The University of Pretoria (UP), Universities South Africa (USAf) and other stakeholders recently sat down with the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme to discuss the challenges of business and start-up development in higher education, as well as the strides made thus far.

The discussion took place during the EDHE’s fifth annual national lekgotla, a four-day event that was hosted at UP’s Future Africa Institute and online, and saw academics, researchers and scholars from various fields deliberate on the theme ‘Entrepreneurship Against All Odds’. This year’s EDHE lekgotla aimed to facilitate the sharing of good practices, and emerging practices and initiatives in university entrepreneurship.

The EDHE programme offers new insights and recommendations, while developing key aspects in positioning universities for their role in entrepreneurship, innovation, commercialisation and policy development. This is achieved by creating opportunities for networking and collaboration, while identifying and addressing challenges in entrepreneurship development at universities.

Welcoming participants on day one of the event, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe pointed out that national entrepreneurship development in universities is gaining momentum globally as tertiary institutions move away from academically focused structures and ways of operating, and towards inclusive, flexible, student-led curricula that reflect the world of work today and in the future.

“The nature and magnitude of entrepreneurial activities varies wildly, just as in South Africa there is rich diversity and uniqueness across every university,” he said. “It is important that each university embraces its individual identity and discovers its own path to becoming entrepreneurial, because in the world of education, there is no one-size-fits-all model.”

USAf Chief Executive Officer Prof Ahmed Bawa noted that this event indicates how the EDHE lekgotla has matured, and how vital it has become to the university sector. “USAf is delighted to be the parent body of EDHE; also, the EDHE sits at the centre of constructive partnership between the Department of Higher Education and Training and USAf. We are grateful to UP for co-hosting with the EDHE.”

Prof Bawa added that this kind of partnership is central to working towards a common goal. “South Africa is a multi-layered democracy,” he said. “Alongside that, it is an economy that is hinged to the idea of being accelerated by riding the wave of technology of the fourth industrial revolution, as this technology is seen as a platform for job opportunity and to grow our economy, though that has risks as well. Societies like South Africa create and sustain universities particularly to serve the purpose of having a vibrating democracy and culture, and building a growing economy. Universities are not government departments or NGOs, but knowledge-intensive institutions.”

Some of the topics discussed during the event included student economic participation through entrepreneurial activity – presented by the national EDHE Community of Practice for Student Entrepreneurship and the EDHE Studentpreneurs Community of Practice – and finding solutions to best address the under-representation of female students in entrepreneurship.

“I took a risk and quit my nine-to-five job to start my own business,” said Elijah Djan, a UP alumnus who was part of EDHE’s programme. He is the owner of Nubrix, a company that recycles wastepaper to create bricks used for building. “I went broke, but I carried on. I attended a lot of business societies to gain better insight. I even skipped classes to attend business classes. As a result, it took me six years to complete a four-year degree. EDHE has helped me to meet other business owners who are more seasoned and have been in the space for years, and I realised that I am not the only one who thinks I can change the world with my business.”

Dr Nokuthula Mavela is co-founder of Mideh, which manufactures personal-care products made from medicinal indigenous plants. “The entrepreneurship journey has been enriching. The company was registered in 2021. However, we were operating on an informal and limited basis until 2020 when we joined the Durban University of Technology’s EDHE entrepreneurship cohort. Since then, we have gone through incubation and mentorship, and received funding. We are now on the path to commercialisation.”

Dr Mavela stressed that women are capable of taking on leadership roles. “It is critical that we play a role in economic growth and development. Our continent should be for us by us, because we are the custodians of our future, and our country and continent depend on us.”

To watch day one’s sessions, click here; for day two, click here; and for day three sessions, click here.

– Author Xolani Mathibela
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni
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