Research, Education, and Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Saskia J.M. Harkema

(Saskia J.M. Harkema, a researcher, motivator, and author from the Netherlands, specializes in entrepreneurship and innovation. She has developed numerous innovative programs aimed at motivation and entrepreneurship and has authored many books and research articles. In an email interview with Surendra Prasad Ghimire, Harkema delves into the interplay between research, education, entrepreneurship, and university education within a neoliberal society. This interview is particularly significant as it highlights the current realities of research, education, and entrepreneurship, revealing how global markets shape universities, turning them into integral components of the market and industry. Saskia J.M. Harkema can be reached through

Hello mam, hope you are fine. First, I would like to hear about your daily routine, particularly in applied research, innovation, and entrepreneurship?

I work on these topics daily in various ways. My focus is on societal innovation through entrepreneurship and fostering change, creativity, and innovation at the individual level to cultivate change makers. I view entrepreneurship as a vital engine of change for both societies and economies, as it can disrupt and renew the status quo. On a personal level, entrepreneurship provides the opportunity and freedom to pursue one’s dreams and passions, enabling the creation of something meaningful.

Let us begin with the role of research. What is the role of research in entrepreneurship, and how do you connect university education, the concept of an incubation centre in the university and college, and its role in generating and promoting business ideas in students?

Research is very crucial because it allows us to work in an evidence-based manner. We learn from successes and failures that others have gone through.  We can use such lesions to give shape to our own ideas. The connection between entrepreneurship through an incubator and education is essential in generating business ideas. Research has shown that entrepreneurship depends on education. The myth that entrepreneurship is primarily about innate talent or having a family background in business has been debunked. Education is important, to be able not only to generate ideas, but also to manage your business through the different phases of its life cycle.

In this context, I would like to connect the role of PUM Netherlands in promoting research in business and entrepreneurship elsewhere and in academia. Please share more about PUM Netherland’s role in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in academia.

PUM as an organization is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands. Its policy is to support countries with fragile economies, to spur innovation and entrepreneurship. In trying to unleash the entrepreneurial potential that is dormant in a society, it is very important to start with education, because youth have to really consider becoming an entrepreneur as a viable alternative to seeking a job in a company in the profit or non-profit sector. We work in more than 30 different countries, and this allows us to also build a large knowledge repository on both innovation and entrepreneurship, which we can tap into when we are doing a mission in a country.

What is the present trend of research in entrepreneurship? Are you satisfied with this? What are the latest challenges that you have observed in the process of researching and supervising? What do you suggest to management students?

In general I would say that entrepreneurship has not been a serious knowledge domain for a long time that was considered as worthwhile to be studied by academics. This is fortunately changing. Entrepreneurship already in a very early stage (in 1934 by Joseph Schumpeter) has been coined down as an important vehicle to spur innovation and ignite a process of creative destruction, which is needed in a society to avoid what is called ‘structural inertia’. This phenomenon takes place in both societies and organizations – it freezes the ways we do things and develops routines which eventually may be counterproductive. Hence a process of creative destruction is needed to create renewal. You can compare it to a pond with water. If the water stands still, all life will eventually die in the pond. In an economy it is the same: you need innovation and entrepreneurship to create a dynamic environment which thrives.

Some scholars claim that research should address local issues and transform the lives of ordinary people by solving their problems; however, other focused on the global context. What is your view? What might be the role of researchers in the present globalized context of the world?

Nowadays, whether we want it or not, we live in a globalized world. We are all interconnected. The impact of this we experienced in 2008 with the financial crisis which washed over the world, corona in 2019, and nowadays the war which threatens to escalate to a world war. I think that we insufficiently understand what the ramifications are of this globalization on a local economy. Looking at Nepal as an example, your economy depends largely on what happens in China and India. This has its drawbacks because globalization is driven fiercely by efficiency, access to resources and profit. So we see a huge inequality in the world, where some countries have become suppliers of raw materials and labor at low cost, while other countries are making huge amounts of money over their back. If we want to be serious about the Sustainable Development Goals, we have to create a world order which equally benefits all countries, and not just a few.

What do you think of the present trend of controlling knowledge production by creating various imperatives and parameters for researching and publishing?

 Academia has always been governed by a dominant paradigm, which dictates the parameters for publishing and research. In my view, this has stifled experimentation and innovation. Academics should have the role of standing above any political or religious ideology in society. The autonomy and independence of academics are paramount to ensuring that the knowledge we produce is unbiased and not serving any political or religious agenda. Academics should be free to search for answers to all the complex issues we are facing, unrestricted by set parameters that inhibit them from seeing the larger picture.

In the present context, the notion of genre boundaries has been blurred. In such a situation, are there any fundamental differences between research in business and other social sciences? If yes, what might be the basic differences between them? 

Corporations or business nowadays also have an important say in academia. This resulted in a distinction between what we call scientific knowledge and applied knowledge. Scientific knowledge is meant to contribute to a specific body of knowledge and contribute to either validate or falsify existing theory on a specific topic. Applied knowledge on the contrary is meant to contribute to the practice of business and is validated by the fact that it indeed contributes to the improve or change it. As such there is not a fundamental difference between the rigor that is required to develop evidence-based knowledge. In practice however applied knowledge is coined as ‘less scientific’ by the academic community because it is too practical. I refute this distinction because it is an artificial one that merely rests on the earlier mentioned premises of academia. In my view there is insufficient room to try things out, experiment, fail, discover that things are not working. That does not serve us.

Let’s now come to the present context of universities. As we see, universities largely focus on producing employable manpower in the market.  In this sense, universities play a role as if they are part of the market and industry. What do you think of its benefits and its impact on the future of students and the nation?

In principle educational institutes always have had the role of being a source of supply to the economy in terms of knowledge and labor. Universities primarily serve the academic community, while polytechnics or universities of applied sciences cater to businesses. This has created a binary system, which in my view needs to be revisited. I think it is in the benefit of a nation and economy if education – whether applied or scientific – is geared at contributing to the economic development of a nation, create opportunities for youth to work and develop themselves and spurs innovation and entrepreneurship. Students leave a country, if they feel they have no opportunities to create a future for themselves. By creating a healthy and thriving eco-system in which education, government and business work together, all stakeholders also commit in creating this healthy and thriving environment.

In the present context, privatization and marketization in education have increased almost worldwide. University education has been limited to producing a skilled workforce for markets and industries. Its focus is on production, promoting business, profits, privatization, marketization, and the survival of lives, which kills the basic concept of education. The university has been transformed into a training space instead of providing critical education. Do you agree with this? What is your view of university education in its true sense?

It is obvious that the influence on business has increased dramatically over the course of time. Education has also become an instrument to serve the agenda of businesses. The problem is that the business model of business is another one than that of universities. Businesses are driven by: shareholder value, profit, growth, return on investment, efficiency and effectiveness. Universities more and more are adopting this same business model, whereby students are seen as commodities that have to be ‘pushed’ through the value chain between input and output, as fast as possible to realize this efficiency. This goes at the expense not only of the knowledge they gather, but also to the fact that there is no room for students to work outside the set parameters the universities dictates. This goes at the expense of their talent, and it also stifles creativity and innovation. They just want to get their degree as fast as possible and a job. This should not be the sole purpose of following an education.

By adopting a neoliberal education policy, I mean focusing on the privatization and marketization of the education system, which made education a commodity or part of the market; thus, those who have money could get a better education. This created disparity in providing education at the national and international levels. What is your perspective on this?

Yes, there is a disparity in education, when the market is liberalized. This is the result of our economic thinking which rests upon ideas that go back to Adam Smith ‘On the Wealth of Nations’. The question is whether education should also be seen as a ‘business’, because this is what happens when you privatize the sector. New players enter the market, and they start to compete with each other. This has changed the dynamics in the sector fundamentally and has not necessarily served neither the ‘production’ of knowledge, nor the overall competencies, skills and capabilities that students acquire in the course of their education.

What is the role of technology (ICT, AI, and other latest innovations) in promoting university education? In recent years, the use of ICT in university education has increased. We generally discuss the positive aspects of ICT in education. However, it has darker aspects, such as the digital divide, which creates educational disparity. In your view, how can we minimize them?

When I was studying Sociology I wrote a thesis on the effect of technology on culture. At that time – and I am speaking about the 1980’s – people like Joseph Weizenbaum and Sherry Turkle were extremely critical about this quest to develop technology no matter what. They foresaw it would have a huge impact on us, which not necessarily would be positive. Sherry Turkle already back then voiced her concern about the alienation it may cause on individual level, of young people becoming hooked to internet and computers. Joseph Weizenbaum foresaw that technology would become uncontrollable if we did not also involve ethics in the debate whether yes or no we should pursue some development. Reality proves they were right and ICT has taken a course of its own and also been discovered by corporations as a means to make huge amounts of money. So AI is heralded as the holy grail of the future, but I think we have created a monster which we cannot control anymore. It already became visible in the global financial crisis, when a journalist asked one of the top CEO’s of one of the banks whether they knew what exactly was occurring and if the damage could be contained. He honestly replied: I have no idea how to stop this, and I barely understand how this could have happened in the first place.

Finally, as an experienced researcher, entrepreneur, consultant, manager, program developer and author, what message or suggestion would you like to give to the researchers and students of management?

Youth hold the future. In part we are handing them the knowledge that we have acquired throughout our lives and career. In a sense this is ‘old’ knowledge which has been developed under specific circumstances. Knowledge is always contextual. Students have to be critical and question what does not make sense to them, because this is how we can also open up new paths for research and development of knowledge. This is what universities should also be: a space where they can search, research, experiment, explore in search for answers to the pressing and very complex problems we are facing in the world. I believe unconditionally in the potential and ability of students to bring us further if we allow them to spread their wings.

(Interviewer Surendra Prasad Ghimire is a researcher whose research works span in several national and international publications, as well as presentations at diverse academic conferences. His areas of research interest include Cultural Studies, Subaltern Studies, Resistance Studies, and Politics of Language. He has also been teaching language and literature at Hetauda School of Management and Social Science, Hetauda, Makawanpur. He can be accessed through