For the first time this year, my department launched and organised the Enterprise Fellowship Awards for academics and members of staff. We aim to make it an annual event to raise the profile of enterprise activity and boost interest across campus.
Enterprise seems to be the most neglected and underestimated area of activity for academics – especially the most traditional ones. It’s not teaching, it’s not research or publishing work, it sounds suspiciously business-y, so it’s not for them, they may think.
On the other hand, universities are spending substantial resources on the promotion of various forms of enterprise that will lead to third stream income generation. This supplements first and second stream income, which comes from government funding and tuition fees. With third stream activities, higher education institutions are looking to externalise their academic knowledge and expertise, and link with the public and private sectors to form mutually profitable partnerships. This is the big scheme of things, which universities hope will eventually make them more independent of government funding.
But how much do academics know about it?
Surprisingly, it seems that little is currently being done for this message to be communicated to academics, so many of them don’t even know about it. Compounding this problem is the fact that academics have little time to do anything other than research and teaching. Even more surprisingly, contribution to third stream income generation is increasingly becoming a pre-requisite for academic promotions, although many academics still don’t know about it.
And this is where the paradox lies: on the one hand, universities expect academics to participate in activities that will help their institution financially if they aspire to reach higher career levels more quickly. The higher the academic level, the higher the requirement for involvement in such activities is supposed to be. On the other hand, few academics are aware of this requirement and of the positive impact it can have on their career development. Also, contrary to what universities expect, it is usually the lower level academics who are the most willing to get involved in enterprise and income generating activities. Higher-level staff often appear much more reluctant. Traditional perception of their role as non-commercially-focused, resistance to change, lack of awareness about new trends in higher education, a busy workload and heavy responsibilities, or simply job burn-out are some of the most common reasons for their lack of involvement in third-stream activities.
Whose responsibility is it?
This is a difficult question with an equally difficult answer. It seems like it’s often left in the hands of Business and Enterprise Offices to “educate” academics on those all-important issues, inform them about the latest developments and find creative ways to communicate to them that third stream activities are worth a shot despite their time limitations. My office has dynamically started campaigning for enterprise with events, competitions, workshops, seminars and one-to-one meetings. It will be very interesting to see the outcomes and impacts of these efforts, and whether enterprise will become more of a familiar ground for our academic community in the years to come.