Blog post – What is ‘entrepreneurship’ and why does it matter to UQ teaching academics?

Ask anyone to name an entrepreneur and the stereotypical Branson, Zuckerberg, Bezos, and Gates examples are very likely to spring to mind, and a quick Google search agrees. With many high-profile entrepreneurs advocating to follow their example and avoid a university degree if you want to be truly entrepreneurial (read more), the question of how well entrepreneurship and higher education fit together has been widely debated.

Pair this with the seemingly endless scandals where private profit is prioritised ahead of business ethics in cases like Facebook and Uber and we are faced with a situation where students and academics may understandably want to distance themselves from this behaviour. But in focusing only on these stereotypes we would be throwing the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater.

For every well-known stereotype there are thousands of examples of individuals and groups behaving in an ethical and moral entrepreneurial way and making an important difference in the world. Whether that be in their local community, through an existing organisation, or creating a new entity to fulfil a need and solve a problem. At UQ there are many success stories of entrepreneurship, from technology enabling environmental sustainability to a PhD student creating Australia’s first public tool library. The startups are easy to identify, but a significant scale of entrepreneurial thinking and behaviours occur within existing organisations or in every-day activities and go ‘under the radar’. This is where entrepreneurial education comes into play and how we think about it fundamentally shapes how we put it into practice.

Positioning graduates with the knowledge and skills to make a difference to the world’s toughest problems is placing increasing importance on entrepreneurial education – teaching and learning that allows students to think critically and creatively, to be able to identify problems and undertake complex problem solving, and to negotiate, communicate, and lead. More than ‘build a business’, entrepreneurial education is about problem-solving that cuts across all disciplines at UQ. 

Why are we talking about entrepreneurial education?

In universities around the world, entrepreneurial education has been growing significantly over the last three decades both in and outside of the curriculum. Students and graduates apply their entrepreneurial capabilities in a wealth of different environments and contexts that include non-governmental organisations, public sector, social enterprises, charities, communities, private sector businesses, spin-outs, and start-ups.

Long-term impact of entrepreneurial education includes graduates being better positioned to make a difference to significant global challenges, as well as improved employability. Tangible impact in the short term is usually highlighted through new businesses created and contributing to the local economy through job creation, often in knowledge-based businesses, and through commercialising innovations. These measures do not capture the full extent of entrepreneurial behaviour and skills, and that is a challenge in itself.

What is entrepreneurial education?

The definition of ‘entrepreneurial’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is an adjective: “characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit; enterprising.” This definition is not entirely helpful when aiming to encapsulate the broad scope of what we mean by the term in education. It serves a purpose as a technical definition of a stereotypical entrepreneur, which as we have seen is only a small part of the picture.

‘Entrepreneurial education’ is an umbrella term for two different types that have slightly different aims:

  • Enterprise education aims to develop students’ awareness, mindset and capability to identify needs, problems, or opportunities and their ability to take effective action in ambiguous and rapidly changing circumstances. 
  • Entrepreneurship education aims to apply the students’ enterprising mindset in an organisational or business context, encompassing realistic scenarios and risks that may include; stakeholders, funding, sustainability, innovation, strategy, ethics, governance, and regulatory compliance.

Enterprising behaviours, attributes, and competencies are a core part of employability. The application of these can occur in employment, or through starting a new business or organisation. Therefore, enterprise and entrepreneurship are naturally aligned with employability, yet distinctive.

What does entrepreneurial education look like at UQ right now?

As a leading research and teaching institution, UQ is equipping its community with the knowledge, networks, and skills to be disruptive through the UQ Entrepreneurship Strategy 2018–2022.

Entrepreneurial education is not new to UQ, there are over 100 courses providing access to entrepreneurial learning across all faculties. Some of these courses are clearly identified as entrepreneurial, with course titles and learning objectives reflecting this. Others use different descriptive language, including:

  • Design
  • Innovation
  • Practice
  • Development 
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Social
  • Professional
  • Sustainability
  • Business
  • Global 
  • Change
  • Challenge
  • Responsible
  • Collaborative
  • Participatory
  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Perspective
  • Co-creation
  • Communication
  • Enterprise
  • Startup
  • Studio

Entrepreneurial learning occurs both in and outside of the classroom. Many universities, including UQ, combine extra-curricular entrepreneurial initiatives such as incubators, accelerators, makerspaces, and internships to provide multidisciplinary opportunities for students and graduates.

The importance of thinking together about entrepreneurial education at UQ

Moving past stereotypes, we have an opportunity to develop our shared understanding of enterprise and entrepreneurship, and what it means in higher education. If we cannot relate to stereotypical entrepreneurs, then it is time to highlight entrepreneurial people that we respect and look up to.

Are all students entrepreneurs? What place should entrepreneurship have in higher education? Well, we are not advocating that every student starts a business, but we are taking a position that entrepreneurial skills are relevant and important for every student, and through UQ they will have the opportunity to experience entrepreneurial learning and develop new ways of thinking and the skills they need to create positive change for a better world.


Written by Eleanor Browne, Enterprise & Innovation Education Coordinator in the Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation.


Last updated:
20 May 2022