The value of entrepreneurship education: A real dispute

Entrepreneurship education seeks to provide students with the knowledge, skills and motivation to encourage entrepreneurial success in a variety of settings. Studies report that number of courses continues to grow at a fast rate and the growth from 263 schools in 1979 to 1400 in 1998 (approximately 57 schools a year) in the US. The global trend is similar and there have been an exponential growth of entrepreneurship education programs within and outside universities.

Variations of entrepreneurship education are offered at all levels of schooling from primary or secondary schools through graduate university programs. There are even post-graduate programs on entrepreneurship education so in fact entrepreneurship education has gained massive traction in recent decades.

But what do we know about the true value of entrepreneurship education? Could it be that those who are involved in such programs were already better than other in creating a new venture and the program does not really add much value to what they knew or opportunities they would want to exploit?

Related: Why startups fail? Investigating the role of market problems

Economists have tackled the the relationship between entrepreneurship education and skills and motivations diligently. A carefully designed study by Oosterbeek et al shows that the entrepreneurship program designed for young persons in the post-secondary schools does not seem to have the intended effects: the effect on students’ self-assessed entrepreneurial skills is insignificant and the effect on the intention to become an entrepreneur is even negative.

They explain that the negative impact of the program on the intention to become an entrepreneur can be due to a more realistic view of what is needed to start an own business as was suggested in interviews that were held with lecturers and coaches. More indirectly, participants might have lost their (over-)optimism (as reflected in their lower self-perception) and this may have caused a lower interest in entrepreneurship.

More distally, it has also been shown that training entrepreneurs in business planning, which is often a key aspect of entrepreneurship education and training programs, can be negatively related to entrepreneurial performance.

Looking at the bright side, it has been reported that individuals who have taken university-level courses in entrepreneurship have higher intentions to start a business than those who have not taken entrepreneurship courses. Some research further suggests that individuals who have had entrepreneurship training and education are also more likely to start a business.

Entrepreneurship researchers, educators and practitioners are thus left with a dilemma regarding how the conflicting findings of the outcomes of entrepreneurship education should be interpreted. One interpretation, using the statistical significance “vote count” method employed by several recent narrative reviews, is that there is indeed a significant positive relationship between entrepreneurship education and a variety of outcomes.

This is problematic  because there is sufficient reason to question the findings of narrative reviews.

Related: Is job satisfaction of entrepreneurs over-rated? A fact-based view into what has been claimed

The recent review study of Martin et al has identified more than 75 studies that have investigated the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education and training in increasing entrepreneurship-related human capital assets and/or entrepreneurship outcomes. Although there is still disagreement among authors as to which are the most appropriate variables to measure, and the most appropriate research methods to ensure meaningful, generalizable results, most of the research supports positive links between entrepreneurship education and three broad types of entrepreneurship-related human capital assets: entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, positive perceptions of entrepreneurship and intentions to start a business.

In sum, the majority of studies, particularly in the business research, support the positive relationship between entrepreneurship education, starting a new business and performance. However, the exact causality between what skills and knowledge being transferred in such education programs is disputed.

About pourya

I am an entrepreneurship postdoctoral research fellow at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. My vision is to fill the gap between entrepreneurship research and practice with this website. Research and practice are two separate islands when it comes particularly to entrepreneurship. There are hundreds of papers/articles written every month but we hardly see their contribution to real life entrepreneurship.

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