According to Driessen and Zwart (1999) an entrepreneur has 10 important traits and skills:
The question is, can such traits and skills be taught and nurtured at university?
Can such skills, if carefully taught, be mastered by a student who is 'non-traditional' in the sense that this is the first time in their schooling career that they have ever attempted seriously to learn anything? Can a student acquire a ‘need for achievement’ or a ‘need for autonomy’ or even ‘market awareness’ by dutifully attending classes and taking careful notes as the lecturer (whose own market awareness is perhaps in need of further development) goes through some power-point slides showcasing the latest academic research on how to be creative and flexible? And, more importantly, will it be in the exam? You can just imagine it: ‘Identify and critically evaluate the 10 main traits and skills of the successful entrepreneur. 20 marks.’
Most universities today would say that of course, entrepreneurial skills can and should be taught to the students held captive within their ivory towers. The notion that such skills can be learned purely through real-life experience would be subversive, in that it might tempt young people not to bother going to university at all. We all know that if students go straight from high school to starting their career, bypassing an expensive three-year sojourn through half-formed 'work experience' courses at university, this would be a disaster. So, ways must be found to embed high-level entrepreneurial learning into the university curriculum.
This is not as easy as you'd think, especially because the research shows that trying to teach students how to acquire a 'risk taking propensity' can end up making them even more risk-averse than they were before. For example, a programme designed to enhance 'entrepreneurial intentions' has on occasion merely persuaded participants that they have no entrepreneurial inclinations after all:
Both men and women have lower entrepreneurial intentions after being exposed to the program, but the negative impact is more prominent for women, who may have experienced that running an own business is hard to combine with other time uses.
Oh dear. This is known in the scholarly literature as 'the law of unintended effects'. Sometimes low-level learning is more harmful than no learning at all. Indeed, because 'enterpreneurship education' (yes, this is a thing) sometimes succeeds only in putting students off the idea of being an entrepreneur, some argue that the point of such education is not to train people how to be entrepreneurs but to allow them to discover whether or not this is something they are personally interested in (see for example Graevenitz et al (2010) Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 90).
Yet, it could be said that the issue is not so much the aim of such education, but what is meant by entrepreneurship in the first place. Properly understood, it may well turn out to be an attribute that everyone should aspire to, just as everyone aspires to be 'successful', broadly defined: even though we might disagree on how to measure or identify 'success' nobody would say that they're not interested in being successful. Nor would any student going on 'work experience' be expected to report that the experience has been insightful in revealing to them that they don't fancy working after all, and in future would much rather laze around, thanks. Especially in an age when the robots are about to steal all our jobs, thinking like an entrepreneur is not optional, nor is it solely a requirement for those who want to 'start a business'. Today we are all, or should all imagine ourselves to be, self-employed.
Scholar, Writer, Friend