Universities can benefit it they join forces and unlock students’ sense of entitlement

09-06-21 USAf 0 comment

Could the Western Cape be the setting for South Africa’s first regional powerhouse of a Science and Technology Innovation Park? 

This was one of the ideas sparked off by the presentation of Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, DVC: Learning and teaching at Stellenbosch University at USAf’s Executive Leadership Workshop in Stellenbosch last week. Professor Ramjugernath had just spoken on the sub-theme: The entrepreneurial university.

The discussion was led by Dr Poppet Pillay, Director of the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), and former convenor of the EDHE Community of Practice for Entrepreneurial Universities.

Q: Dr David Phaho (right), Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Technology, Innovation and Partnerships at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT):

“Prof Ramjugernath mentioned that a lot of highly entrepreneurial universities are located in science parks. In China these universities have the advantage that they located among thousands of SMEs and incubators, and they also have a market of a billion people. Is that kind of large-scale science park viable for a country like ours with our limited markets? Secondly, could we have opportunities for internationalisation? What are the opportunities for our entrepreneurs to expand beyond the limited markets?”

A: Professor Ramjugernath “It’s the chicken and egg scenario. Do you need a large number of SMEs in order to create a Science and Technology Innovation Park, or do you need the Science and Technology Innovation Park to be able to create the large number of SMEs?

“There are some very good examples. In North Carolina in the US, three universities form what they call the Research Triangle Park, and about 20 or 30 years ago they established a Science Technology Innovation Park. They were able to create 200 companies now based in the Innovation Park that generate revenues of over $20 billion a year.

“With regard to the market size, the African continent is also one of the largest growing markets globally. So there is the potential to create a market if we have the right kind of accessible routes through the continent. We need to look for the products that are needed by the market.

“Our institutions should be working regionally or even nationally in partnership to exploit our intellectual property, and our ideas into creating opportunities, and realising those opportunities.

“I am a strong believer that the concentration around the Winelands in the Cape Town area of the Western Cape provides the opportunity for a reasonably sized Science and Technology Innovation Park. I would say there is the backing and the right kind of mindset among institutions of higher learning, the municipalities and the provincial government to make something like that happen.

“The past mistakes in the country with regard to technology and innovation parks, is: they were seen as property investments that you hope people will migrate to, and then create this innovation park for you. That ends up being real estate management. What you really need is to have higher education institutions, generators of ideas and generators of intellectual property, working in close collaboration so that it becomes a sustainable innovation ecosystem.”

Dr Manyane Makua (left), Acting DVC Teaching & Learning at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), said he was sure they could achieve the transformation needed to create entrepreneurial universities. But he felt no one was addressing the one important component of the system, namely the students themselves, without which universities do not exist.

“We can’t ignore student mindsets, student attitudes, student dispositions, and their cultures, and presuppose that when we bring about these transformations that we talk about, they will easily result in students being entrepreneurial by virtue of them going through the systems that we will have created,” he said.

Dr Makua said there was a “saddening culture of entitlement within our higher education system”, seen by students continually making demands. “I’m sorry, higher education institutions are not welfare institutions,” he said, noting that this is a separate issue to students receiving state funding, which is a good thing.   “But we do need to bring in the student into the efforts that we are making to transform our universities, so that they begin to change the way they think about being in a university, and that they are not there because somebody owes them something.

“Some practices, even in terms of what the government does within institutions and how it administers its funding, locked students into these positions of entitlement. Now they need to unlock the students to understand why they are in the space that they are in, and how can they benefit from the systems and the transformations that we’re trying to bring into the system.”

Dr Pillay (right) said she had found DUT students to be very open to the idea of entrepreneurship. She thought most university students were very open to new ideas, depending on how these ideas were put across to them, and how they were included.

“Being inclusive is the key,” she said.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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