A new Student Entrepreneurship Support (SES) Self-Assessment Tool, currently under development, could be the solution to evaluating the success and effectiveness of entrepreneurship programmes at South African universities.

At the recently concluded 6th Annual EDHE Lekgotla 2022 that was hosted by Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha, in the Eastern Cape, Professor Shelley Farrington (right, above), Associate Professor at Nelson Mandela University, and Mr Riyaad Ismail (middle), a PhD candidate and research assistant in the Department of Business Management at Nelson Mandela University, joined Dr Alex Bignotti (left), Senior Lecturer: Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Pretoria, to introduce and showcase the outcomes of their international collaborative project with Ghent University (Belgium). Also participating in the discussion were the scholars’ Belgian research collaborants, who participated remotely.

The project is focusing on improving student entrepreneurship support at South African public universities in order to mitigate youth unemployment.

Professor Farrington (right) began by giving a background to the project which was initiated in 2019. She explained that this SES Assessment Tool is being designed to be used by those who champion, promote or coordinate student entrepreneurship support. It is a self-assessment survey aimed at creating awareness of, gain insights into and assess student entrepreneurship backing.

The SES project objectives were:

  • Assess the state of university-based student entrepreneurship support at South African public universities;
  • Identify best practices in terms of university-based student entrepreneurship support;
  • Present the best practices in the form of a project report and case studies;
  • Develop a Student Entrepreneurship Support Assessment Tool; and
  • Provide supporting documents for the SES Assessment Tool.

The project is funded by VLIR-UOS, an organisation that supports partnerships between universities in Flanders, in Belgium, and the Global South. VLIR-UOS typically funds projects that focus on innovative ideas to address global and local challenges.

Once this tool is deployed for use, it will enable universities to evaluate their student entrepreneurship support and gauge their progress in terms of seven elements based on best practices identified in the current and previous research projects.

The seven elements, which are assessed on a yearly basis are:

  • University environment and culture
  • Co-curricular entrepreneurship support activities
  • Formal entrepreneurship education
  • Incubator and accelerator programmes
  • Technology transfer offices (TTOs)
  • University venture funds
  • Internal and external collaborations

The self-assessment survey takes between five and eight minutes to complete.

The team has developed a dedicated project website where all outputs will be available and where the SES assessment tool can be found.

Said Professor Farrington: “In May, we presented a project summary and report as well as three case studies that describe the best practices that we’ve identified within these various elements in the university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem. The information is available under outputs on the SES website or from click here.

Students and staff remain in the dark

“To date, one of the biggest issues that we found in the research itself is that there’s a lack of awareness among staff and students about what’s going on in the entrepreneurial space at the universities. There is also a lack of an integrated or coordinated effort by various stakeholders within universities to support student entrepreneurs. The idea is that this tool, when it is administered, will create awareness. Students and staff will be able to see what they know and don’t know. It will be an opportunity for universities to actually promote their entrepreneurship support activities.” she continued.

The lead researcher on the project was Riyaad Ismail (left) who focused his master’s dissertation on exploring what student entrepreneurship support is available within the context of the project. He interviewed 38 entrepreneurship stakeholders at eight South African universities.

“The overall idea from this project was not just to do research; we also wanted to make it practical and usable, hence the development of the self-assessment tool for both staff and students.

“The person in charge of driving student entrepreneurship support at a particular university is meant to administer the tool. We wanted to make things as easy as possible for the champions to administer this at the universities. This is why we have a dedicated implementation guidelines page where we intend to make available documents such as marketing material and draft emails that you can just send annually so that you don’t have to go and create all your own collateral. We have a compliance page, still under development, which deals with issues such as the protection of data. We also want to invite members of universities to market and promote their student entrepreneurship activities and initiatives on the platform. It is a means for students to see what is available to them in the entrepreneurial space at their institution,” he explained.

“For confidentiality, only participants from a particular university will have access to that university’s results. No one else can access them. Those who subscribe will receive overall SES scores and report backs and be able to compare them to previous years and the national average. It also shows universities where they may be lacking or where the gaps are.”

The Results

Upon completion of the survey period, results will be generated automatically. These results include an overall score indicating each participating university’s level of SES as well as a score for each of the seven SES elements. A university’s overall SES score is an average of the seven SES element scores. Not only will these scores enable universities to gain insight into the SES at their universities, but they will also be able to benchmark their current performance to prior performance and to the average performance of other participating South African universities. Universities will only have access to their own organisational scores and will not have access to the organisational scores of other universities.

The results generated from using the SES Assessment Tool will be of value to student entrepreneurship stakeholders at universities, specifically top management, student entrepreneurship champions/promotors, entrepreneurship educators, incubator staff and TTO staff.

Said Dr Bignotti: “Once ethics and other approval for the tool have been obtained, it will be piloted at Nelson Mandela University, which will allow us to fine-tune the tool and ensure that all its sections are working. After that, it will be made available to all 26 public universities in South Africa for use and we hope they will adopt it so we can build a database to have the national averages in place as well as historical data for each university.”

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

EDHE Kick-Off 2023 Articles