How a Liberal Arts University Embraces Entrepreneurship as an Educational Culture: the Case of Vytautas Magnus University
The ongoing transition to an increasingly knowledge-intensive economy has sparked entrepreneurial transformation across several regions, and Lithuania is no different. Soon after gaining independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Lithuania placed entrepreneurship in the front and center of its education policy. Consequently, most of the higher learning institutions in the country started setting up centers that facilitate entrepreneurial transformation. This is in addition to incorporating entrepreneurship education as a mandatory element of their curricula. Center for Enterprise (CEP) at the Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) has emerged as a direct outcome of this movement, offering a number of entrepreneurial programs that bring together the companies in the region with students and the academic community at large. The center is specifically setup to integrate and sustain the fragmented and often intermittent entrepreneurial initiatives of scholars and students, thereby contributing not only to the global standing of the university but also to the development of an entrepreneurial eco-system in Kaunas region.
Entrepreneurial programs offered at CEP
The center follows a structured approach towards inculcating entrepreneurial values and competencies amongst its students. Particularly, three sequential entrepreneurship-support programs are offered by the center: the Entrepreneurship Academy, the Entrepreneurship Laboratory and Smart Practices.
The Entrepreneurship Academy program gives recognition to the fact that entrepreneurial transformation begins with a change in mindset. As such it mainly concentrates on creating interest amongst participants. The program follows a very broad admission policy, catering not only to students who aspire to become an entrepreneur but also to those who do not plan to join an entrepreneurial pathway in the near future. What is unique about this program is that accomplished entrepreneurs from a wide range of sectors are invited to share their experiences with participants. The diversity of the invited speakers is especially important in a Liberal Arts University like VMU in getting across the point that entrepreneurship is not restricted to technology-intensive disciplines.
After completing the Entrepreneurship Academy program those interested in further developing their entrepreneurial capability join the “Entrepreneurship Laboratory” program. Here a team of multidisciplinary students are presented with the actual problems of participating companies for which they are expected to find solutions as part of a course. The team operates with the technical assistance of their university professors and under the mentorship of company representatives. After spending up to four months in the problem the team presents its recommendation both to the participating companies and the university. If the students are still interested to further develop their idea they will join the third stage i.e., Smart Practice. However, it is important to note that only handful of students (i.e., around 25%) are accepted into this program. Unlike stage one and two, here students are temporarily placed within one of the participating organizations, either to further refine their work from the Entrepreneurial Lab program or tackle a novel problem. The Smart Practice is often conducted in a form of an internship.
The overall impact of the program has been positive on the regional eco-system in general and the participants in particular. First and foremost, there has been a positive change of attitude amongst students, professors and organizations in the region. The students benefit from hands-on experience and entrepreneurial competences, which considerably enhance their competiveness in the labor market. Benefits to the participating companies are also apparent. Apart from finding workable business solutions and fresh ideas from the team of multi-disciplinary students, they use the opportunity to recruit competent students after their graduation. The early success of CEP has attracted significant interest from other universities and public institutions in the region, with pilot trials already being underway.
To learn more about the nature of the entrepreneurial activities at VMU, please see the full case study here
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Meet the authors
Habtamu Diriba is a graduate of the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MaRIHE). Before joining the MaRIHE programme, he has completed a two year graduate study in Business Administration (MBA) at Jimma University. His research interests mainly consist of topics relating to university entrepreneurship & innovation, higher education governance & policy, and internationalization. Habtamu has presented on multiple international conferences including winning the ‘Outstanding paper award’ at the 38th EAIR conference in Birmingham, UK.
Hacer Tercanli is a recent graduate of an Erasmus Mundus Masters course, Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE), and since November 2016 a Project Officer at UIIN. Previously she has worked in public and private higher education institutions in Turkey and completed a Fulbright Master’s program in Applied Linguistics in the US. As part of her Erasmus Mundus Master Hacer studied in Austria, Finland, China and Germany. During her studies she has participated in HE development projects that involved mapping digital learning environments in Germany and facilitation of internationalization in Turkey. In addition, Hacer has also been involved in EU projects at the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre in Munster, Germany. Among her recent interests are university-industry cooperation and quality assurance in international joint degree programs.