National Higher Education Conference : Reinventing South Africa's Universities of the Future
The question of graduates' readiness for the world of work took centre-stage at the recent National Higher Education Conference. Questions arose on: What attributes do present day graduates need to move seamlessly from the university to the workplace? Does a degree in History also require that one also acquire administrative, marketing and financial skills to find a job or to start out on their own? So challenging is this changing workplace that the DHET has funded the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme with the purpose of equipping students and staff with entrepreneurial skills. Implemented in partnership with USAf, the programme also aims to develop universities that specifically focus on entrepreneurship as a core part of their vision.
Three speakers approached the topic from radically different perspectives. One spoke of the inculturation of an entrepreneurial spirit within her institution, the second gave a practical example of how it works within an honours course and the third delved into future scenarios for the world of work and higher education.
Making use of The 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index , Professor Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement at the Durban University of Technology, examined some of the 14 pillars that make up the index to show areas where universities are designed to respond effectively by their structure and activities. More directly useful to our institutions is HEInnovate, "an online self-assessment tool to explore their innovative potential."
"For the university practitioners, the tool guides one through a process of identification, prioritisation and action planning in eight key innovation areas," states Moyo. "Developed by the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, it allows universities and vocational education and training institutions (TVETs) to measure success over time, to download resources and to have access to experts in the field."
These resources have so inspired Moyo that her and her team are thinking of ways that they can develop an entrepreneurial strategy for the KZN region. "Through case studies and figuring out ways that staff can introduce entrepreneurial components into their existing curricula, the entire field is rapidly expanding," argues Moyo.
During 2017-2018, and in line with the EDHE programme's vision, DUT has made entrepreneurship a fundamental part of the ecosystem of the university strategy and will continue to leverage that commitment to establish closer links to the businesses and community in the region.
Entrepreneurialism in action is the best way to describe Mr Stuart Hendry's input. Hendry is the convener of the Genesis Project: Applied Management, Faculty of Commerce at the University of Cape Town. His input detailed the Honours in Entrepreneurialism that he runs at UCT. Pitched at NQF level 8, it differs from other degrees at this level in one crucial aspect. In conjunction with the intellectual rigour demanded by the course, the participating students have to form a demographically representative group and conceptualise and form a real profit generating business by the end of the year.
"Running for 27 years, the programme consists of the usual entrepreneurial components but does not end with a simulation or a business case but rather an actual product that has to be taken to market," claims Hendry. "A group from 2010 made R204 000 profit in their one year course and 125 businesses have been formed over the years." Each group has its own board of directors drawn from industry and each group has the chance to pitch their business for venture capital.
Hendry takes pride in this 'one of a kind' programme. "Students must learn while they must earn. I don't mean just the rigours of an academic curriculum, but must learn to deliver under pressure and with minimal resources."
"They will hit the wall when they feel that they cannot continue, but they have to learn to push through and, in the process, learn some metal. It is this metal that is the spark of the entrepreneurial spirit."
One of his favourite businesses was established in 2011 and is called Hout Couture. It employed four women who had been retrenched from the clothing industry in Cape Town. They made use of the workers' exceptional fine motor skills and retrained them to make bamboo frames for glasses and sunglasses, using imported Zeiss lenses. By 2014 they hit a turnover of a million a year and were exporting to four European countries.
"There are normally six to a group and it is important that the group should cohere. There are either highly functional groups or highly dysfunctional groups," Hendry insists, "but I don't really care how the groups turn out. Either way, both groups will hit the wall and both groups will learn. The only difference is that it's more fun in the functional group". The group has to hold cake and bake sales for raising initial capital - normally about R25 000 - followed by a product prototype and report in April; present a marketing research report in May and shareholders agreement by July. "This agreement has become crucial over the years," he notes "because it's normally that agreement that is taken to lawyers if disputes arise over the ownership of the brand in the future."
Hendry is busy building a Masters curriculum that aims to go bigger. "It is my ambition that at Master's level the group will have to generate a turnover of 1 billion rand in five years."
"Students are not miniature versions of ourselves. This digital generation is different and understands that information is everywhere and that the internet of things (IoT) is already here." That was the provocative opening to Professor René Pellissier's input. And she should know, as the Director of Strategy and Internationalisation, Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Starting from the perspective that universities can no longer teach the same stuff and churn out the same degree and diploma graduates as if nothing has changed, she stated: "If I was the minister of higher education and training I would be very concerned that our graduates are walking off the stage, at the end of the year with a piece of paper and no possibility of a confirmed job. And it's about to get a lot worse."
Prof Pellissier considers a simple measure like population growth. According to current trends it is assumed that by 2050 there will be 70 million people in South Africa, mostly living in and near urban centres, of which 40% will be living beneath the minimum wage. Now all things being equal, higher education should be able to respond to that future population challenge. "But all things are definitely not equal," says Prof Pellissier. "By that time, will the university as we currently know it even exist? What will we teach? Will we teach? The issue is that technology advances exponentially, humans don't."
"What humans do well, however, is adapt. We learn new skills that may be completely different to the ones that we were trained in." According to Prof Pellissier, there is a race on between the advancement of technology towards consciousness and artificial intelligence (AI) and the speed with which we can adapt. According to her research, 57% of all jobs are at the risk of being automated in the next five years; workplace automation will double in the next three years.... But, and it's a big BUT. AI and robotics could produce more jobs and not mass unemployment if we can adapt in time. She then teased out her notion of the evolving nature of HE where HE1.0 is a teacher centred model with students simply receiving knowledge, all the way to HE 1.4 where the learners are the teachers, the web is the curriculum and the staff are simply experts in particular fields who can offer support. "The future of the university is our staff's ability to help learners adapt and change skill sets.
"First and foremost it means our system has to focus on the Rolls Royce of our students, the PhD candidates. If we produce PhD graduates who are entrepreneurial, who are able to work together, who are digitally literate, who can lead change through complex problem solving and who are accelerated learners, then we have a decent chance."
Dr Oliver Seale, Executive Director of USAf's HELM programme inquired on the way that ecosystems react to the changing workplace and the need to prepare students simultaneously for formal and entrepreneurial economies prior to entering higher education. Hendry was blunt in his response. "The ecosystem is a disaster as is the lack of funding. The entrepreneurial project needs to be located in its own ecosystem outside of the university". By way of example he spoke of an initiative between Stellenbosch University and UCT to address this funding shortfall. Prof Pellissier, for her part, reminded the delegates that this was still an immature field, but pointed out the energy that was coming out of her institution by optometrists and nurses who had gained the confidence of going into business for themselves.
Ms Joyce Chappel, a Dublin-based consultant, wanted to know whether all universities have an entrepreneurial strategy already in place or whether the process was currently run as an ad hoc arrangement. In addition, how do institutions define entrepreneurial success. For Prof Moyo responded that DUT "doesn't have a policy yet; but we do have an implementation plan that came out of intensive discussion during 2018. Within one university and across the whole sector entrepreneurial activities are not coordinated and therefore we struggle to upscale initiatives". On the question of success, Prof Moyo spoke of the 1000 students at DUT that were already becoming involved in entrepreneurial projects, but agreed that much more needed to be done to communicate these effectively to the wider society.
Hendry concurred. "It is disgraceful that UCT, ranked 136 in the world still doesn't have a policy on entrepreneurship. There are a lot of brilliant projects at UCT but they're not coordinated, cohesive and yes, we need a lot more strategic and political support from within UCT." Hendry also bemoaned the general lack of financial support for entrepreneurial activities.
While many may argue that entrepreneurial initiatives are uncoordinated and immature, that looks set to change if the about-to-be published National Plan on PSET is anything to go by. Under the Goal of building a responsive sector, one of the outcomes makes the future trajectory clear: "3.3 A diverse range of mechanisms to improve research, innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship in higher education." Here's looking forward to its publication and rapid implementation.
More of what transpired on the Work Strategy Group's inspired topics will be reported on in due course.
Written by Patrick Fish, an independent writer commissioned by Universities South Africa.
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