Universities could do more to support entrepreneurship development on their campuses

21-10-21 USAf 0 comment

Universities and higher educational facilities no longer need to produce graduates who become job seekers rather, in the current economic climate, they need to generate job creators.

This was the stance of Ms Nombulelo Ncube (far left, below), one of the students and entrepreneurs in a discussion with Ms Phetha Mchunu (middle, below) Chairperson of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Community of Practice for Studentpreneurs.

They were discussing entrepreneurship development in higher education as part of the 2nd Universities South Africa (USAf) Higher Education Conference, conducted in collaboration with the Council on Higher Education (CHE).

Ncube is from the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) and is currently studying for an advanced diploma in human resource management and is involved in two companies; one which specialises in resource and business management consulting and the other which is a mechanical and electrical engineering supply group.

Also in the discussion were Mr Mzweleni Mthethwa (far right, above), an economist and student leader from the University of Zululand and an entrepreneur owning an entertainment company as well as Ms Gugulethu Dlamini, a science and technology student at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) in Pretoria.

Within the context of graduate and youth unemployment, the national drive for small and medium enterprises and the need for third-stream income at universities, the pursuit of student and graduate entrepreneurship has been growing steadily during the last decade. In response, the EDHE programme was established in 2016, within the University Education Branch of the Department Higher Education and Training (DHET). This programme, now implemented and administered by Universities South Africa, remains largely funded from the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP) of DHET.

Explained Mchunu: “In the last few years, universities have assumed a prominent role in science-and-technology-based economic development. They have also become a hub for competitiveness for economic growth and for wealth creation within the modern world. However, there has to be radical change through the different mechanisms that universities provide to students when it comes to entrepreneurship such as information on patenting, licencing, research and so on.

“It is imperative to look at how universities are developing economically active graduates and preparing them for the world of work and entrepreneurship.”

Mthethwa spoke about his entrepreneurial journey and the challenges he faced along the way: “Access to resources has been the main issue. These are not only financial but also extend to the use of operating facilities. Higher learning institutions need to create spaces for young entrepreneurs. The lack of these and the necessary support structures has a negative impact on many students who want to follow their entrepreneurial dreams.

“It should be mandated that every university has an economic hub. They also need to employ staff who focus entirely on entrepreneurial activity and support for students. At the moment, those involved are juggling to manage their academic workload as well as the entrepreneurial activity. Students involved in businesses should also be considered and used when it comes to university procurement opportunities,” he emphasised.

Said Dlamini: “I think the most interesting part about being in a health science university is the blend between health care workers and the science and technology students and what this contributes towards creating an entrepreneurial environment.”

She elaborated: “In 2018 at SMU, we established a student entrepreneurship and innovation hub with the aim of promoting, supporting and encouraging entrepreneurship and amplifying the voice of the students who had already started a business. The following year, we received Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) funding for an incubator which helped us broaden our entrepreneurship space and look at how we could be innovative in the type of businesses our students started.

“One of the problems that we’ve encountered is students not stretching themselves into different areas of entrepreneurship and only focusing on what they are studying. They need to be innovative in their businesses and their approach. Another challenge is getting academics on board and during lectures, starting the conversation within the classroom, saying, ‘Okay, this is the work we’re doing and studying but how can we integrate this into a potential business venture and how do we solve real problems?’ We also have to look at how we get the deans at the various universities, as well as the SRCs (Student Representative Councils), on board.”

She gave examples of alumni who are running successful businesses. These include a graduate with her own dietetics practice; a maths and science department graduate who runs a company that does statistical analysis for other businesses as well as a former student who has started her own mayonnaise brand that is now commercially available.

Ncube talked about what makes an entrepreneur: “It is about having the passion to identify problems around you and make opportunities out of them. Entrepreneurship allows you to define your own success and is a stepping stone for future generations. You have to seek out your own opportunities and be willing to do things that nobody wants to do.”

For her, these were key: “The entrepreneurial hubs need strong leadership who must engage with both the university and with government. We have exited the phase where we need to create job seekers. There are no jobs so we have to generate people who can create them.

“Student leadership has to be involved because they are on the ground and know students’ needs. They need to consult with government in terms of creating policies. We facilitate and encourage entreprenership ourselves but often university policy discourages it. So, continuous engagement and assistance is vital.”

Janine Greenleaf Walker is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.