Posted 21 February 2019
"Some of the findings can perhaps influence things we do at Harper Adams to support students, such as by setting up entrepreneurial clubs or sessions"
What makes students become entrepreneurs? This is a key question for a university with strong professional links, and one that provides a particular focus for Patricia Parrott, Principal Lecturer in Agri-food Marketing and Placement Coordinator.
All Harper students spend a year on placement before returning to complete a final year of study, and Patricia and her colleague Dr Louise Manning have been using surveys of placement students over two years to see what influences entrepreneurial perspectives.
So far, the data shows that placements seem to have a bigger impact on female entrepreneurial attitudes, and varies depending on what kind of land-based course students are taking. Those studying
Agriculture tended to have been impacted the most by their placements, while those on other courses are less certain on entrepreneurialism.
“We’ve now got three years’ quantitative data which is showing us that females are having a bigger shift towards entrepreneurial attitude on their placement year. The next priority is to analyse the qualitative data looking at student attitudes, to see what’s driving people’s views,” says Patricia.
“Broadly, what’s pushing students away from the idea of running their own business includes seeing how difficult running a business has been for parents and not wanting the same, or just wanting to go and work for a big company - not negative to entrepreneurialism at all.”
Publication of the research so far has resulted in a new collaborative project in conjunction with researchers in Canada, Australia and New Zealand: qualitative research with entrepreneurs who are alumni, five years on from graduation. The work will utilise the technique
Patricia is developing as part of her Professional Doctorate in Education, which involves survey participants creating ‘rich pictures’ alongside in-depth interviews. These pictures can provide a much richer narrative of participant motivations, with colours, fonts and position of picture elements on the page providing clues, as part of a discipline known as ‘social semiotics’.
“The results so far have been presented internationally, raising the profile of our entrepreneurial work and the multi-modal method. Some of the findings can perhaps influence things we do at Harper Adams to support students, such as by setting up entrepreneurial clubs or sessions,” she says.
A link-up with the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s (CIM) Food, Drink and Agriculture group is proving to be very useful, with students able to become CIM accredited while on their placement year. There are also opportunities for students to meetings in London, enjoy networking opportunities, as well as CIM supporting a prize for student dissertations.
Patricia, who has worked at Harper Adams since 1994, as well as working an arable farm locally, is also enthused about the potential of placements as a means of getting more students into the pig and poultry sectors.
“We’ve previously seen that students have been reluctant to go to into these sectors. So, competing companies set up a scholarship through the British Poultry Council, offering positions to get students through the door. We also have placement scholarships in the pig sector too. What we’re seeing is students go on placements who’d never thought of careers in these areas, but are now staying there, are absolutely committed and see them as great opportunities for them”, she says.