Dr David Pickernell, Dr Brychan Thomas, Dr Gary Packham, Dr Christopher Miller
Welsh Enterprise Institute, University of Glamorgan Business School
In the UK, Edwards (1996) argued in his explanation of CLEAR (community learning utilities, which exploit Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to create widespread affordable access to education and training resources) that: -
“It does not seem beyond the realms of probability that provision of community access to electronic highways at least for education and business purposes could bring a tremendous boost to a local economy. It is true that start-up costs will be very high, and the pay-off uncertain when seen from the point of view of an SME…or even a college…However, there are numerous ways in which competitive advantage and social equity can be delivered through public enablement of community access to electronic highways” (ibid. p5)
It is also commonly acknowledged that knowledge will become increasingly important in sustaining a nation’s competitive advantage (Packham and Miller, 2000). In December 1999, the European Commission launched the eEuropean initiative, with the aim of accelerating the uptake of digital technologies across Europe and ensuring that all Europeans have the necessary skills to use them. The application of digital technologies has thus become a key factor for growth and employment in this newly emerging knowledge based or e-economy, which is built around the Internet. The eLearning initiative addressed the need for Europe’s education and training systems to adapt to the knowledge society.
There are also specific issues regarding enterprise education. For example, the ‘BEST’ Report (European Communities, 1998) recognises that:
- Meeting the modern requirement for entrepreneurial and management skills must be evident throughout the national systems for education and training.
- There should be specific training for entrepreneurship, with an emphasis on practical and useful skills, supported by appropriate incentives.
- Training systems should be more flexible allowing for movement between academic studies and vocational training in companies, and for changing needs over a lifetime of learning.
- The application of IT is important in providing training. In company training and opportunities for further training should be brought up to date and use the latest ICT.
- There is a strong need for support for tele and long distance learning methods. These help beneficiaries to become familiar with ICT and reduce the time spent in institutions, allowing more practical experience.
Thus, there is a perceived need for improved training in entrepreneurship skills and ICT, and use of ICT in delivering these outcomes. Enterprise College Wales (ECW) has been specifically designed to meet these needs within the Objective One communities of Wales.
Enterprise College Wales (ECW)
The strategic approach taken by the University of Glamorgan and partners through this project is geared towards addressing weaknesses in the SME sector, particularly the slow adoption of new technologies, the low take up of ICT, low activity in e-commerce, and lack of entrepreneurial tradition in Objective One communitities. Cooper et al (1988) found that people are more likely to pursue opportunities if they have developed entrepreneurship skills from their previous employment, as this reduces the cost of opportunity exploitation (also see Carrol and Mosakowski, 1987). In the absence of this work-based learning opportunity for many in the Objective One area of Wales, ECW provides an important alternative for obtaining such information.
The BA Enterprise degree Award, together with other linked activities, is also aiming to ensure that the support infrastructures are in place to provide opportunity for all members of the region to engage in the new technologies. This will enable them to gain access to training and support to encourage entrepreneurial activity and Community Economic Development (CED). The on-line delivery mechanism has been designed in recognition of the need to introduce more flexible methods of delivering education and training to the community, and to exploit more effectively the potential of educational institutions to develop the skills of local populations (using local FE institutions as partners and focal points for the face-to-face contact which is necessary). This requires access to ETRs in the form of innovative approaches to delivery, use of ICT and new technologies to support open and distance learning and learning in the home (paid from Objective One funds). The Award also addresses a number of the key aims of the National Learning Strategy of Wales, including: providing better access to information and provision; developing new measures to increase and widen participation; strengthening co-operation, collaboration and partnership at the local, regional and all-Wales level. These all improve capacity for CED, particularly as the enterprise award is specifically designed to cater for students who wish to start, establish and then grow their own new firm.
The concept of the project and the BA Enterprise award is based upon forming an alliance of complementary organisations in the commercial, educational, media, communications, public and voluntary sector to deliver training and skills development, looking to:
- provide a focus in Wales for the development and promotion of excellent management, entrepreneurship and ICT skills in Welsh industry, commerce, public sector and voluntary organisations.
- form the hub for future research and learning within Wales for entrepreneurship, small business management and successful practice in e-commerce.
- help to create an environment for the regeneration of the Welsh economy.
As a result, the BA Enterprise Award has the aim of helping to achieve the following in Wales:
- Raising productivity and competitiveness in SMEs by updating and upgrading the knowledge, skills, competence and vocational qualifications of employees and employers, including higher level skills, ICT, basic and generic skills.
- Ensuring the development of entrepreneurship and management skills, alongside information technology capabilities.
- Encouraging a partnership approach to the modernisation of work organisation.
- Increase business start-ups through enterprise training.
- Raising the skills base and promoting entrepreneurship within existing social economy businesses.
- Promoting an understanding and appreciation of the opportunities offered by entrepreneurial activities among learners and educators alike.
In order to achieve these objectives ETRs, including technologies of e-communication, virtual classrooms, web technology, video conferencing, broadcasting, distance-learning techniques and traditional educational excellence, are being used. It is hoped that the use of ETRs will also stimulate their introduction into businesses large and small throughout Wales.
A Profile of e-Learners in Wales
A statistical profile of the first 183 students indicates the nature of the audience that ECW is engaging. In terms of the type of student, the course is particularly popular amongst mature (over 21) students, 20% of students representing unemployed taking up the course. This is shown in the tables below.
Table 1: Geographical Spread of Cohort
|South East Wales & The Valleys||94||51.4|
Location of Study Centre :
Table 2: Business Proposition/idea
|Sports / Leisure||16||8.7|
|Computer / Internet Based||32||17.5|
|Engineering / Industrial||9||4.9|
|Hotel / Catering||7||3.8|
|Retail / Bookshop||6||3.3|
The tables indicate that the students are relatively evenly spread around the Objective One area, and a concentration on businesses dealing in consultancy, business development and specialist services, with nearly 20% also looking at internet based business. This is encouraging, given the relative paucity of these services in these areas at present. A more in-depth examination of the business ideas also revealed that nearly a third were for businesses that would serve the immediate local area (e.g. crèches), local firms (accountancy and business services) or community groups. Community enterprise type examples included creation of websites of local entertainment, for communities, and for linking communities and schools, a consultancy for small voluntary groups, and a local skills centre for teaching agriculture, horticulture and woodwork. Firms supplying local IT training and advice, access (cybercafes) and home computer repair were also strongly represented, which is of obvious importance given that many of the communities in the Objective One areas do not have proximate access to these services.
When examining the business ideas it is also clear that over a third of the students are already in small businesses or community activities and are using the course to advance skills linked to their existing employment. Included amongst these existing players were managers of local charities, youth organisations, and organisations to help community groups, all of whom hoped to improve their capacity to run their organisations. Thus, whilst the course is specifically designed to encourage entrepreneurship in the Objective One areas, it is also having the potential knock-on effect of improving the capacity of community-based organisations and increasing the goods and services available to local communities provided by members of the local community itself.
The examination of the issues above indicates a number of areas with regard to access to ETRs for Enterprise E-learning in Wales where further research is obviously needed as ECW develops and the students progress and develop their business ideas. This is obviously a long-term project, but with many shorter term items on any potential research agenda. One requirement is the establishment of a comprehensive database of all the students on the course, able to generate data to address a number of research issues. These will include:
- The effectiveness of ETRs such as the digital delivery mechanism of enterprise education and analysis of whether the systems adopted should be changed / added to in future (e.g. mentoring).
- The significance of the virtual enterprise degree course to widening participation and learning outcomes. This should include a psychological profile of e-learners against the literature to determine whether the course is attracting “traditional” entrepreneur types. The degree to which successful entrepreneurialism can actually be predicted by psychological characteristics also needs to be examined as part of this. Ultimately, there should also be an examination of the ways in which overall entrepreneurial capacity has been affected by the programme, in terms of numbers of firms and their survival rates.
- The analysis of ECW access to ETRs for the project cuts across the neo-classical distinctions between the resources of production in relation to utilisation, consumption and governance. The results of the research carried out as part of this agenda will have important lessons along this chain. The long march has begun.
Carrol, G.R. and Mosakowski, E. (1987) The Career Dynamics of Self-Employment, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 32 (4) pp. 570-589.
Cooper, A.C. Dunkelberg, W.C. and Woo, C.Y. (1988) Entrepreneurs’ perceived chances for success, Journal of Business Venturing, Vol. 3 (2) pp. 97-108.
Edwards, T.E. (1996) Community Learning with an ‘intelligent’ college: a new way to learn, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 20 (1) pp. 4-15.
European Communities (1998) Report of the business environment simplification task force (BEST) Volume 1, European Community, Brussels.
Packham, G.A. and Miller, C.J.M. (2000) Peer-assisted Student Support: a new approach to learning, Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol. 24 (1), pp. 55-65.