top of page


SIEF Webinar No. 1: University leadership post Covid-19: the entrepreneurial challenge

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

4th September 2020

See the full webinar:

Download the Briefing Note for the webinar:

Gibb Celebration Webinar 1 Brochure
Download PDF • 3.13MB

Reimaging futures amidst and beyond Covid-19

At the start of the webinar, a collection of photos of the late Professor Allan Gibb curated by Marju Unt (Founder and CEO, Estonian Euromanagement Institute) and musically supported with Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, rolled across the screen. An evocative and visceral welcome to the first webinar in the series on ‘Reimagining Our Futures’ organised by the Societal Innovation and Enterprise Forum (SIEF). The event served to celebrate Allan’s legacy in the field of Entrepreneurship and Small Business; with the first topic exploring how university leadership post Covid-19 requires an entrepreneurial response. An interactive and engaging discussion followed between an international panel of practitioners and experts, moderated by Professor Andrew Atherton, Global Director of Transnational Education (TNE) at Navitas. Panellists included:

University leadership post Covid-19: the entrepreneurial challenge

The panellists reflect upon the dark clouds of the pandemic and offer some tantalising hope for a better future; that opportunity can and will arise even in crises. Each one brought perspectives from different parts of the world, offered different institutional lenses with which to view university leadership, and provided insights about responses in higher education to Covid-19. They offered insights and ideas about how the pandemic has further augmented and accelerated the mandate for change in universities.

The panel

‘Widening Access’ and ‘Thinking Beyond Walls’

Universities must become drivers of change, particularly given that beyond the walls of our institutions of higher education the impact of the pandemic is most acutely felt in communities around them, now disadvantaged even more so as the pandemic causes economic and social disruption. The university model, its policies, procedures and organisation are rich for review, and according to Professor Slavica Singer, ripe for Allan’s ‘principles of creative destruction’. Dr Pramath Raj Sinha emphasised the importance of taking the university experience outside its physical walls, outside the limits of the current sets of students and faculty, to adults and learners who would have otherwise never experienced high-quality learning. Yes, agreed Mr Ian Dunn in responding to this assertion: “there is so much more to do beyond the open courses, to make our institutions open to everyone, for everyone to access and have a voice”. Summing up panel contributions, Dr Susan Frenk explained “it’s not just about physical presence inside the university walls, but the active living relationships with the communities in which they’re geographically based, and the communities we have around the world“.

Leveraging technology

Ian celebrated the agility and creativity of the work achieved recently by the many academic institutions across the globe, facilitated in the main part by technology. From liberating formal assessment regimes to more open access to university learning. Yet the pandemic has exposed flaws in long-term strategies; massive investment in buildings an obvious one. Instead, he argued for universities to create versatile virtual estates, leveraging technology further. Ian urged university leaders to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset to deal with the current complexities head-on. Reflecting on his conversations with Allan, Ian framed the landscape for our educational futures as a wicked problem shaped by uncertainty and complexity: “You have to be comfortable with not knowing all of the answers, putting your toes in the water, taking some risks, even some pain”. Pramath highlighted that entrepreneurship is most effective under conditions of resource scarcity and constraint, and, as Allan would say, success would come to those individuals and institutions who could respond innovatively or creatively, and work with business, small and large, as well as the government.

‘The only solution we have right now in our limited capacities is using technology‘. -Dr Pramath Raj Sinha

Yaman Islim supplemented this view with the call for universities to focus laser-like on the quality of the online student experience and engagement. Students are their greatest asset. And, this, he said, necessitates investment in more research and better technological platforms in this area, predicting that the quality of the virtual experience for students will become a key metric in university rankings.

Allan once asked ‘what is the difference between the University and the graveyard?’ And we looked at him, he was smiling, and he said ‘none!’ Let’s get radical, lest someone else fill our place. Let’s develop partnerships, with the government, the business sectors, and especially with the students. – Professor Emeritus Slavica Singer

Hope, Roots, Partnership, and Critical Pedagogy

Whilst recognising universities come in many shapes and forms and with distinct histories, Dr Susan Frenk called for a return to values. Institutes of higher education have become constrained and shaped by their funding models, and this has distracted from their original ethos. Key stakeholders must rise above the audit and competition culture, and be open to learning from anyone and everyone else, to work with the very challenging and often fast-moving realities. “Education isn’t a one-way process. It’s very much reciprocal. It’s sharing. It’s partnership. Collaboration between individuals and groups of academics and the wider community is crucial” suggested Susan. It is now necessary to reconfigure what constitutes a university relationship, pursue ‘interdisciplinary interaction’, and both work with, and for business, providing a ‘reflective space, for small and medium business owners’.

And being radical doesn’t mean tearing things up from the roots. Problematic aspects of globalisation come from the people who do not feel rooted anywhere. Digitalisation should be employed to help universities to retain a sense of a real place, for the people who populate it, whilst still reaching out to exchange with, and learn from other places. Notwithstanding the move to everything online in light of the pandemic lockdown, face-to-face teaching still matters. Universities must reflect upon and cherish their roots whilst embracing innovation.

When the going gets tough…

It is clear that the panel views the current context as a pot of bubbling opportunity and driver for radical change. Pramath tendered personal and practical examples of an entrepreneurial spirit taking advantage of windows of opportunity to get ‘good things’ done quickly. Yet it requires a leap of faith and some risk. Yaman concluded, universities should lead by example and embrace risk. In fact, they should make more explicit in their leading, and in their teaching, that ‘failure’ is acceptable. There is no shame starting with something and failing. The opportunities for university leaders are many fold, as are the challenges. In these ‘tough times’ should universities be taking clear positions and effecting change around wider socio-economic inequalities and structural disadvantages, such as racial discrimination (Black Lives Matter), environmental degradation, the erosion of free speech and ‘fake news’, the ‘decolonising’ and opening up of curricula to diverse and hierarchically challenging views and experiences?

Covid-19 or not, university leaders must respond.

Rolling Credits

“So deep in my heart so that you’re really a part of me” (Porter, 1938).

Allan, your legacy runs deep and is very much alive.

Thanks to all the panellists, and the efforts of the Societal Innovation and Enterprise Forum (SIEF) organising committee, including Andrew Atherton, Dinah Bennett, Susan Frenk, Ted Fuller, Yolanda Gibb, Gay Haskins, Keith Herrmann, Andy Penaluna, Kathryn Penaluna, Jane Rindl, Slavica Singer, Mike Thomas and Marju Unt.

The Societal Innovation and Enterprise Forum (SIEF) has its roots in the Durham Symposium held in 2015 to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Small Business Centre created by Professor Allan Gibb. In Allan’s words, SIEF is to “act as a catalyst for social and economic innovation, stimulate debate and innovative thinking, develop new models and programmes, thereby contributing to inclusive and sustainable regional development, and harnessing the contribution of the independently owner-managed business and other stakeholders.”

Links/Works Cited

Gibb, A., Haskins, G., Hannon, P. & Robertson, I. (2009/12) ‘Leading the Entrepreneurial University’, The National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE)

Gibb, A. (2003) In Pursuit of a New’ Enterprise’ and ‘Entrepreneurship’ Paradigm for Learning: Creative Destruction, New Values, New Ways of Doing Things and New Combinations of Knowledge.

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – written by Cole Porter in 1936

For more detail on the life and works of Professor Allan Gibb


bottom of page