Colleges must foster campus entrepreneurs
Innovation is not a nice-to-have element, it’s an imperative if jobs are going to be found for graduates, says Dr Charles Wessner, a US government adviser, writes FRANK DILLON
IRELAND NEEDS TO avoid complacency about its education system and develop much stronger links between businesses and colleges to foster entrepreneurship.
That’s the view of Dr Charles Wessner, a leading US government adviser on innovation policy. Wessner, who is director of technology innovation and entrepreneurship at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, spent a week in Ireland recently where he visited colleges, research facilities and multinationals and addressed the TCD/UCD Innovation Academy.
“Ireland faces some serious challenges and one of those is around its education system. You have to ask yourself why there are now over 60,000 unemployed graduates here,” he says. “Innovation is not a nice-to-have element, it’s an imperative if you are going to find jobs for your graduates.”
Wessner says that the feedback he received on his trip here from businesses was that graduates were lacking in essential skills to hit the ground running for employers. “There has to be more work done on business and entrepreneurship on campus. Businesses need to be spending more time in the colleges and there’s a role here for government in leading and facilitating this.”
As well as turning out more rounded business focused graduates, there needs to be more campus-based entrepreneurship.
Changing habits and mindsets is important. Wessner says that in talking to the heads of colleges in Ireland, there is frustration about the so-called “audit culture”. “‘Don’t misspend a penny and do like it’s always been done or don’t do it at all’ seems to be the default position.”
Wessner says that there are many myths about expanding faculty entrepreneurship. There is no evidence to suggest that this type of activity undermines the core mission of knowledge generation and dissemination or that commercial motives shift effort away from fundamental research questions.
Ireland has some good models for developing innovation including TCD/UCD’s Innovation Academy, but needs to ramp up what it does dramatically if it is to tackle the country’s crippling unemployment problem. “Ireland has invested in human capital, and needs to maintain that commitment as talent is very mobile.”
On a more positive note, Wessner says Ireland has some excellent installed assets in terms of research facilities, and that leading companies here had a very positive view of Ireland. As a Google manager, adapting the famous adage about buying from IBM, told him: “Nobody gets fired for investing in Dublin.”