The EDHE Programme is poised to succeed in creating entrepreneurial universities in South Africa

15-07-21 USAf 0 comment

A study undertaken to evaluate the partnership between Universities South Africa’s Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme and the British Council (South Africa) has found that in the three years of this relationship (2018 – 2021), the two entities have successfully planted the seed of developing entrepreneurial universities in South Africa, yielding promising outcomes with bigger future possibilities. 

This study, titled the Review of the British Council and Universities South Africa (USAf) Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Collaboration Programme (Phase I: 2018 – 2021)was seeking to determinetheoutcomes of the collaborative activities undertaken by the EDHE programme and the British Council during Phase One of the programme. 

Scope-wise, the review looked at the outcomes of the National University Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Baseline studythat the British Council co-commissioned with USAf in 2019, the report of which was published in February 2020.  The review also included advocacy and professional development activities implemented in the form of the EDHE Executive Leadership Workshop (ELW) and support of the EDHE Community of Practice (CoP) for Entrepreneurial Universities. The ELW, which has since become an annual event, is aimed at deputy vice-chancellors and other senior executives responsible for or supportive of entrepreneurship development at public universities. The review assessed the value and reach of the 2018 and 2019 undertakings of the ELW and the engagement work undertaken within the CoP for Entrepreneurial Universities. 

At a recent virtual webinar, Ms Megan Franklin, Co-founder, and Consultant at M&ESURE Research and Evaluation, shared the study findings with key stakeholders, namely USAf’s executive managers; British Council teams from the global, regional and South African offices and senior representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

Study Findings

The review reported on three broad areas of focus within the partnership, namely the development of a national Policy Framework for EDHE, Stakeholder Engagement and Best Practices, and Programme Awareness and Visibility.   

The study found that the partnership had achieved all activities, except the development of a policy framework, which was still underway.

  • Outcomes from the National University Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Baseline Study

From the interviews conducted in this regard, M&ESURE learned that the National University Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Baseline Study, for one, had provided insights and clarity on entrepreneurial activities going on in the public university sector. This included identifying best practices and enabling institutional benchmarking.  The study had fostered relationship building and partnerships and informed strategic processes towards entrepreneurial universities.

“Universities reported using the baseline report to develop their strategic plans; address questions around governance and entrepreneurship centre design to assist leadership in including entrepreneurship in their institutional agendas, and to create connections between international and local research that continues,” said Franklin.

Participants in the study had unanimously agreed that the baseline report would contribute to the policy framework development for university entrepreneurship. Furthermore, they lauded it for contributing to international research and putting South Africa on the map through strengthening international collaborations on entrepreneurship. 

  • Outcomes from the Executive Leadership Workshop

Looking at the Executive Leadership Workshop (ELW), the study had found that most of the ELW participants had, during their exposure in 2018 and 2019, learnt something new about either their role or their institutional role in entrepreneurship development.  The participants felt that the workshop had provided valuable engagement opportunities. They also felt that the sessions had improved their understanding of key issues in their executive role.

To cite some examples, the executives felt that their perception of what an entrepreneurial university is had changed, and they had learnt that a systematic approach was needed to making entrepreneurship a viable programme within the university sector.

The review had shed even more light.  Some ELW alumni had gone on to review and develop entrepreneurship policies and strategic plans for their institutions; they had engaged colleagues and peers and established collaboration relationships across the system, while others had undertaken curricula review processes to entrench entrepreneurship development within their institutions. 

  • Findings on Communities of Practice

Furthermore, study participants had indicated that EDHE’s inclusive approach to the inception of communities of practice and how they are linked to the programme was valued by universities’ stakeholders. That approach was said to have created a positive and supportive environment, resulting in partnerships and engagements between universities. This had undoubtedly resulted in a shift in universities’ staff perceptions of the importance of entrepreneurship. 

  • Some challenges uncovered  

For all the good that the study had exposed, some challenges had also come to the fore. These included difficulties in reorientating universities from their traditional focus of knowledge generation towards the more practical application of knowledge. The review had also surfaced the need for design and formalisation of entrepreneurship governance frameworks and strategy per university.  

On the EDHE programme itself, participants mentioned the team’s capacity and the programme’s overall sustainability. In addition, they looked at the exclusion of TVET institutions as a barrier “in so far as sharing learnings to broader role players,” explained Franklin.

“In light of this, the recommendations emanating from the review relate to strategies to leverage and capitalise the gains made through Phase One of the EDHE programme,” Franklin concluded.

EDHE’s and the British Council’s impression of the past three years

On progress observed in the past three years, Dr Norah Clarke (left), Director: EDHE, said, “We have seen universities change radically. We have seen them step up and think about their role in society; about their mandate and, in many cases, we have seen the mandate of the universities moving somewhat towards including not only teaching and learning, research and community engagement, but also an aspect of entrepreneurship development as many of these universities position themselves towards becoming more entrepreneurial institutions.” She acknowledged that some of this success could directly be attributed to the partnership with the British Council.

Ms Meekness Lunga-Ayidu (right), Science and Higher Education Programme Manager at the British Council (South Africa) explained that the relationship with EDHE had begun in 2018, with a series of consultations with national stakeholders to identify areas of mutual interest and key priorities for the higher education sector.

Through those consultations, the two entities had identified alignment especially on responding to the growing needs of young South Africans.

Summing up the past three years, Professor Ahmed Bawa (left), USAf’s CEO, said that the EDHE programme had successfully established a national platform; built a huge network of people connected to the entrepreneurship focus and strengthened by the establishment of five communities of practice, all aligned to the objectives of EDHE.  These objectives are to position students to participate in economic activity; to support entrepreneurship through teaching, learning and research and through multi-disciplinary learning and, finally, to develop and support entrepreneurial universities. Professor Bawa said the CoP for Entrepreneurial universities had played a significant role in steering their universities towards becoming entrepreneurial universities.

A Q&A session from the webinar

Q1: How can we define the concept of entrepreneurial university?

Dr Poppet Pillay, Durban University of Technology: I think an entrepreneurial university is one that brings all its staff together regardless of what they are doing; thinks out of the box and is highly creative in developing the university and entrepreneurship within the university.

Ms Charlene Duncan, University of the Western Cape: …I think of a university that can innovate, recognise, and create new competencies. Now, often we talk about the development of an entrepreneurial mindset and we talk about the competencies of an entrepreneur. It is those very competencies that, as universities, we need to embrace, to become entrepreneurial. I will give you two examples: being able to take risks and identify opportunities, and collaboration.

Dr Norah Clarke: Definitions are sometimes distractions from getting the work done. That is why, from the EDHE side, we are careful to not get caught in the debates about definitions. We try to steer clear from those definitions and try to include as much as possible in our scope, every university’s approach towards supporting and advancing entrepreneurial activity and action, while also inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship.

Q2: Could you please indicate whether each university has a contact point for entrepreneurship? 

Dr Norah Clarke:  …We are hoping that our soon-to-be-piloted Economic Activation Office model would serve as that central point through which information and communication could flow in terms of everything entrepreneurship within an institution. So, if a student or staff member or member of the public were to engage with a university on entrepreneurship and they did not know where to go, this would be the starting point. So, this is a point of coordination and sharing of information. What we are envisioning is that universities will consider establishing internal communities of practice to draw together stakeholders and representatives from within that university. It might be staff or students – in the case of a student-focused community of practice. By just doing that, stakeholders become aware of what the other is doing. Simply having these conversations ignites activity and, often, collaboration. In this case then of course there is a second step that follows, and that is where the EDHE Programme comes in to make sure that the connection is established across the different universities.

Q3: Are there any plans to include TVET colleges in the second phase of the programme? If yes, what initial areas of synergy could be explored in TVETs?

Dr Norah Clarke: We would love to work with TVETs colleges and, we unofficially do in several of our projects. But we do not have the mandate and there is no additional funding in our current budget to include TVET colleges. The good news is that the TVET branch in the Department of Higher Education and Training is taking steps in bringing more support for entrepreneurship into the TVET space. So, we are pleased to hear that and I support that.  Universities South Africa’s stance, encouraged by our CEO, is that universities as individual entities must collaborate and engage with their neighbouring TVET colleges to drive and support entrepreneurship.

Q4: Are there opportunities to learn from collaborations with universities beyond the UK and South Africa? 

Ms Meekness Lunga-Ayidu: Yes, there are opportunities within the EDHE Programme. One example is the International Virtual Tour that we started last year, and that virtual tour allowed us to go as far and wide as we could envision. Last year we engaged with colleagues from about eight to 10 countries if I am not mistaken. We foresee that we will continue with that project in EDHE Phase Two. Then more specifically, from a British Council perspective, we have just launched the Innovation for African Universities programme. It will focus on strengthening the role of universities in the entrepreneurship ecosystem of four countries in Africa – Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya, also working in collaboration with the UK. So, that is another opportunity to learn, to engage and interact with entrepreneurship leaders and practitioners from other countries and not just the UK and South Africa. 

To hear more on the partnership between the EDHE Programme and the British Council, click on this short clip

The writer, Nqobile Tembe, is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.