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MaRIHE Master thesis reader e-book 2016

The State of Entrepreneurialism in A Public University in Ethiopia: Status, Challenges and Opportunities

Habtamu Diriba

Background of the study

Driven by the global move to knowledge based economy, the idea of ‘Entrepreneurial University’ has become the recent buzzword in the realm of Higher education (HE). Several attempts have been made to explain the impetus for the shift in ideology and approach amongst Higher education institutions (HEIs). Perhaps one of the most comprehensive illustrations is provided by Clark (1998). In his landmark book, ‘Creating Entrepreneurial Universities’ he, posits that the demand-response imbalance between the environment and universities is the main driver of entrepreneurialism. Four major sources of imbalance have been identified by Clark (1998, p.129-131), i.e., massification, increasing expectation from stakeholders, complex need of the labor market, and unprecedented knowledge expansion.

The first factor has to do with the global move from elite to mass higher education which not only implies a higher number of students but also a more diverse student body (Cark, 1998, p.129). The second factor that is forcing universities to revisit their traditional stance is the increasing expectation of stakeholders such as quality, efficiency, accountability, and regionally engagement. Thirdly, in relation to the global transition to a knowledge-based economy, employers require a continuous training and retraining of their employees, which is pilling yet another pressure in universities (Clark, 1998, p.130). Lastly, the unprecedented advancement of knowledge which in some cases is transcending the ability of universities to respond is also another source of demand-response imbalance. The only way to cope up with this multifaceted environmental pressure is therefore to respond entrepreneurially (Clark, 1998, 2004; Gibb et al., 2012; Hannon, 2013, Etzkowitz, 2008, Shattock, 2005).

On top of that, state funding is on the wane globally (Shattock, 2005, 2009; Slaughter & Leslie, 1997, 2001; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004; Marginson & Considine, 2000; and Chan & Fisher, 2008). Lastly, “the rapid growth of money making opportunities” (Bok, 2003, p.10) has also made its fair share of contribution to the emergence of the entrepreneurial university model.Against this background the study inquired the state of entrepreneurialism in a public university in Ethiopia.

Statement of the problem

This study is underpinned by three interconnected presumptions: entrepreneurial university transformation is invaluable to Ethiopia; understanding the contextual realities is essential to bring about entrepreneurial transformation; and little is known about entrepreneurial transformations in developing countries.

To start with the first premise, the researcher takes the position that; entrepreneurial university model will positively contribute to address the ‘higher education expansion dilemma’ of Ethiopia. To elaborate, building self sustaining entrepreneurial universities will allow the state to continue higher education expansion without adversely affecting the budget of other underdeveloped and equally relevant sectors of the economy (such as health, transportation, ICT). Additionally, the added financial capacity, entrepreneurial universities are expected to gain by collaborating with external stakeholders, will allow them to upgrade their capacity, there by contributing to quality enhancement. What’s more entrepreneurial universities with their innovation oriented students and staff could contribute to addressing the unemployment challenge of the country.

The second premise is that; understanding the underlying factors is the prerequisite to building an entrepreneurial university. This is to mean that, the success of any transformation in the realm of academia is dependent on understanding the deep lying norms, ethos, relationships and histories that underpin the system (Doh, 2012).

Third, little is known about entrepreneurial transformations in developing countries in general and Ethiopia in particular. An extensive review of the relevant literature (both peer reviewed international journals such as ‘Research policy’, ‘The journal of technology transfer’, and ‘Technovation’ , as well as journals published by public universities in Ethiopia such as ‘Ethiopian journal of education & sciences’, ‘Ethiopian journal of applied sciences & technology’, ‘Bahirdar journal of education’, and ‘The East African Journal of Sciences’) showed that the vast majority of the studies in relation to entrepreneurial university model are undertaken in the context of North America and Europe. Even in the case of conceptual papers without empirical data the examples often illustrate the realities of developed countries.

As such the study of entrepreneurial university model in the context of a developing country such as Ethiopia is considered to be highly relevant.

Main research question

  • How do internal and external stakeholders view the state of entrepreneurialism at Addis Ababa University (AAU)? 

Sub questions

  • What is the status of the five entrepreneurial elements identified by Clark (1998) at AAU? 
  • How is the interrelationship of the five entrepreneurial elements at the case university?

Analytical framework

In order to help focus the research the five essential elements of an entrepreneurial university identified by Clark (1998), and most importantly, their interplay is used as a conceptual framework.

Figure 1,Analytical framework
Source:based on Clark (1998),as customized by Hölttä (2015)

The first essential element of an entrepreneurial university is a strengthened steering core which refers to “[the] administrative backbone stretching from central bodies to major faculties to baseline departments and institutes” Clark (2004, p.175). The steering core of an entrepreneurial university is assumed to be a blend of managerialism and collegiality.

The second element is a stimulated academic heartland. This refers to, motivating the academic staff and students, to embrace the new entrepreneurial values, which among other things, entails providing support (structural, technical and financial) to induce staff and students to engage in more collaborative, transdisciplinary and application oriented research.

The expanded development periphery refers to boundary spanning units that facilitate knowledge production and transfer. The development periphery units may either take the form of an administrative unit (knowledge & technology transfer offices) and/or an academic unit (i.e., research centers) (Clark, 2004, p.84-86).

The fourth essential element is a diversified funding base, which entails moving out of the states control by capitalizing on second and third stream income sources.
The fifth entrepreneurial element is the integrated entrepreneurial culture. This refers to whether the basic assumptions, values, norms and behaviors support and reflect entrepreneurial characteristics such as, openness to change, risk taking, collaboration and responsiveness.

The aforementioned five elements are assumed to exist in a mutually reinforcing reciprocal relationship, as such, the dynamics of their interaction is assumed to be pivotal.


The form and/or status of entrepreneurialism is assumed to be strongly linked with the context in which it is undertaken. Moreover, attention is paid to multiplicity of meanings; as such the research paradigm followed in this study can be considered as social constructivism (Merriam, 2009; Creswell, 2003, 2014). As regards research method, qualitative approach was found to be more suitable. This is simply because the topic of investigation i.e., ‘entrepreneurialism’ as well as the specific dimensions (with the exception of diversification of funding), do not lend themselves to quantification. Within the framework of qualitative research, this study specifically adopted a case study design. Accordingly, One public university was selected (i.e., Addis Ababa University) and attempt was made to thoroughly explore the question at hand.
Maximal variation sampling was used as a main sampling strategy. Moreover, in order to have a comprehensive picture of the phenomenon under investigation, the principles of snowball sampling and confirming/disconfirming sampling were partly used at different stages of data collection. A total of 44 participants with distinct characteristic (i.e., ministers, city mayor, vice presidents; Directors, Deans, Department heads, Academic staff and Students) took part in the study. Data was collected using one to one interview, focus group discussion, site visits and document review.

The data was analyzed deductively by using, ‘directed content analysis’. Accordingly, the main elements of the analytical framework, individually and in relation to each other served as overarching themes.

In order to enhance the accuracy of the findings a wide range of qualitative data validation techniques i.e., triangulation of methods and data sources, member-check, peer-debriefing, rich & thick description, and identification of the researcher’s bias have been implemented.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that ethical consideration was given high prominence throughout the conduct of the study.

Summary of major findings

  • What is the status of the five entrepreneurial elements identified by Clark (1998) at AAU? 

The study revealed both positive and negative factors working for and against each entrepreneurial element at the case university.

To begin with the steering core, it was generally found to be weak. More specifically, both the substantive and procedural autonomy (i.e., strategic priorities, curriculum design and staff and student selection budgeting) of the university were found to be constrained by the interference of the ministry of education, Similarly, managerial capacity was found to be weak as appointments to various positions in central administration are partly made based on political affiliation and personal ties. This weak steering capacity is also manifested, in the long and excessive procedures, overlapping duties, lack of proper financial management systems, lack of policy and guidelines (for some activities) that prevail in the university. On the positive side, the university has recognized the desirability of entrepreneurial transformation and has undergone internal reorganization that led to the opening of various offices that could facilitate entrepreneurial practices. Moreover, the steering core has formulated a strategy that promotes entrepreneurialism (i.e., thematic research and adaptive problem solving research).

Secondly, the stimulation of the academic heartland was found to be moderate. On a positive side, both staff and students have a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship in general, moreover, the staff is developing a culture of cross disciplinary collaboration after the introduction of ‘thematic research’ (which is multidisciplinary in its very nature) and ‘adaptive problem solving research’ (which is aimed at specific problems of the society). On the other hand both students and staff cited a number impediments (i.e., curriculum & internship related problems, low financial & technical support, ill-equipped workshop, bureaucratic procedures, low compensation, lack of space for bottom up initiative, and lack of incentives) inhibiting entrepreneurial behavior within the university.

The third entrepreneurial element, i.e., the expanded development periphery was evaluated in terms of its role in facilitating knowledge production and transfer. Results show that, In terms of facilitating knowledge production within the institution the development periphery is generally weak. In that the academic development periphery units were found to be loosely coupled with each other and other academic units within the university. Similarly, the administrative development periphery units are not promoting interdisciplinary research in any meaningful way. This is notwithstanding, the ‘Thematic & adaptive problem’ researches introduced by the central administration as a university wide initiative. On other hand a mixed result was found in terms of collaborating with external stakeholders. In that a strong collaboration was witnessed with international partners (such as supranational organizations, universities, business organizations, development partners) and various federal government offices (such as Ministry of science and technology). While the collaboration with city administration, industry and community was found to be relatively weak.

The strongest suit of the case university appears to be the diversification of funding. In that, a wide range of diversification strategies are currently in use. The highest proportion of income comes from national and mainly international partners in a form of research grant. Additionally, the university generates third stream income through training & consultancy; targeted tuition fees; and a wide range of services rendered by its business enterprise.

The fifth entrepreneurial element i.e., integrated entrepreneurial culture, although emerging was found to be underdeveloped. Specifically, a low risk taking propensity, lack of openness to change (from both management and staff), a moderate collaborative culture and a varying level of enterprising behavior (amongst staff and students) was evident.

  • How is the interrelationship of the five entrepreneurial elements at the case university?

When it comes to the interrelationship of the five entrepreneurial elements in the case university, they are found to be loosely coupled with each other. To start with, the interrelationship between the steering core and academic heartland was found to be weak. As pointed out previously, leadership follows a strictly top down approach to bring about reforms as a result the academic staff appears to be resistant to the reform ideas of top management. In addition to that, the lack of technical as well as financial support is greatly constraining entrepreneurial behavior within the university setting.

When it comes to the interrelationship between the steering core and the development periphery mixed result was found. On one hand the steering core has opened additional boundary spanning units over the past four years, with an aim of facilitating entrepreneurial transformation. On the other hand, they are deprived of financial autonomy as well as a comprehensive guideline to successfully achieve their purpose of establishment. The aforementioned financial and technical constraints are also preventing the development periphery units from legitimizing their existence alongside academic units within the university as such, the link between the academic heartland and development periphery can be considered, weak.

Another major weakness observed at the case university is on the use of diversified money. In that, rather than using the diversified money to nurture more entrepreneurial activities, the university returns a significant proportion of it to the ministry as surplus income. Consequently, the impact of diversified money on the other entrepreneurial elements is currently insignificant.

Lastly, being the collective outcome of the other four elements, entrepreneurial culture, at the case university, is found at an early stage of development. This is to mean that all the inhibiting factors that were identified in relation to each entrepreneurial element have contributed to the low entrepreneurial culture at the case university.

Conclusion and recommendation

The study showed a number of impediments in the case university that require immediate attention. At the same time, the study also revealed a number of strong points that the university could build up on. The main question is therefore how to capitalize on the positive sides while eradicating the impediments.

The first and most fundamental step is fully understanding, what the entrepreneurial transformation entails with all its requirements. This understanding lays the foundation for creating the enabling environment. As Clark (1998), argues a simple opening of offices here and there would not do the trick. Entrepreneurial university transformation is a cooperative endeavor; as such it requires the full involvement and support of staff and students. Simply put, staff and students lie at the heart of entrepreneurial transformation. And this is precisely, what appears to be missing at the case university.

In line with that, firstly, ‘real‘space needs to be created for both staff and students. The word real should be emphasized, as the university currently involves both staff and students in various committees formed around the central administration. But their impact in influencing decisions is restricted. Secondly, a well organized technical support should be provided to enhance the entrepreneurial competence of staff and students. Third, a thoroughly thought out incentive package for staff and students could help promote enterprising behavior within the university. This could be achieved by incorporating entrepreneurial criteria in the tenure track system (course evaluation criteria in the case of students) of the university.

Fourth, allocating a financial pool to support innovative ideas of staff and students can also be considered. This could be achieved by using the money the university returns as ‘surplus‘, at the end of each fiscal year.

Fifth, the institution should develop intellectual property policy in order to capitalize on the technological innovation of its students and staff. Sixth, the long and bureaucratic procedures which are hampering entrepreneurial behavior within the institution should be broken down and replaced with what Clark frames bureaucracy of change (i.e., the substantial addition of non faculty professionals whose tasks involve promoting change) (Clark, 2004, p.74).

In close connection to the point made above, the overlap and conceptual confusion surrounding some of the development periphery offices (i.e., between community service and industry linkage & technology transfer) should be resolved sooner than later; and ways in which they can complement each other should be envisaged. Moreover, financial autonomy with accountability should be given to the development periphery units. This would allow them to provide real support to the staff and students of the university thereby enhancing their credibility and legitimacy. In addition to the aforementioned remarks the institution needs to develop a well consolidated financial management system and most importantly use the money at its disposal to nurture more entrepreneurial activities and enhance institutional capacity.

Future research

This study mainly focused on the internal dynamics of entrepreneurialism in a senior public university. It would be interesting to analyze the dynamics in a private and junior HEI as they have a contrasting reality. Secondly, although substantial insight could be gained from Clark‘s illustration of entrepreneurial elements and their interrelationships, they are loosely defined. Hence, a study that further refines and elaborates each element is beneficial to the existing body of knowledge. Thirdly, evaluating the link between national innovation policy and entrepreneurial university model is an interesting line of enquiry. Lastly, the link between the level of educational development (elite, mass, universal) and entrepreneurial university model is worthy of investigation.


I would like to express my gratitude, to my supervisor Prof. Seppo Hölttä, my brother Shimels Diriba, fellow MARIHE students and all participants of the study.


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