European Project

Cross Border Virtual Entrepreneurship

Heerlen (NL), November 2008 - It is difficult to ignore the impact of globalisation on universities these days, as students and staff alike embark on a variety of real and virtual activities aimed at increasing their exposure to international trends and opportunities. CHECK.point eLearning talked to Dr. Kees-Jan van Dorp, Research Director at European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU), about the project Cross Border Virtual Entrepreneurship, which is a multilateral European project under the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007-2013.

What is the Cross Border Virtual Entrepreneurship (CBVE) project about?

Kees-Jan van Dorp: Cross Border Virtual Entrepreneurship (CBVE) is a multilateral European project; it's part of the Erasmus Programme under Lifelong Learning 2007-2013. The objective of CBVE is to enhance the professional competence of students by lifelong, open and flexible, didactically-innovative and pedagogically-rich learning approaches.

CBVE has a specific focus on the development, extension, and expansion of students' (international) entrepreneurial skills. It experiments with entrepreneurship in a novel way, as a prospective part of the (off-campus) curriculum, for students, not part of traditional cohorts (which usually are delimited by the ages 18-25).

The CBVE project fills in the blank spots where no structured entrepreneurial training opportunities and external network liaisons with business are in place for open and distance teaching universities, and where no flexible learning approaches regarding entrepreneurship are in place to reach students outside traditional cohorts. Not only open and distance teaching universities are beneficiaries, but mainstream universities also benefit whenever students outside traditional cohorts are to be reached, using flexible entrepreneurial learning approaches.

CBVE has a clear operational focus on cooperation between higher education institutions and relevant stakeholders in the field: regional entrepreneurial networks, chambers of commerce, investment banks, and other professional organisations. By developing pedagogically rich learning content and recruiting non-traditional learners, CBVE directly engages the stated target group and offers them a unique opportunity to acquire entrepreneurial training.

Learners benefit from third-party engagement and interaction with stakeholders outside the university when being confronted with a (critical) assessment on proposed business ventures. A main benefit for the learners is the added value, which is created in their portfolio concerning acquired entrepreneurial competence. In the end, the learner is better equipped for successful business start-up, as well as for innovation inside traditional companies i.e., entrepreneurship.

Under CBVE, enrolled learners are offered -˜flexible masterclass content' (lead university: Università Telematica Internazionale UNINETTUNO), and incubating business-plan training facilities (lead university: University of Miskolc NHRDEC); all-in-one virtual entrepreneurial space. The learning environment strongly fosters knowledge acquisition, supports exchange and creation processes, and provides for a real learning experience.

CBVE is part of a larger international programme within the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU). EADTU is the representative organisation of both the European open and distance learning universities and of the organisations, including consortia, of higher education institutions active in the field of distance education and eLearning.

This programme is geared towards enhancement of international student employability. Back in 2006, the EADTU started its European employability project: Cross Border Virtual Mobility (CSVM). CSVM's objective was to facilitate distance-education students' entry into online working, to stimulate their employability, and to provide distance educational systems with increased business and market connectivity using flexible modality internships.

CSVM triggered the launch of the four-year employability programme (2006-2010) in which projects like Cross Border Virtual Entrepreneurship (CBVE), Cross Border Virtual Incubator (CBVI), and The Employability Clinique (TEC) landed on the drawing board. The employability programme generally promotes the notion that open and distance teaching universities as well as mainstream universities are able to differentiate their education delivery by means of flexible modality solutions. Within the lifelong learning paradigm, stakeholder relations should be reinvented in the form of improved creative cooperation with public and private organisations, professional bodies, chambers of commerce, and social partners.

Why is it so important that students and staff increase their exposure to international trends and opportunities?

Kees-Jan van Dorp: When considering CBVE and the international exposure to the theme entrepreneurship, it can be said that formal education in Europe has traditionally not been conducive to entrepreneurship. In fact, only a few chairs in entrepreneurship exist in Europe.

Entrepreneurship expertise for both students and staff relies on effectively sharing resources by cooperation in an international context. Giving special attention to the systematic integration of entrepreneurship training in studies in institutions e.g., universities and polytechnics, will contribute to the further to development of entrepreneurial competence of staff and students and will increase the future chances of start-ups and spin-offs in Europe.

Although no immediate, hard evidence can be established between education and venture creation, and not everyone who develops entrepreneurial competence will become entrepreneur, it is most plausible that favourable conditions can be created by educational incentive and international cooperation. Collaborative development of competence and inter-institutional sharing of educational resources are very beneficial.

In administrative, organisational, financial, and pedagogical preparation of virtual staff and student mobility, especially of the open and distance teaching universities, may identify new and innovative strategies for internationalisation. Open and distance teaching universities have embraced strategies of internationalisation far less than conventional universities.

However, deteriorating government funding and the emergence of a single European market have increased the importance of internationalisation and the leverage of partnerships. Especially in niche areas, where some institutes have more expertise than others, collaboration is particularly rewarding. In trying to realise international objectives efficiently, cooperation between partners and the sharing of mutual resources are a means to an end.

As regards students and international mobility; students in distance higher education have traditionally been deprived of mobility schemes such as Erasmus. With open and distance teaching universities now in the act of mainstreaming virtual mobility, and students engaging, new opportunities for gaining expertise and international credentials have come within reach. Students enrolling in virtual mobility schemes will do so to strengthen their subject expertise and not for a social experience, as Erasmus is often criticised of. By focusing on academic content and personal professionalism, students adopt a strategy of internationalisation in which they source from the best academic offers.

Next to virtual staff and student mobility, the integrated cooperation between stakeholders from partnering countries and the study and assessment of innovative business proposals may lead to new, sustainable cross-border collaboration through the design of dedicated knowledge chains i.e., university - applied research - and exploitation, in as far as local infrastructure is not equipped to provide for this by itself. Long-term collaboration between regions may emerge from embryonic venture ideas, whereas no previous history of cooperation may have existed.

What is the big challenge of cross-border projects?

Kees-Jan van Dorp: Cross-border projects are leading-edge projects in which partners strongly depend on each other. Project strategies revolve around the notion of pooling knowledge, capacity, and financial resources. The binding factor of partners within cross- border projects is often diverse. Factors may be related to the upholding of expertise on the subject matter, in line with one's own capacity unit or faculty research programmes, but may also be related to more personal and trustworthy relationship building, extending good cooperation over the years.

A challenge in cross-border projects is keeping interpersonal relations vital, given the fact that partners' project skills have been assessed a priori. Whenever face-to-face meetings are limited, such as in cross-border projects, subject expertise and personal reliability are important factors. Any glitches in this area may become potential burdens and could be at the root of any possible partnership separation. Regarding EADTU in this matter, the organisation is able to source from reliable and experienced partners in its membership directory, and they can contribute to upholding and assuring project quality in general.

As regards the CBVE project, the cross-border factor is very beneficial where the content development on entrepreneurship is concerned. With socio-economic and cultural dimensions varying among the countries, formulae for success in entrepreneurship in different countries will, of course, have different accents. For instance, because of the lack of social assistance in some southern countries, there are relatively more elderly start-up business ventures, undertaken in attempts by the owners to stay economically independent.

By means of the cross-border dimension, the CBVE partnership is able to leverage these factors and integrate multi-cultural aspects of entrepreneurship in the content it provides. Some parts of personal self-assessment instruments for entrepreneurship differ for the partnering countries accordingly. As a result, a challenge for CBVE partners is to decide on general content and localised content, i.e., the European product and its local instantiation.

In fulfilling the needs of local learners who have not mastered the English language, derivative multilingual versions and localisation/culturalisation of master-class content is very important. CBVE incorporates such features. One last challenge I would like to mention here is difficulty the CBVE partnership faces in its ability to act as a cross-border intermediary for mutual entrepreneurial resources.

During the project, it will be assessed whether the partnership is able to act a broker, helping all involved partners and stakeholders - academic, public, private, professional, regional, etc. - to gain better access to information, knowledge, technologies, finance, expertise, and the assistance they need from the resources available in the different regions.

The main benefit of this is the stimulation of possibilities for cross-border cooperation and partnerships. As knowledge transfer is facilitated between the partners, the success of one region's best practice may be emulated by others.

Of course, we must not forget that the CBVE project is first and foremost about addressing the lifelong learner in Europe: addressing in particular the learner outside the traditional cohorts, eager to develop entrepreneurial competence through autonomous learning. And, as with other sectors of our economy, this type of education requires without the challenge of internationalisation.

How can universities meet the challenge of satisfying lifelong learning needs in the future?

Kees-Jan van Dorp: In sustaining competitiveness, unconventional methods for educating, training, and retraining of the European labour force must be envisaged. The predominating challenges of global competition and demographic change can only be faced by tailored, high-quality, 21st century education. When talking about unconventional methods, I would like to refer to flexible modality solutions. Flexible modality solutions are able to address lifelong learners in a customised, formal, informal, and/or non-formal way.

Such solutions are creative and appeal to target groups beyond tradition. One example I can refer to in this context, are flexible modality internships; in some way similar to virtual entrepreneurship. Flexible modality internships are field-driven assignments designated to students by third parties i.e., public or private organisations in which students primarily work off-site and have flexible hours, which requires them to use generic or specific information and communication technology.

The flexible modality internship represents a new platform through which lifelong learners can enhance their professional experience relatively independently. On the subject of flexible modality internships, EADTU has released a report entitled -˜Stimulating Employability through Cross Sector Virtual Mobility; European-funded Research on Flexible Modality Internships' (Ed. C.A. van Dorp).

This publication, which is available from EADTU, contains 42 European and non-European case references to flexible modality internships and provides a first-hand look at seven flexible modality internship projects that were conducted by two CSVM project partners: the Estonian e-University and the Open University of the Netherlands. As mentioned previously, the CSVM and CBVE projects are both part of the employability programme of EADTU.

Finally, EADTU will continue to act as an intermediary body for the exchange of information, helping to facilitate a European-wide perspective on the opportunities and threats for the provision of lifelong learning. A coherent programme of applied research on open educational resources, employability, the operation of associations, virtual mobility, quality assurance, and university strategies, is in place to serve members' priorities. Members themselves show leadership by the impact of their activities throughout the higher education system as a whole.

It is apparent that through our actions, we strongly encourage the development of the entrepreneurial spirit of our members. Through incentives provided by projects, programmes, and task forces, we hope to have a positive effect on both staff and students of institutions, facilitating both entrepreneurship and self-employment. Needless to say, EADTU is an active partner of the European Commission, the Council, the Parliament, and national governments.

Session GL036

Dr. Kees-Jan van Dorp "Cross-Border Virtual Entrepreneurship: A Multilateral European Project under the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007-201"

Thursday, December 4th, 2008, 16:30 - 17:30, Tiergarten