Universities and Entrepreneurship

Keynote Address by Farrukh Iqbal, Director IBA, at International Conference on Developing Public Sector Universities into Entrepreneurial Institutions, Dawood University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, December 17, 2016

It is easy to talk about universities and entrepreneurship if you come from a business school. All you need to do is to talk about how you teach entrepreneurship.

At IBA this is very much a part of what we do. We teach entrepreneurship to our BBA students and we also teach entrepreneurship in a less formal manner through our Aman-CED certificate programs

Both streams are popular. Hundreds of students go through our BBA programs every year and many take entrepreneurship courses along the way. Some even take this as a special major.

Similarly, scores of people take certificate programs at the Aman-CED which offers entrepreneurship training in sectors such as Agriculture and Engineering and IT as well as for groups such as Women.

Why are these programs popular? One reason is because sometimes it is hard to find a job. This is especially true for a wide segment of youth in Pakistan. They have no choice but to become self-employed. Obtaining skills, knowledge and some business connections through a stint at IBA (or some other business school) is very attractive to such folks.

These programs are also popular because the world of work is changing. My colleague, Dr. Shahid Qureshi, who runs the Aman-CED, is fond of quoting an American analyst who claims that we may already have moved from a world where careers at a single company were the norm to one where multiple job stints are the norm. And we may soon get to a stage where not even jobs but tasks become the norm. Who does tasks? The self-employed entrepreneur.

How are we moving to a world of jobs and tasks? Much of this is due to the internet revolution that has swept through the world in the last two decades. This has made it possible for more entrepreneurs to dwell in what is known in the literature as the Long Tail. This is the activity space where you can earn a profit by selling small amounts of specialized goods and services to small numbers of people who can find you on the internet. You don't need to set up large factories to achieve economies of scale. You don't need to spend millions on marketing to get your product in front of millions of eyes. All you have to do is to get some skills and a wireless connection. With these, you can set yourself up as an entrepreneur.

In other words, for many people now, entrepreneurship is a choice rather than a compulsion.

But this is only one aspect of the connection between universities and entrepreneurship that I want to talk about today. The other aspect has to do with why universities must become entrepreneurial themselves in order to survive in the world of the internet.

We are not there yet but we will eventually get to a state of the world of education where classes will be delivered online and to thousands of students at a time. This type of class is known as a MOOC or massive open online course. If this becomes the norm, only a few universities will survive in their current form since most students will be able to get education through MOOCs.

A huge investment in classrooms and buildings may become a liability to those who have these. A huge investment in tenured faculty may become a liability to those who have these.

What should universities do in the face of this possibility? At least four things. First, they must do more of the sorts of educational activities where close and face to face interaction is important to the acquisition of knowledge and learning. High quality seminars where learning is acquired through discussion and interaction with stimulating teachers would qualify. At IBA, we continue to focus on teacher and education quality.

Second, they must offer a broader range of learning opportunities to a wider range of knowledge-seekers. Universities that offer short-term certificate and diploma programs in addition to long-term degree programs are likely to do better than those who specialize only in the latter. Universities that offer training programs will find an extra margin of financial comfort from so doing. At IBA, we have been diversifying our product range for several years now.

Third, they must commercialize more and more of their knowledge capital. Science and engineering universities in particular can do much in this regard provided they put in place adequate rules and safeguards for the management of intellectual property. This is not an area where we have done much at IBA so far. It will be part of our future strategy though.

Fourth, they must become places where people want to come not just for the classroom experience but for a broader social experience. Making the campus an attractive place to spend time would thus become a priority. Sports and recreation take on a new attractiveness in this context. Perhaps even shopping. Just as airports have learnt the value of adding shopping and dining outlets so also must future universities derive revenue from a broader range of activities. At IBA, we are running our sports and recreation facilities as a profit centre.

You can probably think of many other things that a place-bound, bricks and mortar university could or should do to become sustainable in a world of greater competition from online education. The important thing to emphasize is that universities must become more agile, more flexible, more risk-taking and less bound by tradition. In other words, they must become more entrepreneurial.

This is my sense of the context of this conference. I find it a very energizing context and look forward to the various sessions that lie before us.