According to the EU, Europe needs more entrepreneurs and business creation to steer the continent back to growth.
One of the chosen paths towards this goal is through training and education. Supporting entrepreneurial education at all levels of education is one pillar in European Commission’s educational framework, ET 2020, which was established in 2009.
According to EU reports, Denmark has played a pioneering role in putting entrepreneurial education into practice.
Already in 2010, the year following the commission’s framework, The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship (FFE) was established, as four Danish ministries had aligned ambitions with the EU’s entrepreneurial goals.
The foundation is putting the Danish government’s overall entrepreneurial strategy into practice by conducting impact research, funding development projects at educational institutes and supporting innovation in entrepreneurial programs and courses.
Refined goals for this work were set in 2012 as the first national innovation strategy Danmark – Løsningernes Land, (‘the land of solutions’) was launched.
First generation of entrepreneurial natives graduates this spring
In the Danish education system, primary education takes ten years which consists of one year of pre-school and nine years of elementary school. This means that the young adults graduating from elementary school this spring, 2018, form the first generation to have received their whole elementary schooling in an entrepreneur-friendly education environment, since the establishment of common European education goals in 2009.
According to Pernille Berg, Head of Research, Analysis & Higher Education from the FFE, Denmark is not necessarily way ahead, but it does have a certain maturity in terms of strategic approach to entrepreneurial education
“What makes us unique is that there is a strategic alignment between our ministries for long-term development.”
One of the key actors in this inter-ministerial approach is the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science. It advocates tertiary entrepreneurial education on a national policy level.
Johnny K. Mogensen, the Ministry’s Head of Division in the Department for Research and Research-based Education Programmes, states that new ideas are crucial for Danish society. Providing individuals with tools for problem-solving is exactly what entrepreneurial education is about.
“That is why the Danish government promotes training students to solve problems and come up with new solutions. This can be achieved by starting their own companies or by finding new ways to work in existing companies.”
Developing original ideas applies to teachers, as well. According to Berg, the best way to ensure entrepreneurial competence is to let teachers design their curriculum.
“Every level of education can address entrepreneurship differently through the ways that young people of different ages learn. You add complexity as you grow. We are not expecting business plans from six-year-olds,” Mogensen says.
Adaptation of the unusual suspects is the key
Pernille Berg sees both universities and public institutions recognizing that they are going to need new solutions in the near future in order to keep the link between education and work relevant. However, the required reform of these organizations is challenging. Public funding is decreasing in Denmark, which affects innovation capacity.
Even though there is new pressure on the Danish public sector to renew itself, entrepreneurial hype is not exactly challenging the Danish societal model. Instead, public institutions are increasingly adapting to entrepreneurial values. Educational programmes are designed together with job markets, and entrepreneurial competences are integrated into this collaboration.
When asked whether entrepreneurship promotes individualistic values, Mogensen sees that entrepreneurship, at least, has more to it than that.
“Entrepreneurship involves risk-taking, which is, to a large extent, an individual characteristic. However, the drive to put something new into the world will often be driven by a desire to help other people.”
Entrepreneurial education is no longer a project between a number of obvious actors, such as business schools. Instead, crafts and organizations that have not previously been very business-oriented are now increasingly responding to entrepreneurial mindset. Berg calls these parties unusual suspects.
“Recently, we have received applications for funding from humanities, such as theatre studies. They have never applied before, but now they are realizing that their students have to create their own jobs once they graduate.”
What is the next step for entrepreneurial natives?
At a policy level, an entrepreneurial approach is supposed to be one way of improving the quality of learning and the relevance of education. Pernille Berg has actually seen this coming to pass in Denmark. With some students, she suggests, responding to the entrepreneurial values actually leads to pursuing higher education.
“Students who would not define themselves as academic or motivated in particular, are getting more motivated through entrepreneurial education. We are able to see that this is actually happening; these young people like going to school.”
Among other things, entrepreneurial education has sparked a cultural change. Berg compares the current status of entrepreneurship to rock-stardom; it has become “the cool factor” of working life. Along with that, being a start-up has begun to feel attainable for young people. Denmark has seen an increase of young people starting businesses. The situation could, however, be even better, Berg stresses.
“The cultural change around entrepreneurship has been huge. However, we do not see an increase in the total amount of start-ups every year. We need more start-ups but there is also scale to consider.”
What Berg means with the scale issue is that there is a downside to the huge popularity of entrepreneurship. Along with the hype, young people might get the false impression that entrepreneurship means an easy life. This is why Berg worries about the viability and scalability of the start-ups being founded.
“We don’t want people to pursue entrepreneurship just to flash their business cards.”
Whether entrepreneurial education leads to viable businesses or not, it seems to have an undeniable relevance to current Danish upbringing. Maybe this is because an entrepreneurial approach is very applicable to any subject.
“Whenever you are able to combine personal insight, attitude, creativity, outward orientation and action, you are able to act on your entrepreneurial competence.”
The chronology of Danish entrepreneurial natives
- The European Union establishes its strategic framework for education and training (ET 2020). The framework sets four goals to be reached by 2020. One of these goals is to enhance creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship, at all levels of education and training.
- EU member countries begin implementing the EU’s strategic goals in their national curricula.
- Danish children born in 2002 start their first grade of elementary school.
- The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship (FFE) is established in Denmark through inter-ministerial collaboration.
- Refined strategy for entrepreneurial education is documented in Denmark: “Danmark – Løsningernes Land” marks the first national innovation strategy for entrepreneurial education.
- The EU assesses the attainment of educational goals set in 2009 in the Joint Report of the Council and the Commission.
- In the Joint Report, Denmark is mentioned as one of the few countries to have a comprehensive strategy for supporting the whole education continuum.
- EU countries engage in a stocktaking exercise to assess progress made since the 2012 Joint Report and help prepare the next priorities for cooperation in education at a European level.
- The entrepreneurial natives have now received five years of preliminary schooling in an entrepreneurial-friendly learning environment.
- The EU reassesses the attainment of educational goal in the Joint Report of 2015. New priority areas are set. Entrepreneurial skills are regarded as a key competence in lifelong learning.
- After nine years of preliminary school, entrepreneurial natives graduate.