Background

“What we need is an entrepreneurial society in which innovation and entrepreneurship are normal, steady, and continual” (Drucker 2001).

A global analysis concludes, that there “is an increased emphasis on entrepreneurship by governments, organisations and the public” (GEM Global Report 2012: 6) . Consequently, entrepreneurship education is essential for preparing the young generation to live and create economic wealth in the 21st century (Volkmann et al.  2009). The global analysis also shows that in EU member states entrepreneurial activity is below average and the interest in entrepreneurship as well as the intentions to become an entrepreneur are less favorable (GEM Global Report 2012: 7-8). These findings need to be taken seriously as entrepreneurial competence requires an integration of knowledge, skills, and attitudes and relies on an entrepreneurial mindset (Heinonen & Poikkijoki 2006: 84). The European Commission has recognized the importance of entrepreneurship in Europe and has set the ‘Innovation Union’ as one of the flagship initiatives of Europe 2020 (European Commission 2010/1161). Additionally, within the ‘Think small first’ Act the Comission has encouraged more research on actions concerned with entrepreneurship education (European Commission 2008/394 #VIII). Finally, in the lifelong learning framework “a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship” has been defined as one of the transversal competences (European Parliament 2005/0221). Hence, there is a great need to enhance the contribution of the European education system to the development of an entrepreneurial mindset at all levels (Flash Eurobarometer 354). Through these common goals and policy guidelines a framework for activities on entrepreneurship education in Europe is provided. But in this framework there is no clear definition of a European dimension of entrepreneurship education.

Historically, research and practice of entrepreneurship education began at US American business schools (Katz 2003).  So its concepts and methods are influenced by the US American economic, social and educational context. Furthermore in the EU member states different approaches to entrepreneurship education exist. The role of the EU rests in providing a platform for exchange and acting as a catalyst of entrepreneurial practices (ECORYS 2011). For an integration of these different national approaches a more consensual understanding of entrepreneurship education is needed. Such an understanding should integrate a European dimension of entrepreneurship based on unique characteristics, like the common European market and the diversity and connectedness of cultures. At the same time it is important to use these characteristics not only for defining concepts, but also for enhancing the practice of entrepreneurship education.

Because of its origin most approaches to entrepreneurial education are adapted from other business school courses and focus on relevant aspects of business, economics and law (Katz 2003). Consequently there is a focus on imparting knowledge and skills in higher education for students close to start a company (Kirby 2007). Not only in higher education, but also in vocational education most approaches to entrepreneurship education already require an entrepreneurial mindset and do not aim at developing it (European Commission 2009). This problem is linked to the mode of teaching. Within the formal educational systems there exists a tendency to transmit knowledge and skills for future life and to put leaners in a passive role. This is especially problematic for entrepreneurship education since the core of entrepreneurial competence rests in innovative, self-driven and goal-focused action. Furthermore research shows, the potential of instruction-based education and training to develop changes in mind sets and attitudes is limited. On a global scale it was concluded, that “[f]or the past two decades countries all over the world have begun to recognize the failure of their systems to educate young people to create, and not simply respond to, economic opportunities” (World Economic Forum 2009: 25). Consequently, alternative didactical approaches, especially experiential and action-based approaches are needed to transcend these limitations (Carland & Carland 2001; World Economic Forum 2009: 15). Approaches in entrepreneurship education need to practice creative and goal oriented ways of thinking (European Commission 2009: 27-30). An important contribution can be made by better integrating entrepreneurship education in vocational education. On the one hand there is a great need for more active and creative ways of learning in general. On the other hand for vocational orientation entrepreneurial careers and practices need to be better represented in vocational education (European Commission 2009: 14-15). To raise interest in and prepare students for becoming entrepreneurs new approaches are needed in the vocational educational system. These approaches should provide opportunities to experience entrepreneurial practice and provide insights into fields of entrepreneurial activity.

One promising direction for experiencing the practice of entrepreneurship lies in a design based approach to entrepreneurship education (Bruton 2011). In this approach an entrepreneurial mindset is acquired together with knowledge and skills by designing a product or service in a customer centered way. Such an approach can be embedded in an authentic scenario developing competences for future work-life (Schank et al. 1992). Furthermore to increase student motivation and make use of informally acquired knowledge the scenario can be conducted in a game based way and situated in the field of game design. An educational setting integrating the principles of these approaches has a high potential for developing an entrepreneurial mindset understood as the ability to put ideas into action (Dilger & Pechuel 2011). Developing and implementing such a new approach is a great challenge for teachers. As entrepreneurship is neither practiced in the educational system nor integrated into teacher education, most teachers lack entrepreneurial experience (ECOTEC 2011). Consequently teacher education needs to be integrated in efforts to enhance entrepreneurship education. Furthermore teachers and schools alone cannot develop such an approach to entrepreneurship education. There is a great need for cooperation with experts from the world of work and educational sciences (ECOTEC 2010).

The partners participating in this project all have experiences of conducting entrepreneurship education in different vocational education programs and many of them have participated in projects on entrepreneurship education. Based on a common perception of the field and the experiences made the common goal is to create a better understanding of European entrepreneurship education and to develop and test an approach to entrepreneurship education, which has the potential to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and which integrates a European dimension of entrepreneurship in concept and practice.