23 October, 2017 - Minister Mitchell O’Connor launches OECD/EU Report on Ireland’s entrepreneurship education

Minister Mitchell O’Connor launches OECD/EU Report on Ireland’s entrepreneurship education

Irish Minister of State for Higher Education, EC and OECD are launching a report on Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in Ireland

Irish Higher Education Institutions are engines for economic development

Entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education are critical for driving business start-ups, knowledge transfer, internationalisation, engagement with society and entrepreneurial mind sets in the labour force. Irish Universities and Institutes of Technology offer many great examples of how to act entrepreneurially.

These examples are examined in the new report by the OECD and the European Commission on “Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Higher Education in Ireland”, launched today [23rd October, 2017] by the Irish Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., the Deputy Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Mari Kiviniemi and Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, Director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sport in the Directorate-General for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the European Commission.

To support entrepreneurship and innovation, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) need to be entrepreneurial and innovative themselves in how they organise education, research and engagement with business and the wider world. This requires introducing supportive frameworks at national and HEI level for resource allocations, staff incentives, training for entrepreneurship educators, strategic partnerships and so on.

The OECD/European Commission review conducted a comprehensive assessment of Irish HEIs including a detailed survey of all university and Institutes of Technology leaders and extensive study visits by an international review panel Universities and Institutes of Technology in Ireland.

The report shows that HEIs are playing a fundamental role in fostering entrepreneurial career paths for their students and staff. These activities are driven by senior management, usually by a combination of the vice-president for research and the heads of faculty.

Innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and greater synergies between the core functions – that is, education, research and engagement – are fundamental for success. Study visits to six HEIs – Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Limerick Institute of Technology, University of Limerick, University College of Cork, Dublin City University and Dundalk Institute of Technology – revealed several very successful practices that stimulate and reward leadership at all levels, and create proper support structures and incentives for staff and students. For example, a strong emphasis is placed on supporting teachers to teach entrepreneurship with continuous professional development activities supported by CEEN, the Campus Entrepreneurship Enterprise Network and the National Forum for the Enhancement for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education,

The report also identifies some areas for improvement:

  • Increasing start-up support for students and alumni who wish to found a new venture.
  • Broadening the scope for multi- and transdisciplinary research initiatives in research priorities and in the effort to mobilise HEIs in regional and national development
  • A review of current employment control restrictions in higher education to allow for enhanced engagement activities with business and society
  • Continued support for HEIs to establish collaborative and mentoring links with innovative and entrepreneurial HEIs abroad
  • A system-wide exercise to document and assess the impact of entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said:

“It’s great to see that the HEInnovate country review highlights so much good practice in the Irish institutions visited, across a range of areas including entrepreneurship education, work placements, fostering entrepreneurial career paths for students and research.“

“This report is a testament to the quality of the teaching in our Higher Education Institutions and the findings of the review will inform best practice in entrepreneurial education across Europe”

“It highlights the fact that engagement between institutions, employers, community and regional stakeholders is becoming increasingly important. Building bridges between all these stakeholders is a key goal in the Action Plan for Education.”

“The findings and recommendations from the review will inform policy and in particular the new Entrepreneurship Education Policy Statement and the revised System Performance Framework for HEIs which we are currently working on.”

The Deputy Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Mari Kiviniemi said:

“The Irish education system plays a fundamental role in developing an entrepreneurial mindset among students and staff. This combination of creativity, initiative, problem-solving, marshalling resources, and mastering technological and financial knowledge is what all of us need to succeed in any field.”

“Students need incentives and support to engage with entrepreneurship. A recognition of what students learn in entrepreneurship courses is important. Diploma supplements on entrepreneurship competencies that graduates can show their future employers are a good example.”

Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, Director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sport of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Culture Youth and Sport

“We congratulate Ireland for its successful completion of the HEInnovate review process. HEInnovate is a key initiative in making Europe more innovative and entrepreneurial as it supports individual higher education institutions in their ongoing transformation to more entrepreneurial organisations. We believe that this positive experience will motivate other Member States to join this initiative. "



Notes for Editors


The country reviews are part of HEInnovate (http://www.HEInnovate.eu), a guiding framework, jointly developed by the EC and the OECD, to support policy makers and HEI leaders to enhance the entrepreneurial and innovative potential of higher education institutions. To enhance the framwork’s practical application, a free online self-assessment tool is available in 24 languages for HEIs to organise strategic discussions and debate around entrepreneurship and innovation. A wide range of stakeholders can be easily involved from within the HEI (leadership, staff, students, academic and administrative staff) and the local economy. Easy-to-read graphs show where stakeholders agree or disagree and provide a basis for strategic discussions and debate in board meetings, the senate or public events. The online tool is currently used by more than 800 HEIs around the world. Also in Ireland, several HEIs in Ireland are using HEInnovate for strategy design and implementation. An example is Dundalk Institute of Technology, which has been using the guiding framework for several years to introduce entrepreneurship education across its different faculties and departments.

To date, HEInnovate country reviews have been undertaken in Bulgaria (2014), Ireland (2015-16), Poland (2015-16), Hungary (2015-16), and the Netherlands (2016-17). By the end of 2018, 10 countries across Europe will have completed the reviews.

Survey data

The survey data reported was collected through a representative online survey that was administered to the Presidents’ offices of the seven Universities and the 14 Institutes of Technology in Ireland. From the 21 HEIs included in the survey, a total, 18 HEIs, including all universities and 11 institutes of technology completed the questionnaire with an overall response rate of 86%. The survey response rates per HEI type are as follows: universities (100%), institutes of technology (79%). Responses were collected between 15/6/2015 and 29/9/2015. The questionnaire was available in English language.

 The report  http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264270893-en

Higher education institutions (HEIs) play a critical role in Ireland’s economy and innovation system, which is based on a strong and growing engagement agenda with industry and local communities, new learning environments and multidisciplinary research teams. This report offers practical recommendations on how Ireland can enhance and sustain the outcomes.

As part of the OECD-European Commission HEInnovate country review series, the report assesses in five chapters strategies and practices for entrepreneurship and innovation in Ireland’s HEIs and the systemic support provided by government.

Chapter 1 presents the Irish higher education system, including the multi-step ladder system of qualifications that allows students to step in and out of undergraduate education, trends in student numbers and resources and an overview of recent policy initiatives.

Chapter 2 presents key review findings and recommendations in an analysis that is aligned to the HEInnovate framework with its seven dimensions and 37 statements, and draws from a survey of all public Universities and Institutes of Technology in Ireland and an in-depth analysis of six HEIs.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 expand on the review findings and recommendations. Chapter 3 looks closer into the organisational capacity of HEIs and the steering mechanisms and funding of research. Chapter 4 focuses on teaching and learning and analyses various approaches to enhance the capacity of students for entrepreneurship and how to incentivise student participation in engagement activities. Chapter 5 reviews the impact of higher education and the possible results of a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation and discusses the tensions that need to be understood and carefully managed by the HEIs themselves, their local partners and national policy makers if impacts are to be effectively delivered.

Key review findings

Higher education institutions (HEIs) in Ireland play multiple roles in their local environments and are pivotal drivers of development, particularly outside Dublin. The HEIs visited as part of the review offer excellent examples of innovation and entrepreneurship both in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS). More could be done to broaden the scope for multi- and transdisciplinary initiatives in research, education and engagement.

The sustainability of the HEIs’ multiple roles is a question of institutional autonomy and organisational capacity, of which the amount, allocation and duration of funding are key determining factors. For entrepreneurship education and start-up support HEIs are dependent upon temporary project-based funding. This is limiting the range and sustainability of activities, as the HEIs have had to be fluid and flexible in their financial strategies and focused on maintaining core activities principally in the teaching and learning arena, particularly in the Institutes of Technology.

Ireland has the highest share of employment in the ICT sector at 5.14 %, compared to the OECD average of 2.85%. The Springboard programme, addressed at reskilling and upskilling of the work force, and the ICT Skills Action Plan are excellent examples of how HEIs can effectively develop the skills base of small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) relevant for firm survival and growth in the digital economy.

The collaboration of HEIs in Regional Clusters and Regional Skills Fora is an important feature of this and core to the initial development stage for strong knowledge-based innovative regions. Greater emphasis is needed to connect knowledge producers, users and transformers in these regional collaboration platforms in addition to the current focus on alignment of study programmes and pathways for students.

Irish HEIs play a fundamental role in fostering entrepreneurial career paths for students and graduates. 85% offer entrepreneurship education activities and 80% targeted start-up support measures. These activities are supported and driven by senior management, usually by a combination of the Vice-president for research and the heads of faculty. With the National Forum for the Enhancement for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, a strong emphasis is placed on staff development programmes, building in entrepreneurship education on CEEN, the Campus Entrepreneurship Enterprise Network.

Start-up support offered in HEIs includes assistance with intellectual property rights, applications for public funding, preparation of business plans, referral to external business support organisations, and access to infrastructure, such as incubation facilities, co-working spaces and laboratory facilities. Less common, reported only by one-third of the surveyed HEIs, is the provision of financial resources.

Over the past two years more than 80% of the surveyed HEIs noted increased demands for the assistance with applications for public funding, and internationalisation of start-up activities. More than two-thirds of the surveyed HEIs reported increased demand from start-ups for the HEIs to facilitate contacts with potential investors, such as venture capitalists, business angels and banks.

Comparing the current offer of entrepreneurship education activities with the start-up support measures in HEIs, there is a gap for students in terms of start-up support. Whereas all of the surveyed HEIs reported to offer entrepreneurship education activities for their students, only less than half of the universities and two-thirds of the IOTs reported to offer start-up support for students. Start-up support is more oriented towards researchers, professors, other staff members, alumni and people from outside the HEI.

Effective internationalisation strategies evolved from the successful participation of Irish HEIs in international education and research Effective internationalisation strategies evolved from the successful participation of Irish HEIs in international education and research networks. There is a “stay-back” scheme, whereby international students can remain for one year after graduating to work in the country. This works well for multinational companies and large national firms but small and medium-sized firms seem to be reluctant in taking foreign students on as the perception is that these students tend to leave shortly after the work placement ends. Information events which include the involvement of international students in collaborative research and other measures could help to raise awareness of opportunities which these students could gain and bring to (traditional) SMEs.

There are many examples of innovative and impactful activities taking place in Irish HEIs. While there are numerous sources of information on various activities, these are not being translated effectively enough into details of their actual impacts in terms of the economy and society as a whole. Individual HEIs, research groups and the sector as a whole need to speak with one voice in describing and aggregating the impact of education, research and engagement in order to win the support of policy makers and the public for continued and additional investment.

Review recommendations for public policy action

 Enhance collaboration between policy structures and state agencies involved in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in HEIs.

  • Broaden the scope for multi- and transdisciplinary research initiatives in research priorities, and in the effort to mobilise HEIs in local, regional and national development.
  • Review current employment control restrictions in higher education to allow for enhanced engagement activities with business and society.
  • Continue targeted state investment in internationalisation initiatives.
  • Support HEIs in creating collaborative and mentor links with innovative and entrepreneurial HEIs abroad.
  • Introduce a system-wide exercise to document and assess the impact of entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education.

Review recommendations for higher education institutions

 Expand entrepreneurship education across all disciplines and increase the number of interdisciplinary education activities.

Increase the number of places available on venture creation programmes, particularly for students and alumni.

Incentivise and support staff engagement in knowledge exchange activities.

Enhance collaboration with small and medium-sized enterprises through a single “front door” approach.