Intervention by Mari Kiviniemi
OECD Deputy Secretary-General
23 October 2017
(as prepared for delivery)
Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Director Angelova-Krasteva from the European Commission, Presidents of Irish Higher Education Institutions, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today.
The report we are launching today addresses a very timely topic which is of great interest for policy makers and higher education leaders.
Entrepreneurship and innovation are two crucial enablers of change, economic growth, inclusion and sustainability. Higher education has an essential role in building the foundations for both entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish. The three key elements are skills, knowledge and connections.
The OECD has been working for many years on how higher education institutions can promote entrepreneurship and innovation through entrepreneurship education, business start-up support for graduates and researchers and supporting the commercialisation of research results.
The quintessence is that higher education institutions, in order to be effective, need to be entrepreneurial themselves in the sense of how they perceive and organise their key functions − education, research, and engagement − in terms of resource allocation, staff incentives and continuous professional development initiatives, and on how they position themselves in local, national and global strategic partnerships.
With HEInnovate we promote, in strong partnership with the European Commission, the entrepreneurial and innovative higher education institution.
We do this through our HEInnovate internet guidance tool and the HEInnovate country reviews. They help higher education leaders and policy makers to identify the actions they can take to stimulate entrepreneurship and innovation and to act upon blockages that can exist at institutional and higher education system level.
Ireland was one of the first round of countries that participated in the country reviews, and I thank the government, the HEIs and the European Commission for working on this with us. By the end of 2018, 10 countries across Europe will have completed the reviews, and our aim is to work with an increasing range of countries.
As part of the HEInnovate country reviews, we’ve asked the leaders of more than 100 higher education institutions in a representative survey in the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and Ireland to tell us: “what are key objectives of the entrepreneurial agenda of your institution?”.
Developing an entrepreneurial mindset among students and staff is considered to be the most important objective. The combination of creativity, initiative, problem-solving, marshalling resources, and mastering technological and financial knowledge is what is needed for success, in any field. Developing an entrepreneurial mindset involves offering hands-on support to those who want to start up a business, but it is also about helping students to recognise and exploit opportunities in all aspects of their work and life.
Ranked second was the objective of engaging with business and society through effective knowledge exchange, education support and other participation in community projects.
To succeed in their entrepreneurial agenda, higher education institutions need to stimulate and reward leadership at all levels, and create proper support structures and incentives for staff and students to take action for impact. Innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and greater synergies between the core functions – that is, education, research and engagement – will be fundamental.
There is a clear role for public policy to support higher education institutions. Policies can for example target resource allocation towards initiatives that deliver entrepreneurship education, start-up support, knowledge exchange, and societal engagement. The incentives and support frameworks in the national higher education system are also fundamental.
Before I focus on what we’ve learned from Ireland, let me share with you four common findings from the first round of country reviews – in Bulgaria, Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands and Hungary.
Perhaps the most important finding is that effective policy frameworks emerge from a strong long-term collaboration of different policy portfolios including education, labour market and skills, research, innovation, enterprise, and regional development.
Second, within higher education institutions, interdisciplinary approaches to education and research work far better in progressing on an entrepreneurial agenda than a silo setup.
Third, the combination of training, incentives and support for entrepreneurship and acting entrepreneurially is the central lever to mobilise staff for greater impact.
Fourth, students need incentives and support to engage with entrepreneurship. A recognition of what students learn in entrepreneurship courses is important. A good example is diploma supplements on entrepreneurship competencies, which graduates can show their future employers.
Ireland offers key lessons in each of these areas.
For example, Ireland has developed some important regional initiatives – the Regional Clusters and the Regional Skills Fora – that have helped in aligning study programmes with labour market needs.
Further emphasis is now being placed on connecting knowledge producers, users and transformers in a quadruple helix structure.
The report highlights a few areas for further action in Ireland. Among the recommendations, I may stress:
There are further examples in the report and they will be discussed shortly.
To move forward on implementing the recommendations of the report, we need to stimulate more dialogue between and among higher education institutions and policy makers. Together with the Higher Education Authority, we organised in June a workshop in Dundalk with 40 delegates from five countries to discuss this idea further. I believe that such a network will provide fertile ground for follow-up activities and new cross-country partnerships. I look forward to the next steps.