People work at start-up incubator Soho3Q in Beijing on January 9, 2018. Source: AFP/Ludovic Marin

Universities are increasingly looking at ways to diversify their revenue streams, among which include encouraging students and staff to engage in entrepreneurial activity.

For instance, one study notes that “entrepreneurial activity is increasingly encouraged on university campuses in the hope that it will foster the commercialisation of scientific discoveries, stimulate job creation, and generate greater returns to federal investments in university research”.

Meanwhile, a report by the League of European Research Universities (LEGU) notes that research can help solve many of today’s global societal challenges. 

LEGU said entrepreneurial skills can help individuals recognise and pursue opportunities for new value creation and problem solving in any organisational setting. Universities should also be aware of their role in entrepreneurial ecosystems, namely to educate students that can create value in the organisations, economy and society they join after graduation.

As such, they recommend research-intensive universities to proactively develop the entrepreneurial skills and attitudes of their students and staff.

Leveraging on entrepreneurship

While entrepreneurship among researchers hasn’t necessarily caught on across all countries or universities, China is making it a favourable environment for their researchers to branch into entrepreneurship.

The Times Higher Education (THE) notes that China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has published new guidelines to encourage researchers employed at universities or other state institutions to try entrepreneurship.

Without losing their institutional positions and some portion of benefits, researchers would be allowed to work part-time on start-ups, according to one proposal. Or they could work full-time on a new business for three to six years. 

The report adds that institutions are also encouraged to recommend talented staff for business-related projects, and to support innovative or mobile work policies.

Speaking to THE, Xiaozhang Zhu, a deputy professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC), said the new measure was built on a 2015 policy by the Ministry of Science and Technology to encourage entrepreneurship in universities and research institutions. 

He said the current policy further protects the rights and interests of those researchers, while offering more detailed guidelines. Professor Zhu added that the new guidelines can help researchers feel more confident in exploring new business opportunities.

Professor Zhu, who is also an academic turned entrepreneur, said the larger goal was to translate more university research into products with “direct market value”.

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