’ is used mainly in relation to social systems. Transferred to the higher education area it can be applied to the universities as wholes, or to their departments and faculties, to centres of research, while also including the meaning of ‘enterprise’ – seen as a deliberate effort of institutional building which necessitates special activities and considerable energy consumption. An essential aspect of this approach consists in assuming risks as far as the introduction of new practices is concerned. Zaharia (2005) argues that the entrepreneurial university represents ‘an open university managed to some extent by means of the management tools characteristic to an enterprise, but preserving its fundamental missions of education and research. Funding is considered an investment producing financial revenues and other type of returns’, while Clark (2000) asserts that ‘an entrepreneurial university, on its own, tries to innovate its manner of action, to operate an extensive change concerning its organizational character, opening more promising perspectives for the future. […] The institutional entrepreneurialism can be understood both as process and result.’