A total of 18 of South Africa’s 26 public universities were represented at the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2021 finals last week – and the address delivered virtually by Ms Mandisa Cakwe, Acting Chief Director: Teaching, Learning and Research Development in the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET’s) University Education Branch, was heart-warming.
Both she and the Chief Executive Officer of Universities South Africa (USAf), Professor Ahmed Bawa, noted with pleasure that four institutions had made it to the finals for the first time since the inception of the intervarsity in 2019. “We note this progress as we congratulate Cape Peninsula University of Technology; Mangosuthu University of Technoloy, the University of Western Cape and Walter Sisulu University,” Ms Cakwe said. She commended these institutions for growing an entrepreneurial interest and making it all the way to the finals in this year’s competition
Professor Bawa echoed these sentiments, adding that he felt proud to be a part of this Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) event that celebrated exceptional young people at this, the 3rd annual Intervarsity event since 2019. The event was hosted in a hybrid format from Kempton Park – outside Johannesburg.
Ms Cakwe (right) was delighted that 4168 business entries had been received – later whittled down to 150 qualifying entries and reduced even further to 28 finalists. However, she voiced her concern at the non-representation of eight universities in the finals this year saying: “This will have to be attended to urgently as the main objective is to have the entire higher education sector participate, notwithstanding the disruptions of CoViD-19.”
Introducing her as the keynote speaker, Professor Bawa explained that EDHE marked “one of the most important partnerships between DHET and USAf. Ms Cakwe leads the University Capacity Development Programme – an important programme within DHET – where she has become a champion for teaching and learning development. She has integrated that passion into EDHE and constantly brings us back to the basics.”
Professor Bawa attributed EDHE’s Student Women Economic Empowerment (SWEEP) Programme – which aims to build young women entrepreneurs – to Ms Cakwe. “The important thing about this partnership, and Mandisa’s managing of it, is that it brings together government and universities into a single enterprise around the important challenge of building a new generation of entrepreneurs.”
Government, institutions and business partnership critical
Emphasising the importance of partnerships between government, universities, and the private sector, he acknowledged the SAB Foundation and the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation as important sponsors of the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity.
“Getting government into the game provides universities with the ability to build policy consonance,” the USAf CEO said.
In her keynote address, Ms Cakwe began by thanking USAf for implementing EDHE, a programme of the DHET which the department could not implement on its own. “USAf became involved after a government request. I am happy to say that we have a very good relationship with USAf and all our public universities.”
Ms Cakwe thanked all universities for partnering with USAf to implement EDHE, adding that buy in from the universities was critical. She said: “This Intervarsity event is both timely and important, representing, as it does, a significant boost to our joint effort to build entrepreneurial universities.”
Linking policy planning to the World of Work
She said the urgency of such a programme is made clear in South African policy and planning documents. For example, the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training — building an expanded and integrated post school system, clearly lays out the priorities for higher education in South Africa.
“One of these – relevant to this Intervarsity event– is a stronger and more co-operative relationship between education and training institutions and the workplace, post school and education training systems that are responsive to the needs of individual citizens, employers in both private and public sectors, as well as broader societal and developmental objectives.”
Cakwe also cited the DHET’s National Plan for Post-School Education and Training, one of whose goals was improved interface between post school education and training providers and the World of Work. “It calls for partnerships with key stakeholders to be established to enable the implementation of joint initiatives to strengthen linkages between research, innovation entrepreneurship and commercialisation in higher education,” she said.
EDHE was therefore meant to build a university entrepreneurship programme that focused on developing student and academic entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial universities. Said Ms Cakwe: “It’s those three area objectives that this programme focuses on. This intervarsity event is just one of a number of initiatives that are being rolled out through this programme.” She said the new growth path and industrial policy action plan all identified research and technological innovation as important for job creation and for making SA industries more competitive globally.
“This starts with the development of skills in areas such as entrepreneurship from an early age – and this is exactly what the department is trying to do.” She added that knowledge production in this area must increase if South Africa’s developmental goals are to be achieved.
Programme and network expansion on the cards
She mentioned that although EDHE currently focuses on universities, on-going discussions are looking into extending the programme to the entire post-school education and training system. “We will include TVET colleges and community education colleges. Watch this space, it’s coming,” she said to applause.
To ensure policy coherence and inter-governmental cooperation necessary to drive improved entrepreneurial universities and innovation, DHET worked closely with primary partners such as USAf, Cakwe went on to say. That said, DHET was still looking to identify other partners to work with, to develop an extensive network of funding opportunities for entrepreneurship.
That the portfolios of Higher Education and Training and Science and Innovation had now been brought under one ministry, meant that “entrepreneurship programmes such as this one will be strengthened, going forward,” Cakwe stated.
She added: “The purpose of this competition is to identify the top student entrepreneurs at each university, to showcase their businesses and invite investment into these corporate start-ups. We appeal to business to support our young innovative students and to encourage their efforts.”
She said that high on the list for South Africa’s economic development and future success is the ability of young people – graduates in particular – to become successful entrepreneurs. They would create successful jobs and develop ideas that had the potential to grow into future business enterprises.
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa