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Four dimensions of entrepreneurial culture shift in universities

Rimante Rusaite
Entrepreneurial culture shift at universities

Higher education institutions (HEIs) are challenged to evolve, driven by the need to adapt to a rapidly changing world. The shift towards fostering entrepreneurial cultures within universities is more important than ever. Research indicates, that underneath the challenges associated with academics’ low engagement and need for cultural change, there exists:

  • Lack of awareness of the value and benefits of engagement and entrepreneurial activities[i].
  • Lack of communication of engagement, entrepreneurship and its impact within HEIs[ii].
  • Lack of motivation to act entrepreneurially and engage with external stakeholders, as well as unsuitable reward systems and lack of incentives for external engagement and entrepreneurial activities for academic[iii].
  • Difficulty in navigating the support environment within and outside HEIs[iv].

In this article, we explore four key dimensions of cultural change in universities to promote external engagement and entrepreneurial acting and thinking. These dimensions are crucial in empowering academics to embrace entrepreneurship.

1. Raising awareness

Awareness is the crucial initial step in any successful transformation process, particularly when it comes to the transformation of institutions.

Understanding the value of external engagement and entrepreneurship
In this context, raising awareness involves informing and educating academics about the importance of external engagement and entrepreneurship. Research suggests that a high proportion of academics desire external engagement but lack the skills, confidence, and awareness of the opportunities to do so[v].

Boosting intrinsic motivation
According to research from Franco-Santos et al.[vi], academics are generally more intrinsically motivated. By tapping into academics’ intrinsic motivation, HEIs can create campaigns that resonate with their target audience and inspire them to engage in external activities.

Power of peers
Numerous studies suggest that the attitudes and behaviours of coworkers, community norms, and local leaders significantly influence academics and their achievements[vii]. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness among peers and colleagues within HEIs to enhance external engagement and foster entrepreneurialism.

2. Effective communication

Effective communication is another dimension that plays a crucial role in transforming the culture of higher education institutions towards increased entrepreneurship and external engagement. In this context, communication is important for several reasons.

Communicate to measure and enhance the impact
Firstly, it facilitates the capture and enhancement of external engagement and entrepreneurial activities, ensuring that the achievements of HEIs are effectively communicated both internally and externally.

Internally, clear communication helps create a culture that supports engagement and entrepreneurship. Both focus groups with academics and expert interviews confirm, that by sharing success stories and measuring the impact of these activities, HEIs can demonstrate their value to the university community[viii]. Additionally, regular feedback and evaluation mechanisms ensure that the intended goals are met and that academics receive sufficient support for their engagement efforts.

Communication as institutional commitment
Externally, communication allows HEIs to share their successes with a variety of stakeholders, such as government agencies, foundations, or other universities, fostering partnerships and collaborations.

Ultimately, communication is crucial in building commitment, creating a shared vision, and integrating ideas from both the top and bottom of the organisational hierarchy[ix].

3. Incentives and rewards

In this context, incentives and rewards become a key element in encouraging academics to actively participate in knowledge transfer and commercialisation.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators
Motivators can be classified into extrinsic, such as monetary benefits, professional recognition, career advancement, and research support, and intrinsic, rooted in personal satisfaction, curiosity, and prosocial goals[x].

In order to foster an entrepreneurial culture and external engagement at HEIs, institutions can introduce measures like differentiated career pathways, clear expectations for external engagement activities, increased time allocation for external engagement, and performance metrics. Celebrating and recognising academics’ contributions to external engagement can also create a positive cultural shift.

4. Navigating the support environment

In the modern academic landscape, securing research funding and engaging in knowledge valorisation have become fundamental aspects of academics’ roles and many universities put efforts and resources in creating support mechanisms for those activities.

Importance of wayfinding
However, many academics face barriers when trying to balance their daily responsibilities with external engagement due to the complexity of the support environment. The obstacles to navigating that environment can range from bureaucratic challenges to skill gaps.

In this context, for academics to fully exploit opportunities accessible via existing support mechanisms, cultural change goes beyond paper strategies and establishing support structures; it involves people – role models, formal and informal networks, and individuals who help academics navigate the complex support environment[xi].

In conclusion, to unlock an entrepreneurial culture in universities so they can adapt to our rapidly changing world, we need to consider four key dimensions: raising awareness, effective communication, incentives, and navigating support.

By creating integrated change pathways around these dimensions, universities can reshape their institutional culture, empower academics, and prepare for a future where innovation and entrepreneurship are paramount.

To address this challenge, UIIN is leading an international research project ‘Cultural Change Towards Engaged and Entrepreneurial Universities’. The project aims to equip HEIs, particularly HEI leadership and professional staff, with the necessary tools and guidelines for promoting and implementing cultural change amongst academics to create a supportive environment for external engagement and entrepreneurial activities.


[i]Bläse, R. (2021). Framework conditions of academic entrepreneurship: An empirical investigation at Swiss Universities of Applied Sciences (Doctoral dissertation, University_of_Basel).


[iii]Orazbayeva, B., & Plewa, C. (2020). Academic motivations to engage in university-business cooperation: a fuzzy set analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 47(3), 486-498.

[iv]Hayter, C. S., Fischer, B., & Rasmussen, E. (2021). Becoming an academic entrepreneur: how scientists develop an entrepreneurial identity. Small Business Economics, 59(4), 1469-1487.

[v]NCCPE. (2017). How to support Public Engagement: Enhancing learning from your public engagement https://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publication/learning_resource_pack.pdf

[vi]Franco-Santos, M., Otley, D., and Rivera, P. (2017). Performance management practices: A current choice or a consequence of the past. Conference: Management Control Association Conference – the Netherlands.

[vii]Wang, M., Cai, J., Soetanto, D., & Guo, Y. (2021). Why do academic scientists participate in academic entrepreneurship? An empirical investigation of department context and the antecedents of entrepreneurial behavior. Journal of Small Business Management, 1-32.

Tartari, V., Perkmann, M., & Salter, A. (2014). In good company: The influence of peers on industry engagement by academic scientists. Research Policy, 43(7), 1189-1203.

Nanda, R., and Sørensen, J. B. (2010). Workplace peers and entrepreneurship. Management Science, 56(7), 1116–1126. DOI.org/10.1287/mnsc.1100.1179


[ix]Errida, A., & Lotfi, B. (2021). The determinants of organizational change management success: Literature review and case study. International Journal of Engineering Business Management, 13, 18479790211016273.

[x]Malone, T. W., & Lepper, M. R. (2021). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In Aptitude, learning, and instruction (pp. 223-254). Routledge.


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Rimante Rusaite (author) is a Senior Project Officer at UIIN and holds an MSc in Environmental Policy and BSc in Psychology. Dedicated to sustainability and innovations, she’s also a design thinking coach and systems thinking enthusiast.

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