Research - 22.08.2014 - 00:00 

Studying in an entrepreneurial way

In an international comparison, students in Switzerland and Germany are less entrepreneurial than students in other regions. This is revealed by the latest survey of the GUESS project, for which HSG researchers examined students’ entrepreneurial engagement in 34 countries.


26 August 2014. Living in an entrepreneurial way and starting up firms: this continues to be the dream of many students throughout the world, as the latest survey of the Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students’ Survey, or GUESSS for short, has revealed. Researchers of the Swiss Research Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of St.Gallen (HSG) directed the study. They interviewed 7,419 students at 41 Swiss universities and 10,556 students at 45 German universities. The survey examines 34 countries.

Switzerland and Germany have some catching up to do: five years after graduation, 17.7% of all students want to be entrepreneurially active in Switzerland. In Germany, the figure is 17.6%. In an international comparison, they thus occupy 29th and 30th place. First place is occupied by Mexico with a value in excess of 60%. Basically, industrial countries were worse off than, say, emerging countries. At 18.4%, Austrian students are hardly more entrepreneurial (28th place). “It is urgently advisable to continue to foster entrepreneurship among students,” says Prof. Dr. Philipp Sieger, GUESS project leader and national representative of Switzerland at the Swiss Research Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of St.Gallen.

More founders, fewer entrepreneurial intentions

An interesting development can be observed for both Switzerland and Germany. In comparison with the last survey of 2011, the proportion of students who already own a firm of their own has increased: in Switzerland to 2.2% and in Germany to 4.6%. However, the number of students who want to be entrepreneurially active five years after graduation has decreased from 27% in 2011 to 17.7%; in Germany, the corresponding decrease was from 32.1% to 17.6% (internationally applied calculation basis). The currently improved conditions on the labour market are bound to have played a role in this.

Quality instead of quantity in Switzerland and Germany

A further approach to an explanation of this development lies in the role played by the kind of entrepreneurship education provided by universities. The extension of the number of courses at universities and Fachhochschulen, as well as an increase in the quality of these courses, lead to a situation whereby students receive more profound insights into an entrepreneur’s career and are able to get an increasingly realistic idea of what it means to be an entrepreneur. On the strength of this, some students appear to opt against such a career deliberately.

Then again, other students find their start-up interests confirmed by the courses taught at universities, and they also acquire the knowledge and the competencies required to become successful entrepreneurs. This also results in an increasing number of firms already being set up while their founders are still at university. “Although all in all, fewer students want to be entrepreneurially active than just a few years ago, those who intend to be are better prepared, have thought more carefully about it and may have realised their start-up while still studying,” says Dr. Heiko Bergmann, Germany’s national representative.

Entrepreneurial education at universities thus appears to lead to a selection process through which the number of planned start-ups decreases while at the same time, the prospects of success for planned or already established companies must be rated higher.

The GUESSS project

The Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students’ Survey examines students’ entrepreneurial intentions and activities. The GUESSS project was launched by Dr. Frank Halter at the Swiss Research Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of St.Gallen in 2003. Under the Institute’s direction and with the support of Ernst & Young (EY), the project has grown steadily. Today, it is one of the world’s biggest research projects in the field of entrepreneurship: more than 750 universities in 34 countries, as well as 109,000 students, participated in the 2013/2014 survey co-organised by over 50 researchers.

The national reports of Switzerland and Germany, as well as the comparative international project report, are available from the website of the GUESSS Project.

Discover our special topics