Providing students with the skills for multidisciplinary collaboration and entrepreneurship supports social impact. The Tampere Universities community promotes this endeavour through multidisciplinary entrepreneurship training, presenting students with innovation challenges aimed at creating societal benefit, and by facilitating interaction between people from multidisciplinary backgrounds. As Taru Pilvi explains, through active, targeted measures, universities can provide the tools and skills required to address today’s challenges – and this is increasingly attractive to students.
The challenges arising from the needs of people, society and the planet are complex and difficult. Finding effective solutions often requires both a multidisciplinary examination of different disciplines and the coming together of people who perceive the world in different ways.
Successful co-operation between universities and the surrounding society is facilitated by the new orientation of students towards entrepreneurship. In addition to meeting business goals, entrepreneurship increasingly seeks to be effective – to solve real problems arising from society.
In the Tampere Universities community, students’ abilities for a new kind of effective thinking are being developed with the help of Y-Kampus, a pioneering form of multidisciplinary entrepreneurship education.
In 2019, the University of Tampere, Tampere University of Technology and Tampere University of Applied Sciences merged into the multidisciplinary Tampere Universities community, which is engaged in research and teaching in technology, health and society. The community aims to work to meet society’s greatest challenges and create new opportunities. This is promoted by, among other things, the development of interdisciplinary cooperation, sustainability, innovative thinking, and links with businesses and the surrounding society.
The process of change in this new community is just beginning, but great results have already been achieved. One is the expansion of entrepreneurship education even more broadly for university students, in particular through Y-Kampus – which has been running at Tampere University of Applied Sciences for almost a decade. Y-kampus is a hub for entrepreneurship education and events. Its offering is free to all of the Tampere Universities community students and it is independent from the faculty structure of the university. The activities and development of Y-kampus is led by Y-kampus board, chaired by the RDI and business operations Vice President of the Tampere University of Applied sciences and the Director of Innovation of Tampere University.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, the Y-Kampus organised 15 courses with 43 external partners. Approximately 800 students from the Tampere Universities community participated.
All students in the community may choose to study on Y-Kampus, which is why these studies attract students with a variety of backgrounds from all possible fields. Many of them are united by their open attitude to entrepreneurship – and increasingly also by the desire to build sustainable societies.
In the courses, coaches divide the students into multidisciplinary teams where the breadth of their thinking enriches problem solving and prepares them for future working life. In a typical team, students from social sciences, business studies and, for example, from the Human-Technology Interaction and the Leadership for Change programmes, all study together. Students are also free to apply for challenge assignments that interest them.
Impact is created when real problems are solved
As a new course in the 2019-2020 academic year, the Y-Kampus portfolio started to feature innovation challenges that were implemented by multidisciplinary student groups. Instead of traditional innovation challenges that come from companies, the students sought solutions for the business community and public- and third-sector partners using ecosystem platforms and methods familiar from the IT world, such as virtual hackathons.
In the challenges, for example, the students sought solutions for the sustainable development of the food chain and to support people with depression. It was particularly significant for both students and partners that many of these multidisciplinary solutions were accepted for immediate further processing and utilisation in the partners’ activities.
In one of the most popular innovation challenges in 2019, students came up with start-up ideas that were in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
In the future, Y-Kampus teaching and co-operation will be guided even more strongly by the idea of refining knowledge, skills and activities for utilisation: If we want to achieve sustainable solutions that meet the needs of people and society, we must first strive for effectiveness. Entrepreneurship education must aim to achieve the right benefits, rather than simply promoting new, inspiring business ideas.
Finding a common language requires work
Multidisciplinarity does not arise by itself, nor simply by bringing together people from different disciplines. The deeper a student progresses in his or her field of expertise, the more challenging it can be to find common interactions with students from other fields. Each discipline has its own methodology and discourse, meaning that finding a common language requires active facilitation and pedagogical support.
In the Tampere Universities community and the activities of the Y-Kampus, the discovery of an interdisciplinary language has been supported by emphasising the multidisciplinary composition of teams and networks and by promoting interaction within teams, for example, through team learning.
In the future, entrepreneurship education will also aim to bring together people at different stages of their professional careers; students, professors, researchers, administrative staff and experts from the business world have much to offer each other.
When a natural dialogue between different fields is already resourced in the early stages of studies, the orientation of individuals in the academic world can become fundamentally multidisciplinary. The same is true of students’ capacity for entrepreneurial thinking, which is ever more required in working life.
Students want to make an impact
The general perception that people increasingly want to do things in their own work to improve the well-being of people, society and the environment is important for students and entrepreneurship education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown that our society is constantly facing new, complex challenges. In solving them, technology is an invaluable tool, but real effectiveness can only be achieved through cooperation between people, fields of science and organisations.
At its best, multidisciplinary, entrepreneurial collaboration – both within the world of science and with other actors in business and society – gives individual students a better understanding of their own special skills and strengths. From that starting place, it is easier for them to use their skills for multidisciplinary, influential activity that not only benefits them individually, but also the world of science, the academic community and the surrounding society.
“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.
All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.