Entrepreneurship Education: Salvation or Damnation?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Many researchers, and policy makers, across Europe emphasise entrepreneurship education as the way to a future new welfare society. Why? The aim of this article is to discuss critically entrepreneurship education, starting in contemporary European research on entrepreneurship. Earlier research defines entrepreneurship as a temporary process of innovation, only possible in capitalistic societies. In more recent research entrepreneurship is located within the entrepreneur, to a limited number of traits typical for the entrepreneurial personality despite its surroundings. Environmental or cultural factors are treated as either to promote or inhibit entrepreneurial behaviour/personality. The locus to specific traits of the individual is the logic behind the, normative and quite naïve, favouring of entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurship education, characterised by learning by doing, practice-orientation, and so on, is viewed as the way to foster the right kind of individuals; individuals with the specific traits who form a kind of inner resources that can be profitable on the global market. In this perspective, entrepreneurship education seems to be a part of the ongoing neo liberal oriented restructuring process, which is sweeping through Europe, and the writings on entrepreneurship education can be understood as a specific political/ideological activity.

INTRODUCTION

This article is one part of an ongoing EU-funded research project, Learning Entrepreneurship, at Department of Education, Mid Sweden University. The project involves empirical studies and research overviews, and this article belongs to the latter. The aim of this article is to critically discuss writings on entrepreneurship education, and the discussion is based on primary findings from an overview of research on entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurship.

The main focus is European, but since research in the field is a widespread phenomenon, this demarcation is not strictly adhered. A maj ority of the research in this field is conducted within other disciplines than the science of education. Therefore our discussion can be described in terms of a picture that we draw from research in the field, and then examined from a point of view within the science of education.

THE FIRST SKETCH

During the latest decades, orientation towards free market economy with decreasing public sector and increasing private ownership has been on the European agenda of policy making. The European Union, with its fundamental idea of Europe as one free market, is a central promoter in this. At the same time, research on entrepreneurship has exploded since the late 1980s (Audretsch, 2000). Another way to describe this is that during the last decades, the public and the academies have realised the important contributions of the entrepreneurs to economic growth and the standard of living (Brockhaus, 2001). This research reflects a increasing interest in entrepreneurship as a source of employment, innovation, growth and global competitiveness.

Research has also legitimated efforts to promote entrepreneurship in the eyes of the public (Swedberg, 1998), and the growing popularity and increasing status of the entrepreneur have trigged researchers to find the key to entrepreneurship (Morrison, 1998a). In other words, researchers in the field of entrepreneurship have been generally positive to the phenomenon studied, and the explicit ambition of the researchers can be exemplified as "... to encourage entrepreneurial efforts worldwide to create jobs, improve the economic well-being of all social strata and promote public policy that will encourage these efforts." (Landström & Sexton, 2000a, Xiv).

So, scientists, along with policymakers, are "... convinced that entrepreneurial effort is a key element in sustained economic development. " (Henrekson, Larsson & Sjögren, 2001, 19). Beside the obvious connection to economics, i. …