The Association of African Universities whose headquarters is based in Accra, Ghana continues to build the capacity of higher education stakeholders in different subject areas. This is in line with the fulfilment of the AAU’s pledge and mandate to contribute towards quality African Higher Education (HE), superintended by a highly skilled human resource.
A total of twelve (12) top university leaders including Vice Chancellors, Deans and Directors from Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Eswatini and Kenya attended the AAU’s workshop. Hosted under the topic; Inculcating Entrepreneurial & Job Creation Skill, the sessions were highly interactive with diverse activities and opportunities for lesson sharing and exchanges among the delegates.
The workshop, held from the 9th – 12th of May 2022, was against a background of the rising graduate unemployment, the loss of jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of national governments to generate enough jobs for everyone. In addition, the workshop also sought to assist institutions in identifying gaps and opportunities for commercialization and industrialization of staff and students’ ideas, innovations and creativity. During the discussions, emphasis was placed on implementing strategies to foster attitude and mindset change of both staff and students and creating an enabling environment to support the reversal of the trend of being job seekers instead of job creators. Delegates were also encouraged to go back and make sure that their institutions do things differently for the better. The workshop proposed and discussed various high quality instructional methods/pedagogy and entrepreneurship curricula for consideration and adoption by African Universities.
In his opening remarks, on behalf of the AAU Secretary General, the Director of Research and Projects, Prof. Damtew Teffera, said that, as one of the poorest continents, Africa needs to revive its higher education systems to produce home-grown solutions to overcome its myriad of developmental challenges. He made reference to the African Development Bank (ADB)’s White Paper, published in June 2021 titled, Entrepreneurship and Free Trade: Africa’s catalysts for a new era of Economic prosperity. In this paper, the ADB advocated for entrepreneurship, as being central to all efforts towards Africa’s socio-economic transformation. Prof. Teferra added, that he was convinced the workshop would add value to the delegates’ institutions as they attempted to build more robust ecosystems and networks in the African HEIs.
The broad areas covered by the different facilitators and guest speakers included the following; The Art of Managing Emotions, Examples of Entrepreneurial Activities Outside the Curricula, The Enterprise Culture in the African HE Context, Developing an Enterprise Strategy & an Incubation Centre, Mapping out the Desired Culture in Institutions of Higher Learning, Developing the Entrepreneurial Mindset, Developing Intrapreneurs, Examining the way forward for the African HE staff & students, Skills Development for Tomorrow’s Technology, Resolving the Entrepreneurial Mindset Challenges and The Principles of Curriculum Design for Enterprise Education.
The topics were effectively presented by facilitators from diverse backgrounds, including Dr. Violet Makuku, the AAU Project Officer and Workshops Coordinator; Dr Irene Riverson-Brew, a Senior Lecturer in the University of Westminster, London, UK; Ms. Jewel Thompson, Lecturer & Business Incubator Manager, Ashesi University, Ghana; Mr. Abednego Corletey, the ICT, Senior IT Officer and Mrs. Ayesha Owusu-Barnaby, Senior Lecturer, University of Hertfordshire, UK. Their efforts were augmented by a number of guest speakers of different related backgrounds.
Some Key Highlights from the Workshop Deliberations
Entrepreneurship leadership and emotional intelligence were highlighted by Dr. Irene Brew-Riverson as being critical catalysts to successful entrepreneurial activities by an institution. Desired characteristics identified, to be possessed by leaders to achieve the target agenda of having a fully-fledged entrepreneurial university/institution included integrity, innovativeness, creativity and being a fast thinker, among others. Regarding emotional intelligence, leaders are encouraged to transfer attributes such as hope, love and happiness within their institutions to create a conducive environment for entrepreneurship to flourish. One of the delegates encouraged all stakeholders to prioritise the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and practice efficient monitoring and evaluation in order to realize the set goals and objectives.
Ms. Jewel Thompson, one of the facilitators, concentrated on incubators, identification and grooming of students as well as commercialization and industrialization of students’ innovations and intellectual property (Copyrights and Patents). She lamented the collapsing of some students’ innovations and promising businesses once they leave the institutions without financial support to stabilize and scale up their highly promising business ventures. Again, various units in all higher education institutions were encouraged to work collaboratively in driving their institutions’ entrepreneurship agenda instead of working in silos as was the case from a number of institutions represented by the delegates.
Institutional Work Around the Inculcation of Entrepreneurship and Job Creation Skills
The delegates’ institutions were at different levels of establishing and implementing the entrepreneurship and job creation skills programmes, including the establishment of the incubation centres. While some of the institutions offer entrepreneurship and job creation skills modules/courses to their Business School students only, others offer them as university wide courses/modules. Institutions which had incubators before the COVID-19 pandemic also reported being heavily affected by the lockdowns, sicknesses and in some cases deaths of some of the incubators’ staff.
The challenges related to the Inculcation of Entrepreneurial and Job Creation Skills in Higher and Tertiary Education
Funding was identified as one of the major challenges limiting the scaling up of viable staff and students’ innovations and business plans. Another challenge is the lack of effective collaboration among students, staff and the institution in developing and registering intellectual property (patents and copyrights), as well as commercialize and industrialize goods and services. The non-inclusion of dedicated time slots on the official calendar for mentorship and grooming of students with innovative ideas to nurture and expand them into businesses was also highlighted.
The failure of institutions to approach industry players for partnerships that could benefit the students and the institutions is one challenge that was underscored. Delegates were encouraged to also connect students, especially those with distinctions, merits and great ideas to industry so that they can be supported in cash and kind to transform their research results and recommendations to intellectual property (patents and copyrights) which can then be commercialized leading to industrialization. The industry could in turn support the institutions in cash and kind, for example, with placement for internships and funding to further develop their ideas.
Mitigation Measures, Missing Links and the Way forward
The mobilisation of alumni networks to support the ingrain of entrepreneurship and job creation skills activities were identified as being important. Dr. Violet Makuku strongly advised the institutions to treat students well if they are expected to become active alumni with an attachment to their institution after completing their studies. According to her, this helps them to develop a strong positive relationship with the institutions such that long after graduating, they will remain loyal to them and are always willing to contribute to developmental activities and initiatives.
Another proposed solution was to have mentoring and counselling services for students on the subject of entrepreneurship so that they get to understand what they are doing and how they should do it better. Closely related to this is the need to teach soft skills such as creativity, teamwork, problem solving, hard work, communication and writing skills, among others to the students. The learner-centred approaches could also help the students to further develop analytical, evaluative and examination skills, which are all critical aspects of entrepreneurship and job creation skills.
Solutions to curricula related issues were also proposed by Mrs. Ayesha Owusu-Barnaby. These include the teaching and learning of entrepreneurship and job creation skills during the first year and the last year of academic studies. Other delegates proposed that the courses could be taught from the first year to the final year so that students gradually change their attitude, ways of doing things and their mindset from being job seekers to job creators. In addition, the curricula content would need to be reviewed while new related curricula should be designed to make sure that students get the appropriate knowledge and skills that can help them to eventually commercialize and industrialize the products and services they come up with. In relation to curricula issues, Dr. Makuku emphasized that every related course should have an ICT component because of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the digitalization of the workspaces and pieces of equipment which require work-ready students.
The delegates were also encouraged to be actively involved in writing grant winning proposals and to search for grant calls that are aligned to this area. Such grants could then be used to scale-up innovations and sustain the existing incubation centres and innovation hubs. One of the key aspects to take note of would be to include the Sustainable Development goals in proposal writing.
Students and institutions were advised to start with simple solutions and the low hanging fruits where their ideas and innovations would not require a lot of capital, as they could eventually expand and obtain funding to implement larger projects.
Bringing the discussions to a close, higher education institutions in Africa were encouraged to host various events targeted at inculcating entrepreneurship and job creation skills in students. The workshop ended on a high note with the certification ceremony and an encouragement to the AAU from the delegates that such workshops should be executed throughout the whole continent at regular intervals.
Written By: Dr Violet Makuku
Reviewed By: Mrs Felicia Kuagbedzi, Senior Communications Officer